November 20, 2008

SPRINGFIELD (Nov. 20)—The Illinois House of Representatives has unanimously passed a resolution urging Amtrak to evaluate the economic benefits of reopening its Galesburg crew base, which has been closed since 2000.

House Resolution 1597 was introduced by State Rep. Donald Moffitt (R-Galesburg) and was passed by a vote of 110-0.

Moffitt’s language, which is supported by the UTU, notes that even though the State of Illinois pays Amtrak $28.7 million each year to operate passenger trains, Amtrak moved 35 crew assignments out of Galesburg, with the majority being relocated to other states that do not pay Amtrak for train service.

“This cost the State of Illinois more than 20 good jobs,” according to the language of the resolution, which continued: “This loss of 35 good-paying jobs also harmed the local economy of Galesburg, Illinois; therefore, be it resolved that Amtrak perform a cost and operational analysis to determine the benefits of re-opening the Amtrak crew base…”

The Resolution also calls on Amtrak to share the results of its study with the Illinois Department of Transportation and, “if appropriate, take the steps necessary to reopen the Galesburg crew base and return these jobs from out of state.”

UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo said the return of the Amtrak jobs to Galesburg would supply sorely needed income to a city devastated by the loss of good manufacturing jobs.

“Galesburg is the poster-child for the downside of globalization,” Szabo said. “In 2004 Maytag closed its appliance plant in Galesburg and moved the work to Mexico, throwing 1,600 employees out of work. Most of them were unionized and earned good wages. Later in the same year Butler Manufacturing closed its steel-building plant and laid off 270 unionized workers.

“When you tally up the jobs lost among the smaller manufacturing plants that had been supplying the larger plants the number of workers let go in Galesburg comes close to 4,000,” Szabo said. “In a community of 33,000 people that’s significant.”

Szabo said re-establishment of the Galesburg crew base also is important for the safety and smooth operation of Amtrak trains.

“When the Galesburg base was abolished, Amtrak consolidated two crew districts into one and began running its California Zephyr the full 500 miles between Chicago and Omaha with one crew,” he said.

“But on a busy freight railroad the passenger trains can’t always make it over the road on their eight-and-a-half-hour schedule—or even within the 12-hour federal Hours of Service Law,” Szabo said. “Three times in the past year the UTU has caught Amtrak ordering its expired crews to continue on to their relief terminal in violation of the Federal Hours of Service requirements, and on each of those occasions the Federal Railroad Administration has sustained the union’s complaint and proposed fines.

“Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to reopen the Galesburg base and operate the trains legally?” Szabo said. “When the cost-benefit study is finished, we’ll know. And hopefully, Galesburg and our state will get an economic return on our state investment.”