January 9, 2007

SPRINGFIELD (Jan 9)—Barely 24 hours after he was inaugurated for a second term, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation allowing Illinois to join the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact (MIPRC).

“We’re on our way now,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Becoming a member of the Compact—and being located at the center of the Midwestern passenger-rail network—means Illinois now is able to help its neighboring states lobby for the federal support needed to build a modern regional passenger rail system. Our congressional delegation is ready to take the lead.”

The governor’s signature comes five weeks after both houses of the Illinois General Assembly voted unanimously in favor of the state’s joining the Compact.

“Today’s signing means Illinois now is totally committed to making passenger-rail expansion happen at the regional level,” Szabo said. “I promise you the system will grow and so will the number of railroad jobs.”

In addition to Illinois, the Compact includes Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan. Although Illinois has been funding intrastate Amtrak service for over 30 years and has been jointly funding the bi-state Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service since 1995, it previously had put off joining the MIPRC due to lack of agreement among state legislators as to the role the state should play in a coming regional system.

“That disagreement now has been overcome,” Szabo said. “Rail advocates, including the UTU, have successfully demonstrated to our state legislators that Illinois’ passenger-rail network actually will grow faster if we work jointly with our neighboring states than if we go it alone. Solidarity doesn’t just work for labor unions. It’s effective in all kinds of situations.”

News of Illinois’ enrollment in the Compact was hailed by neighboring states.

“Hooray! Welcome, Illinois!,” wrote Missouri State Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis), who serves as a Compact commissioner. She added:

“Persistence: the hallmark of the Commission’s work. That’s why we WILL succeed in our goals for passenger rail!”

“This is huge news and will go a long way toward increasing both the credibility and clout of MIPRC,” wrote Stuart Nicholson, public-information officer for the Ohio Rail Development Commission. Way to go, Illinois!”

Just as the governor was signing the MIRPC legislation, Illinois and its neighbors got another dose of upbeat news when the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) disclosed preliminary December ridership results for Amtrak trains operating on the three state-supported corridors.

IDOT Acting Bureau of Rail Chief George Weber said December ridership in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, where two additional state-sponsored trains began operating October 30, was up 42 per cent over December 2005. In the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale corridor, which got a second state-supported frequency, ridership was up 75 per cent, and the Chicago-Quincy corridor, which jumped from one daily round trip to two, ridership grew 37 per cent.

“There’s no mystery why the other states are so happy about Illinois joining the Compact,” Szabo said. “They like the way we’re growing our passenger-train system and they want some of our magic to rub off on them.”