January 20, 2006

SPRINGFIELD (Jan. 20)—State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) has introduced legislation calling for the state to more than double its annual budget for passenger-train service and to add four new frequencies long sought by the UTU, by Downstate municipalities and by public advocates concerned about the growing effects of highway congestion and gasoline price increases on the state’s struggling economy.

“This could be the bill that really launches passenger rail as a serious component of the Illinois transportation system,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “If it passes and is signed by the governor, we would go from a skeletal passenger rail system to one with a small but promising amount of meat on its bones.”

Sen. Schoenberg’s bill, known as S.B. 2848, would appropriate $30 million to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for state-supported corridor trains running from the Chicago hub to Downstate points. A companion bill with identical language, H.B. 4978, was introduced in the House by State Rep. Jack McGuire (D-Joliet).

Some of that money also would be used to pay for Illinois’ share of the seven daily “Hiawatha” round trips connecting Chicago with Milwaukee. Sen. Schoenberg’s district includes Glenview, where the “Hiawatha” trains stop to serve customers from Chicago’s North Shore suburbs.

The balance of the money would fund a second daily frequency between Chicago and Quincy, a second daily frequency between Chicago and Carbondale, and two additional frequencies on the Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis corridor, which would then have five round trips a day.

“Now we’ve got something real to discuss and debate regarding the next step in developing passenger rail service in Illinois,” said Richard F. Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. “We have a number in front of us: $30 million. It gives us in the advocate community a chance to make our case and explain why these additional trains are necessary for Illinois’ continued economic development.”

Szabo said the legislation also gives union members an opportunity to contact their legislators and ask them to support the bill.

“We’re talking about job security, and job growth, as we start and aggressive build-out of our passenger rail network for the state,” Szabo said. “This is simply one significant step in the implementation of a nine-state High Speed Rail plan that utilizes Chicago as its hub. Ultimately, the job growth will be staggering.”

Szabo urged all union members to call their state senators and state representatives and ask for their support now.
“If you don’t know who your state senator or state rep is or how to reach them, just go to the UTU Illinois Legislative Board home page,” he said. “Scroll down the left side of the page to ‘Links to Useful Web Sites’ and then click ‘State Agencies.’ The first link is labeled ‘Illinois General Assembly.’ Click it and the click ‘Legislator Look-up’ and you ‘ll have all the information you need to contact your legislators.”

Szabo said a phone call to your legislator’s District Office usually is the quickest way to register your preference.

“If you’re contacting your senator’s office, tell them you want the senator to ‘co-sponsor’ S.B. 2848,” he said. “If you’re contacting your representative’s office, say you want him or her to co-sponsor H.B. 4978.