July 21, 2006

CHICAGO (Aug. 21)—The Illinois General Assembly’s decision to fund four new Amtrak “Chicago Hub” frequencies starting October 30 already is causing a mini-job expansion, Amtrak officials said.

About 45 new employees will have to be recruited to staff and service the new frequencies, according to Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

“That will include about thirty Train-and-Engine service employees, the bulk of whom will be conductors,” Magliari said. “We’re also expecting to hire mechanical people, including skilled employees such as electricians and sheet-metal workers, as well as car cleaners. The total will be about 45 new employees.”

Magliari said the jobs have been bulletined on the Amtrak Web site and some already may be filled.

“The trains are supposed to start running October 30, so there’s not a lot of time to recruit, screen and train the new people,” he said. “Knowing how close the deadline was, we started recruiting early and some of these jobs are now filled. We are still interviewing people for mechanical jobs. The conductors and engineers are really the urgent part of the agenda.”

Magliari said most of the food-service jobs are expected to be filled by existing employees who were laid off due to budget cuts.

“Whatever legal rights they can exercise, we will respect,” he said.

Magliari said some of the new hires will be recruited off the street while others could have some freight railroad experience. Although freight employment offers higher pay and more overtime, Amtrak work is more predictable and is less disruptive to personal and family life.

“But operating an Amtrak train can be more complex,” he pointed out. “Freight crews work mostly on their home railroad property, so they only have to know one set of rules. Amtrak trains have access to all the railroads. An Amtrak train from Chicago to St. Louis starts out on Amtrak trackage, but two miles south of Chicago Union Station it enters Canadian National trackage, then enters the Union Pacific south of Joliet, and in the St. Louis area might have to use several miles of the Kansas City Southern before ending up on trackage owned by the Terminal Railway Association of St. Louis. Our crews have to know the rules of lots of different railroads.”

Magliari said all of the new crews would be based at Chicago but that applicants for conductor positions would undergo classroom training at Wilmington, Del., before returning to Chicago for familiarization and qualification on the routes to which they will be assigned. Engineers will undergo classroom training in Chicago before they do familiarization and qualification trips with veteran personnel on their assigned routes.

“UTU’s efforts in Springfield to grow our passenger rail network are really paying dividends,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “These are 45 well paying railroad jobs and new members for UTU, BLE and other sister rail unions.”

Szabo also said he expected these new hires will not be the last.

“Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office just released figures showing that ridership on Illinois-sponsored passenger trains grew by 11 per cent in Fiscal Year 2006 and hit a record high of nearly 1 million,” Szabo said. “This is the third consecutive year that we’ve seen record growth. Ridership has grown 35-40 per cent over three years. How many American businesses grew at that rate in the same period?

“The price of gasoline clearly is causing Americans to change their mobility habits,” Szabo said. “But we’re still in the early stages of a fuel-price increases, and nobody knows how high they might go. That suggests we’re going to need more trains—and more skilled people to run them and maintain them.”