November 3, 2004

CHICAGO (Nov. 3)—More than 230 Illinois mayors and other municipal officials have now signed an open letter asking Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fund a statewide passenger-train buildup.

That total nearly doubles the figure of 119 local officials who signed a similar letter last year when the UTU Illinois Legislative Board and two passenger-train advocacy groups first circulated it at the Illinois Municipal League’s Fall Meeting in Chicago.

“That kind of growth over a one-year period really amounts to a pro-passenger-train groundswell,” said Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

The letter, which was drafted by the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and supported by UTU and the Environmental Law & Policy Center, opened with the officials telling the governor, “We believe that dependable train service is an essential component of the State’s transportation system. Linking communities with fast, frequent and dependable trains will strengthen our economy by making Illinois a more attractive place to live and do business.”

The officials then laid down a three-point set of priorities for improving passenger-rail service in the state:

First, press for state and federal funding of the $1.5-billion Chicago Regional Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program of infrastructure improvements to speed and simplify the movement of passenger and freight trains through Chicago and its suburbs

Second, aggressively pursue federal matching funds to complete the upgrading of the entire Chicago-St. Louis corridor so that 110-mph passenger train can cover the 284-mile route in 3 ½ hour—two hours less than a car.

Secure funding for a fourth and fifth daily round trip in the Chicago St. Louis corridor.

“There’s a good reason why so many more mayors have joined the appeal for passenger trains,” Szabo said. “Continuing turmoil in the airline industry is reducing the amount of air service that Downstate receives. At the same time, the prospect of $3 gasoline and growing highway congestion is making driving less and less attractive as an alternative.

“The airline problem, fuel-price problem and congestion restrict mobility and are bad for business,” Szabo said. “Business travelers don’t want to waste time driving a car when they could be doing productive work. Lack of travel options is dealing Downstate cities a one-two punch that is hindering their economic development.”

Szabo said the signatories to the letter come from all corners of the state and include small-town Republican mayors, Democratic City Council members in Chicago, and suburban officials of both parties.

“You don’t really have to ‘sell’ these people on the idea of a state-supported passenger-train service,” Szabo said. “They already know the value of passenger rail and that Amtrak’s ridership in the state continues to grow by double digits.

Szabo, who worked with many of the state’s municipal officials when he served as mayor of the Chicago suburb of Riverdale, said, “These officials already are convinced. What they’re trying to do now is convince the governor and the General Assembly to reinforce success by funding more trains and a better railroad infrastructure.”