July 3, 2008
CHICAGO (July 2)—Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s earlier plans to eliminate state support for Amtrak corridor service were reversed today as the governor announced that $28 million in IDOT payments to Amtrak will remain in the state’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget that begins July 9.
“We want to keep Amtrak at the same level it was at last year,” the governor said at a press conference calling for an overtime summer legislative session to pass the new state budget.
UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo applauded the governor’s decision.
“We’re glad that the budget crisis, at least as it pertains to state Amtrak funding, is resolved,” said Szabo. “But there is still a need for the governor and legislative leaders to work together to address the state budget as a whole and to address the state’s capital needs.”
The decision by the governor came as the media began focusing on the unprecedented ridership Illinois trains have developed as $4-gasoline prompts more and more travelers to switch their intercity trips from highway to rail.
A Wednesday story in the Springfield Journal-Register said space on holiday weekend trains had been sold out several weeks in advance on all three of the Illinois routes.
“An Amtrak ticket for this Fourth of July weekend will be hard to come by at any price,” the story said. The paper quoted Springfield Amtrak agent Brad Steller as saying that “you’d have to have it done six or seven weeks ago” if you intended to ride an Amtrak train in Illinois on or near July 4.
“I think the governor was faced with a growing realization that the Amtrak trains have become essential to the state’s mobility,” said Szabo. “Illinois is one of only 15 states that are realistically facing the gasoline-price crisis by having their own fleet of passenger trains in place. That resource is simply is too important to ignore.”
The budget restoration also includes the 25% that Illinois pays as its share of the cost of the seven daily “Hiawatha” trains linking Chicago with Milwaukee. Wisconsin pays the other 75%.
Amtrak said between October and May nearly 690,000 tickets were sold for Amtrak trains supported by the state of Illinois, an increase of 19%.
“That is the best ridership-growth record of any state with a multi-route, multi-train program,” Szabo said. “Illinois is now the leader in passenger-train growth. We plan to keep it that way.”