July 14, 2008

WASHINGTON (June 14)—U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant announced today that they have agreed to convene a “summit” of rail experts and advocates from Illinois to determine how Amtrak’s Midwestern services—including those sponsored by the State of Illinois—can be beefed up with more coaches to meet an unprecedented and fast-growing demand for space on passenger trains.

No date or list of participants in the summit were announced.

“As gas prices continue to rise, the demand for an efficient, cost-effective and reliable alternative travel mode has skyrocketed,” Durbin said in a statement his office released after the meeting.

The state’s senior U.S. senator noted with approval that Congress has agreed to provide Amtrak with more capital and operating funds in fiscal 2009 but that “without a plan to deal with a rapid increase in ridership Amtrak will lose out.”

Durbin’s office said the senator also encouraged Kummant to arrange for five spare coaches to be moved to Illinois to help IDOT cope with a surge of passengers that has overtaxed the small fleet of coaches available for assignment to the seven daily Illinois corridor trains funded by the General Assembly.

“We are constrained in our ability to accommodate more passengers and grow our business because Amtrak doesn’t have enough equipment,” said Acting IDOT Rail Chief George Weber.

Weber said Amtrak’s equipment shortage means IDOT-sponsored trains normally run with only three coaches and a combination business-class/food-service car offering a total of 231 seats

“The trains regularly sell out on weekends and holidays, and now we are starting to see sellouts on weekdays too,” Weber said.

In May of this year ridership on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor was up 15.2 per cent, with ridership on the Chicago-Carbondale and Chicago-Quincy corridors up 19.5 per cent and 20.9 per cent, respectively.

“It’s really exciting to see Sen. Durbin taking such an active role in promoting passenger-train expansion in Illinois and the Midwest,” said Midwest High Speed Rail Association Exec. Director Richard Harnish “He not only supports national passenger-train legislation, but actively involves himself in the practical problems of delivering passenger-train service to his state. I don’t know of any other senator who’s so effective.”

“Sen. Durbin’s help is absolutely essential to making sure IDOT’s fleet of Amtrak trains can expand to meet this surging demand,” UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

Weber said that help will be needed in the coming months as high gasoline prices continue to drive demand for more seats than Amtrak can provide.

“We have sold-out trains right now, and the demand is only going to keep growing,” he said. “I’m glad Sen. Durbin is working to find a solution while there’s still time to act.”