February 18, 2003

CHICAGO (Feb. 18)–The UTU Illinois Legislative Board has been provided with a copy of a February 7 letter in which U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) calls on his colleagues to provide Amtrak with the full $1.2-billion budget authorization requested by the carrier’s CEO, David Gunn.

As revealed in “Hot Topics” February 11, Illinois’ junior U.S. senator had announced he would support the Amtrak budget request, but he did not disclose the terms of his support at that time.
Illinois’ senior U.S. senator, Richard J. Durbin, had already signed a joint letter of support for Amtrak several weeks before February 7, when Sen. Fitzgerald took action by issuing his own letter.

The UTU learned of the Fitzgerald letter today when a copy of it was hand-delivered to the Illinois Legislative Board by State Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville). The text of the letter follows:

“I am writing to urge you to adopt the Senate-approved Fiscal Year 2003 funding level for Amtrak, the nation’s intercity passenger rail carrier. The Senate recently appropriated $1.2 billion in the Omnibus Appropriations package for Amtrak, the minimum amount Amtrak requires to continue operating its national network of intercity passenger trains. Funding Amtrak at a level below $1.2 billion may require Amtrak to cease operations and may jeopardize commuter and freight rail operations that depend upon Amtrak for track access, operations, stations and facilities. According to Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn, the funding level of $762 million in the House Fiscal Year 2003 Appropriations bill ‘would guarantee insolvency by spring and the shutting down of the railroad at that time.”

“I believe that Amtrak is essential to our transportation system, and that a shutdown of Amtrak this spring would cause much unnecessary confusion and uncertainty. Until Congress has the opportunity to fully consider the future of intercity passenger rail, and Amtrak’s long-term role in that future, I believe that Congress should prevent any short-term service interruptions.”

Illinois Legislative Board Director Joseph C. Szabo said the union was grateful for Sen. Fitzgerald’s gesture of support and particularly grateful to Sen. Watson for his telephone call urging Fitzgerald to support Amtrak’s funding request.

“The fact that a substantial number of Republicans in the Senate agreed to support full funding for Amtrak no doubt played an important role in persuading the White House to revise its earlier position,” Szabo said. “Originally, the administration recommended only $900 million for Amtrak, but after hearing from Republicans in Congress it upgraded the authorization to $1.05 billion.

“The UTU’s telephone outreach effort helped too,” Szabo said. “ Mass phone calls from rail employees are heeded on Capitol Hill, and our members in Illinois did the job.”

Although the final figure approved by the administration falls somewhat short of the $1.2 billion he asked for, Gunn says it will enable Amtrak to continue operating all of the trains in its timetable through September 30.

“Sen. Fitzgerald’s decision to join his fellow Republicans in supporting Amtrak is a lesson in basic politics,” Szabo said: “Build strong political relationships, make your case as clear and simple as you can, and be persistent in getting your message out. It may take a while and you may suffer disappointments on the way to your goal, but eventually you will win.”