December 13, 2007

CHICAGO (Dec. 13)—The UTU Illinois Legislative Board today called on all members to contact their state legislators immediately and urge them to do two things: pass legislation providing “comprehensive and long-term funding” for the Chicagoland mass transit systems, and also “pass a capital bill that provides funding for downstate intercity passenger-rail programs.”

“It’s time to man the phones and faxes,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “We really have two different issues here that could ‘politically’ come together in a series of separate votes: Chicago’s Mass Transit needs and Downstate’s intercity passenger rail capital needs.

“If the General Assembly and the governor do not act quickly, we could not only see immediate cutbacks in commuter-rail, bus and rapid-transit service, but also the postponement and possibly the total loss of badly needed long-range expansion programs for Metra,” Szabo said.

Szabo noted that failure to fund transit operating budgets could result in serious service reductions, including annulment of Metra’s popular weekend trains.

But failure to pass long-range capital funding legislation could do more serious and lasting damage, crippling commuter-rail development for decades. Szabo said among the projects that could go back on the shelf would be METRA’s proposed STAR Line, which would use the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway’s “Chicago Outer Belt Line” and the median strip of the Northwest Tollway to provide commuter service from the south suburbs to O’Hare Airport; as well as the proposed Southeast Service which would use Union Pacific tracks for a commuter-rail startup connecting downtown Chicago with Dolton, Chicago Heights and Crete.

“If the State of Illinois does not provide a sustainable source of long-term funding for its share needed to launch these projects, the federal government will have to withdraw its share of the capital funds and award them to projects in other states,” Szabo said.

Szabo also emphasized the separate need for Downstate intercity passenger rail capital funding, citing the latest ridership numbers from the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Rail.

“November 2007 ridership on our Illinois sponsored Amtrak service was up more than 20 per cent over November 2006,” he said. “That’s amazing because during that period the state did not add any new frequencies. IDOT has been operating the same seven frequencies for a year now, yet ridership growth is almost as big as it was in the first year after four new trains were introduced.

“Imagine what kind of numbers we’d be seeing if those trains were equipped with modern coaches and kept reliable schedules on smooth new tracks and roadbeds controlled by advanced signaling systems,” Szabo said. “We are stunting our ridership growth because trains regularly sell out and there is no more equipment.”

Szabo urged UTU members and members of their families to immediately call and fax their state legislators with two short, simple messages: “Support a long-term mass transit funding package,” and also “support a five year $700 million capital plan for intercity passenger rail.”

If you don’t know the name or phone number of your state senator and representative, the Illinois Legislative Board recommends you use the following live link:

Enter your address and ZIP code and you will see the names of your legislators and their contact information:

“Be sure to keep your message short, whether it’s spoken or written,” Szabo said. “Just say. “Support a long-term Mass Transit Package” and also “Support a five-year, $700-million capital plan for intercity passenger rail.”