March 26, 2014

CHICAGO (March 26)—A survey commissioned by the SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Board shows that Illinoisans strongly support Amtrak and want freight trains to remain manned by two-person crews.

“This means voter sentiment in Illinois is almost perfectly aligned with our union’s priorities,” said SMART-TD Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy.

“Voters are opposed to any effort to reduce Amtrak passenger-train service and are very nervous about attempts to operate freight trains with only one crew member,” Guy said.

The results came in a statewide poll commissioned by the union, designed by DFM Research in St. Paul, Minn., and conducted in telephone interviews by Stone Research Services of Indianapolis.

Stone personnel interviewed 680 randomly selected Illinois residents, after which DFM tabulated and analyzed the figures. Interviewees were not told that SMART-TD was the sponsor of the poll.

“The results were overwhelmingly supportive of the SMART-TD positions on these issues,” Guy said. “Eighty-seven percent of those contacted were pro-Amtrak, with 33 per cent saying service should remain the same and 54 per cent saying it should be increased.”

When residents were asked their opinions about the federal Safe Freight Act, which would mandate that all freight trains have no less than two certified crew members, their response was equally solid.

“Eighty-six percent supported the Act, known as H.R. 3040,” Guy said. “Only eight per cent said they believed freight trains could be operated safely by only one crew member.”

Guy said the gratifying results reflect an increase in “railroad consciousness” among the state’s residents.

“Despite occasional congressional criticism and intermittent negative media coverage, Amtrak is popular in Illinois and growing more so,” he said.

“Anyone who spends time in the vicinity of Chicago Union Station can see Amtrak riders towing their suitcases down the sidewalks leading to or from the depot,” he said. “People of all ages from Downstate use the trains to visit Chicago, and Chicago-area college students use Amtrak to reach the universities in Champaign-Urbana, Carbondale, Normal, Galesburg and Macomb. Amtrak may not always be front-page news, but it’s become part of a lot of people’s lives in Illinois.”

Even people who don’t ride the trains have become dependent on them, Guys said.

“Families expect Amtrak to get their kids to school and back, and Chicago merchants, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues depend on Amtrak to bring them customers.”

Guy said the strong feelings about two-person crews probably are attributable to media coverage of derailments, particularly recent stories involving trains carrying crude oil.

“People may not be experts on train operation or railroad safety, but when they are repeatedly exposed to coverage of exploding tank cars and then are told that the railroads would like to operate their freight trains with only one crew member on board, it triggers an alarm in most peoples’ heads,” he said. “Something just doesn’t sound right.”

Guy said those interviewed were skeptical about the rail carriers’ dedication to safety.

“The general public seem to feel that rail employees are more likely than management to have peoples’ interest and safety at heart,” Guy said.

“When asked who they trust more to promote the right policies regarding railroad safety, 73% said railroad employees, compared to 17% for railroad management,” Guy said. That’s pretty telling.”

Guy said the union’s job now is to translate the public’s feelings into political action.

“When we reach out to our U.S. Representatives for a vote on H.R. 3040 we should be referencing this survey,” he said. “It provides elected officials with a direct pipeline into public opinion.”

Guy said the telephone survey was truly representative of the state’s demographics, with 40 per cent of those interviewed coming from Cook County, 20 per cent from the collar counties and the balance from Downstate.

“That’s exactly how Illinois’ population is distributed,” he said.

DFM said males made up 49 per cent of those interviewed, while females accounted for 51 per cent. Forty per cent of respondents were 18 to 39 years of age, 43 per cent were between 40 and 64 while 17 per cent were 65 or older. Whites accounted for 65 per cent of those contacted, with African-Americans making up 15 per cent and “All Others” 20 per cent.

“That’s an accurate demographic profile of our state at this time, so it can be presumed that the survey results represent an accurate account of how the typical Illinois voter feels about passenger trains and freight trains,” Guy said. “Our union’s job now is to mobilize this public sentiment and turn it into political action.”