February 18, 2004

SPRINGFIELD (Feb. 18)—Gov. Rod Blagojevich today told the Illinois General Assembly that merging the railroad-safety responsibilities of the Illinois Commerce Commission into the Illinois Department of Transportation would be part of the governmental reorganization he plans as part of his 2005 budgetary restructuring.

“…we’re consolidating the rail-safety functions of the Illinois Commerce Commission into the Department of Transportation,” Blagojevich told a joint session of the legislature convened to hear his annual budget message.

“That statement signals that streamlining the state’s rail-planning bureaucracy is one of the governor’s priorities,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Clearly, he wants rail’s role in the Illinois economy to grow, and he is reshaping state government to make it happen.”

Szabo said Blagojevich is pushing for the consolidation to elevate the stature of administrative support for rail.

“The railroad industry, the mayors of the state’s principal cities, the chambers of commerce, the environmental movement, the unions, the economic-development people, passenger-rail advocates—they all want to see the state get busy planning and funding railroad infrastructure upgrades,” Szabo said.

“And we want and need a strengthening of rail safety as well,” Szabo said.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) two weeks ago introduced legislation required by law to transfer the safety responsibilities from one state agency to another (see “Hot Topics,” Feb. 4).

That bill also includes a provision that would mandate IDOT to establish and enforce a set of walkway-safety standards similar to what the UTU and three of the four U.S. Class I carriers have proposed to the Commerce Commission.

“The governor’s support for HB 4881 means he has embraced the walkway safety provision as well,” Szabo said. “In addition, House Speaker Michael Madigan recently indicated that he too supports the walkway-safety provision. Passage of this legislation thus would mean not only a greater commitment by state government to rail development but a greater commitment to employee safety.

“That means it’s time to reach out to our state senators and representatives and start asking them to support Chairman Hoffman’s bill,” Szabo said. “Our members have the power to pass this legislation and improve their workplace safety. It is up to you. Now is the time to call your state representative and ask him or her to support HB 4881”

Szabo said he expected that Chairman Hoffman’s bill would emerge from committee in “about a week.”