November 30, 2006

SPRINGFIELD (Nov. 30)—The Illinois State Senate has voted to approve the state’s admission to the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact (MIRPC).

The unanimous vote, which came just after noon today, follows the House’s unanimous approval of the measure Nov. 15. Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected to sign the measure shortly.

“This is a big step in growing our network,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “It means Illinois now is fully committed to working with its neighbors to secure federal funding for passenger-rail improvements. Once the governor’s signature is on the legislation, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan can bring their collective weight and experience to bear when lobbying for federal matching funds for state passenger-rail investments.”

The presence of Illinois in the Compact is important for two reasons, Szabo said.

“First, I don’t think it’s bragging to say that the other Midwestern states respect—and need—our ability to lobby effectively,” he said. “They have just seen Illinois’ passenger-rail advocacy groups, including the UTU, secure a doubling of funding for state-supported passenger trains and an unprecedented jump in daily round trips from three to seven.

“Second, having Illinois in the Compact makes the idea of a regional passenger-rail network look real,” Szabo said. “Ideally, we need to be building a 3,000-mile Midwestern network with its hub at Chicago and more than a third of the mileage in Illinois. Illinois is the keystone of the arch.”

The Senate action came only two days after a delegation of Compact commissioners traveled up to Springfield from their semi-annual meeting in St. Louis to meet with key Senate members and testify in favor of the legislation at a Senate hearing.

MIRPC’s chairman, Indiana State Sen. Bob Jackman, and its vice-chairman, Missouri State Rep. Charlie Schlottach, were accompanied by three commissioners, Missouri State Sen. Joan Bray, Dr. Marvin Scott of Indiana, and Stuart Nicholson of the Ohio Rail Development Commission.

“Advocating at the state and federal level for much needed and frequent, efficient passenger rail service is most effective as a multi-state, regional endeavor, and Illinois’ membership is absolutely vital,” said Sen. Jackman.

Szabo said that concept already had been demonstrated by the success of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

“It’s no mystery why the Northeast Corridor gets so much federal money for infrastructure and rolling stock,” Szabo said. “It’s because the Coalition of Northeastern Governors was formed 30 years ago to lobby for it. CONEG has become a highly effective and successful regional lobbying organization. Once Illinois joins the Compact, the Midwest will be able to play that game just as well.”