May 2, 2002

SPRINGFIELD–Acting in response to an ad hoc coalition of civic, commercial, labor and governmental groups, the Illinois House of Representatives has approved a resolution calling on the president and Congress to fund an intercity passenger-rail system as it funds air, highway and waterway infrastructure.

The resolution passed the lower chamber April 24 by a vote of 113-1. It specifically calls on Congress and the administration to preserve “a national intercity passenger system that maintains coast-to-coast interconnectivity and serves as a skeletal framework for high-speed rail corridors.”

Such language is considered important because it challenges self-styled “reformers” who allege that passenger trains are economically viable only in densely populated inter-urban corridors. The resolution calls for a mix of corridor trains and long-distance trains combined into a single national system without gaps.

Equally important, the resolution calls on Congress to provide passenger trains with “a source of predictable, reliable and sustainable funding for national intercity passenger rail and the construction and operation of high-speed passenger-rail corridors.”

Such a program would enable passenger rail to achieve something close to parity with its two government funded competitors, the highway system and the nationwide civil-aviation system made up of federally funded commercial airports and the FAA’s air-traffic-control system. Both are funded by fees the federal government collects from users and pooled into trust funds which can be used only to pay for their respective infrastructure systems. Passenger trains, which do not have a trust fund, must receive an appropriation from Congress each year in order to keep operating. Because passenger trains have no stady funding source, planners are unable to budget for development of a nationwide infrastructure.

The wording of the resolution was adapted from resolutions already passed by a wide range of organizations, including the National Governors Association, the Council of State Governments, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, the National Corridors Initiative, the Sierra Club, Business and Professional People in the Public Interest, the UTU, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and a host of other business and civic organizations and labor unions.

However, the resolution also embraces state-specific language adopted by the Illinois Municipal League at its 85th Annual Conference. That resolution called on the federal government to specifically support the continuation of passenger-train service to downstate cities including Quincy, Macomb, Galesburg, Kewaunee, Princeton, Joliet, Dwight, Pontiac, Bloomington, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville, Alton, Homewood, Kankakee, Gilman, Rantoul,Champaign, Mattoon, Effingham, Centralia, DuQuoin, Carbondale and intermediate stations.
Local and regional organizations such as the Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest, the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the Chicagoland Transportation & Air Quality Commission also contributed language supporting the resolution.

“…the current federal formula for transportation funding is heavily skewed towards highways and airports, with less than 1% directed at rail passenger service,” the resolution said, noting that this funding imbalance creates “highway and airport congestion and [perpetuates] an unbalanced tansportation system that is vulnerable to emergencies, high traffic volumes and temporary disruptions.”

UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo said the resolution moved through the House in record time due to bi-partisan sponsorship spearheaded by Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-Chicago) and supported by Reps. Don Moffitt (R-Galesburg); Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville and chairman of the Transportation Committee); Dan Rutherford (R-Pontiac and Ass’t. GOP Leader); and Chuck Hartke (D-Effingham and Ass’t. Majority Leader).

“The Speaker’s help was really significant,” Szabo said. “The measure moved on an expedited basis. We are meeting with Senate President Pate Philip (R-Elmhurst) next week to see whether we can get the same treatment in the upper chamber.”

Szabo said a bi-partisan slate of sponsors has been assembled in the Senate as well, headed by Transp. Comm. Chmn. Kathy Parker (R-Northfield); George Shadid (D-Pekin and Democratic spokesman for the Transportation Committee); Laura Kent Donohue (R-Quincy and Ass’t. Majority Leader); Larry Walsh (D-Joliet); and Dave Luechtefeld (R-Carbondale).

“This resolution is a vehicle to show the president and the Congress that modern passenger-rail transportation has support from a wide variety of constituencies and both political parties,” Szabo said. “When passed, it will be sent to the president, the Secretary of Transportation and the chairmen of all congressional committees with jurisdiction over transportation funding.”