March 16, 2006

SPRINGFIELD (March 16)—Staffers for Illinois House and Senate appropriations committees told the UTU today they are interested in an increase in the state’s passenger-rail fund and are exploring alternatives that could add four new corridor frequencies to the three already supported by the state.

“We had a joint meeting with representatives of the Illinois Department of Transportation [IDOT], the staffs of both the House and Senate appropriations committees, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jeffery Schoenberg (D-Evanston) and House Transportation Chairman Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) today, and there was good interest in our request for boosting service,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“Basically, they ‘get it,’” Szabo said after meeting with the technicians who allocate funds in the state budget. “They know that ridership on the state’s corridor trains as well as on the ‘Hiawatha’ service between Chicago and Milwaukee has been growing by double digits. They also know that the mayors and chambers of commerce downstate want more train service and that air and highway cannot meet the state’s growing mobility needs.”

Szabo said he testified yesterday before the Senate Appropriations Committee as it reviewed the Fiscal Year 2007-budget request for IDOT. IDOT has requested only $12.1 for state-sponsored Amtrak service for the coming year.

“We are asking the General Assembly to approve an additional $17.9 million to add two more daily frequencies on the Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis route, a third frequency on the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route, and a second frequency between Chicago and Macomb,” Szabo said. “The broad cross-section of support is overwhelming. While the budget remains tight, there is real interest in making passenger rail a priority for the state.”

“There is certainly no guarantee that the money will be there, but IDOT and Amtrak already are reviewing their resources to find out what it will take to run these additional frequencies,” Szabo said. “One thing is certain, our General Assembly has caught the passenger train bug and the fever is spreading.”