August 7, 2006

ROCKFORD (Aug. 5)—Gov. Rod Blagojevich has joined the list of elected officials calling for re-opening of passenger rail service between Chicago and Rockford as well to Freeport, Galena and Dubuque.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Becky Carroll told the Rockford Register-Star, “We are asking Amtrak to study the proposed route and associated costs. To the extent state resources are necessary to are necessary to fund service, we’ll work to find them.”

Because Congress continues to provide Amtrak with only a bare-bones capital and operating budget, virtually all expansion of Amtrak service now takes place only when a state department of transportation agrees to provide funding support. Carroll noted that Illinois recently doubled it annual funding for Amtrak service.

“The administration has a track record of supporting the expansion of commuter rail throughout the state, which includes an additional $12.1 million in the fiscal 2007 budget, which increases the state’s commitment to a total of $24.2 million,” Carroll said.

“These increases helped expand rail service to St. Louis, Quincy and Carbondale. We think that Rockford should also have the opportunity to benefit from Amtrak services as well.”

Carroll acknowledged that the governor agreed to press for restoration of Rockford service after receiving a written appeal from the state’s Democratic senior U.S. senator, Dick Durbin, and U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, a Republican whose district includes Rockford.

On July 3, Durbin and Manzullo co-chaired a meeting at the Rockford airport where more than 100 elected officials, Amtrak, the Illinois Department of Transportation and members of the public discussed strategies for bringing passenger trains back to Northwest Illinois. The last Amtrak train serving the route, the Black Hawk, was discontinued in September 1981.

When Amtrak last operated into Rockford it used the Canadian National Railway’s former Illinois Central Iowa Division, the only track that links not only Chicago and Rockford but continues on to Freeport, Galena and Dubuque.

“I couldn’t be more pleased that the Governor has stepped forward and taken a leadership roll in the expansion of additional passenger service through Rockford,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

Szabo cited a front-page story in the Aug. 7 issue of Crain’s Chicago Business, which cited a University of Illinois study showing rising gasoline prices would suck $5 billion and 62,000 jobs out of the Chicago region’s economy by year’s end.

“That is a very dangerous trend, and it’s not limited to the Chicago area,” Szabo said. “If gasoline prices continue to rise, and most experts say they will, most families will either have to cut back on their driving or reduce other purchases, like clothing, furniture or meals eaten away from home. The U of I study already has documented a slowing in the restaurant business in Chicago. Downstate, where people do not have the choice of switching to transit, the impact on business has to be even worse.

“Gov. Blagojevich understands and has stepped up to the plate and supported expansion of the state’s Amtrak network,” Szabo said. “We are in a desperate race to put good passenger-rail service on the tracks before rising gas prices seriously cripple the mobility of Illinois families. In Illinois, the political leaders have shown they understand what’s happening and what they have to do.”