February 10, 2006

SPRINGFIELD (Feb. 10)—An intensive 10-day ground campaign by the UTU Illinois Legislative Board and its two key allies has resulted in the Illinois General Assembly’s biggest show of support for passenger trains in more than a generation: To date fifty legislators from both parties have agreed to co-sponsor two bills that would give the state four more intercity passenger trains.

“It’s finally coming together,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “After two or three years of quiet behind-the-scenes coalition-building and developing a simple, common agenda, the leading passenger-train advocates in Illinois have taken Springfield by storm and begun gathering support for a quantum leap in passenger-train frequencies.”

Szabo said that since the first of the month Assistant Legislative Director John Burner and Alternate Legislative Director Bob Guy have been making the rounds at the State House securing co-sponsors. Assisting with the efforts of UTU are the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

“And I’ve made some key rounds myself,” Szabo said, pointing out that he has had personal meetings with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Plainfield), Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville) and the staff of Senate Pres. Emil Jones (D-Chicago).

“This has been a lot more than a telephone campaign or a letter-writing campaign,” Szabo said. “The three allied advocacy groups have been physically present in Springfield, meeting face-to-face with individual members of the General Assembly in their offices and presenting a united front and a common message: Become a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 2848 and House Bill 4978.”

Szabo said those identical bills would raise the state’s annual appropriation for passenger-train assistance from $12.1 million to $30 million. The additional money would enable the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to sponsor a second daily train between Chicago and Quincy, a third daily train between Chicago and Carbondale, and a fourth and fifth frequency in the Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis corridor.

“This would be the first time since Illinois began sponsoring passenger trains in the 1970s that more than three daily trains would have state support,” Szabo said. “It would be a huge breakthrough. In addition to the two more Chicago-St. Louis round trips we would have morning departures from Chicago to Galesburg and Quincy and from Chicago to Champaign and Carbondale.

“Chicagoans at last would be able to make day trips to about 15 Downstate communities that they currently can reach only in the evening,” Szabo said. “You can understand why the mayors and chambers of commerce in places like Mendota and Galesburg and Champaign and Mattoon are excited.”

So far, Szabo said, 19 of the 59 Senate members and 31 of the 118 House members have agreed to become co-sponsors of the legislation so far. The task now, he said, is for UTU members to start reaching out to their legislators and ask them to become co-sponsors as well.

“ELPC just established a new link on their Web site that our members can use to ‘instantly’ reach their senators and representatives,” Szabo said. “It includes a pre-written letter that can be sent electronically – in a matter of seconds – to your State Representative, State Senator and the Governor.

The link is: http://actionnetwork.org/campaign/illinoisrail?rk=b7aFXHD1zXyZW
Simply copy and paste in your browser and it will take you to the Web page. With a few clicks, your letter of support will be instantly faxed off.

“A stream of letters and phone calls asking for co-sponsorship already is coming into those offices in Springfield,” Szabo said. “Now it’s time for our members to turn that stream into a flood. If you want more passenger trains, more rail jobs, more job security and a stronger Railroad Retirement system, click the link and send the letter. Then ask your friends and family members around the state to do the same thing.”