February 1, 2007

SPRINGFIELD (Feb. 1)—UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo has been named by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to the newly formed Illinois Climate Change Advisory Group (ICCAG), the Governor’s Office announced today.

Szabo said he would use his new position to advocate greater use of both freight and passenger-rail as a means of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists say are raising global temperatures and changing the earth’s climate.

“This appointment is more than a great honor,” Szabo said. “It’s a chance for me and the members I represent to do something about what could be the greatest challenge of our time—global warming. Rail has a major role to play in solving the problem of global warming, and I will be quite frank in making that point to the governor and to my colleagues on the Advisory Group.”

Gov. Blagojevich formed the group in October when he signed Executive Order 06-11 in an effort to develop what he called “a comprehensive Statewide Climate Action Plan that will significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in Illinois.”

Declaring that “The need to address climate change is increasingly urgent because global warming could profoundly affect the economy and environment in Illinois,” the governor named Szabo as one of the plan’s “key stakeholders” and said the Group would meet four times in 2007 with the first meeting to be held February 14th in Chicago.

Szabo’s appointment came only a few hours before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced after a marathon meeting in Paris that the increasing strength and destructiveness of tropical hurricanes since 1970 “more likely than not” can be attributed to man-made global warming.”

“The global-warming crisis is the biggest challenge mankind has faced in 50 years—probably bigger than the Cold War,” Szabo said. “I’m convinced it’s deadly serious and could well destroy our way of life within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren if we don’t start making some big changes.”

Fortunately, Szabo said, one of the easiest, quickest and most effective strategies for fighting global warming is to shift as much travel and shipping as possible from energy-intensive air and highway technologies to rail, which emits less exhaust because it uses fuel more efficiently.

“The U.S. Department of Energy says that a typical Amtrak intercity train uses about a third less energy per passenger mile than an airliner, and a typical commuter train uses only about half as much energy per passenger-mile as an SUV,” Szabo said.

“The DOE also found that a freight train uses only 344 BTU of energy to move a ton of freight one mile while a heavy truck uses 3,357 BTU to carry the same load over the same distance,” Szabo said.

“That is a huge, a ten-fold difference in fuel consumption and a ten-fold difference in greenhouse-gas emissions, and almost nobody knows about it,” he said. “I will be using my position on the Advisory Group to make sure that the governor’s transportation planners know about it, understand it and incorporate it into their funding plans for rail and highway infrastructure.”

Szabo said he also plans to make sure his colleagues understand that rail is the most efficient user of real estate as well.

“The ‘footprint’ of a modern railroad is extremely modest compared to the amount of land consumed by a highway or an airport system,” he said. “A couple of parallel tracks on a modern double-track railroad can move 10 to 13 times more people per hour than a modern expressway taking up a city block in width.

“And most of the needed railroad rights of way are already there,” Szabo said. You can use technology to increase their capacity and utility without expanding the footprint, without condemning adjacent property, without knocking down buildings, without paving over any wetlands or other sensitive areas.”

Szabo said he is particularly looking forward to joining the Advisory Group because it will be headed by three of his old friends.

“The chairman, Doug Scott, is the director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, but I got to know him when he was the mayor of Rockford and I was the mayor of Riverdale,” Szabo said.

“The two vice-chairmen are Howard Learner, who is executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center and a major partner in our coalition that just succeeded in winning state funding for four new Amtrak trains; and Mike Carrigan, secretary-treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO.”

Szabo said that while he and his colleagues on the Advisory Group are “essentially all on the same page, our job now will be to get the rest of government, the public, and corporate community on that page with us.

“It always amazes me to find out how little understanding there is of the enormous contribution rail can make toward solving the problem of global warming,” he said. “Everybody talks as if all the solutions must come within the automotive system—exotic fuels, electric cars, more toll roads—when the biggest payoff is in railroad technology, and it’s right here waiting to be used.

“We don’t even need a scientific breakthrough to make rail technology work,” Szabo said. “It works fine now, and all we have to do is invest a few capital dollars in it to make it our key tool in controlling greenhouse-gas emissions and reducing oil dependence. The growth possibilities are virtually infinite, and so are the possibilities for a massive development of new railroad jobs.”