May 13, 2002
CHICAGO (May 13)–The UTU’s Illinois Legislative Board has joined with a slate of civic, governmental, labor and professional groups across the Midwest calling for both short-term federal funding to keep all intercity passenger trains running and a long-term plan to build a bigger, more modern passenger-rail system serving all of the continental U.S.
The document opens with a demand for retention of all trains currently in the national passenger train system, i.e., no cutbacks.
“Given that the demand for expanded rail service is growing, it would be short-sighted to allow any trains to cease running while work continues on a new federal policy for intercity passenger rail,” the coalition’s document declares. “While we recognize that some routes may need to be changed in the future, cutting routes now would severely constrain the nation’s ability to formulate a comprehensive plan for the future.”
The document then asks Congress and the administration to look to the future and begin planning and funding a three-way schedule of improvements and service expansions in the intercity passenger-train network.
The first priority is a one-year stabilization under a $1.2-billion fiscal 2002 budget sufficient to catch up on deferred maintenance of track, locomotives and cars. This amount of money will allow all trains to operate at maximum capacity once the rolling-stock fleet is repaired and brought back into service.
The second priority is medium-term infrastructure funding, including multi-year federal investment in track and signal upgrades needed to support the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, which plans ultimately to operate 125-mile-per-hour trains over some 3,000 miles of track centering on a Chicago hub. UTU and its fellow advocate organizations support passage of the High Speed Rail Investment Act to fund $1 billion worth of Midwetern rail projects for which preliminary design work already has been done.
The third priority calls upon Congress to create a steady, predictable form of funding for modern passenger rail infrastructure similar to the trust funds which have long been used to fund highway, civil-aviation and urban mass-transit infrastructure.
“Passenger rail needs a comparable funding stream to allow it to reach its transportation potential,” the joint document notes.
The document concludes with a demand that Congress designate a single agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation to coordinate and policies and establish functions for a national passenger rail system.
“If Congress responds,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo, “the nation will for the first time have a federal agency whose sole job is to plan and fund intercity rail infrastructure projects the way the Federal Highway Administration coordinates road development, the Federal Aviation Administration coordinates civil-aviation projects and the Federal Transit Administration funds construction of new light-rail, commuter-rail and rapid-transit facilities.”