Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Illinois’

Illinois Amtrak Trains Continue to Operate Despite Lack of Budget Agreement for FY 2016

July 7, 2015

Illinois still doesn’t have a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 and the governor has threatened to cut Amtrak funding by 40 percent.

But for now Amtrak’s state-funded trains in Illinois continue to run as before. Amtrak officials have indicated that that will be the case for at least several weeks.

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced in mid-June plans to slash funding for Amtrak service in Illinois from $42 million to $26 million.

The governor took the action after he vetoed a budget approved by the Illinois General Assembly that Rauner said was out of balance.

Amtrak has seen these type of budget fights before. Rauner is a Republican in his first term in office while the legislature is controlled by Democrats.

“It’s not unusual for us to begin a fiscal year without a contract or a budget in place, in this state and others,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “There’s a continuation clause in the current contract so it continues on. We’ll continue to provide service while we await a conclusion.”

Magliari said that the continuation clause says that “the contract continues in force for several months. I don’t expect this will take several months.”

Nonetheless, Magliari said Amtrak is “discussing with (the Illinois Department of Transportation) what the service will look like going forward.”

Should Amtrak service on Illinois state-funded routes need to be reduced, Magliari said there will be several weeks notice of those cuts.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly confirmed that IDOT is talking with Amtrak about future service.

“IDOT is proceeding as quickly as possible to make decisions about the frequency and level of service that the state can afford. Despite weeks of conversations, Amtrak has not yet provided IDOT with the complete financial information necessary to reduce service,” Kelly said.

Illinois funds two roundtrips daily between Chicago and Carbondale, and between Chicago and Quincy. It also funds four roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis and helps underwrite service between Chicago and Milwaukee. The latter service is also funded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The Illinois-funded trains have been particularly popular with college students.

In Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University, students were lined up on the last day of the most recent school term, huddling under an awning as it began raining.

Most of the students were headed for Chicago, but some would be getting off at a station in central Illinois.

Although Carbondale is served by the Chicago-bound City of New Orleans in the middle of the night, the early morning state-funded Saluki is more popular.

The next train from Carbondale to Chicago is the late afternoon Illini.

“I probably wouldn’t take the train because I can’t get up at 3:30 in the morning because I’m a sleeper,” said Justin Edelheit of Buffalo Grove as he waited to board the Saluki. “Well, I don’t really have a car down here so I have to take the train to get home and that’s the only way I have to see my family. ”

Pareth Patel can understand Justin’s reliance on Amtrak. “I don’t actually have a car here so it’s easier for me to take the train because I take the train from here to Chicago and then I take the [Metra] train from Union Station to Naperville which is closer to my house.”

Joe Tumminaro likes the train ride home to the suburbs. “I actually take the train a lot. I got rid of my car his year to take the train because it’s just easier,” he said.

John O’Shea said he rides the train every couple of months. “I live right by [Chicago] Union Station so this takes me right to there and I live two blocks away from here so it’s just easy; it’s just a hassle driving 6 hours to and from.”

O’Shea said he often rides the City of New Orleans, but on this day he needed another option, so he rode the Saluki.

“That’s usually the one I take, but that’s just because it’s more convenient for me, I’m taking this because I have to be here somewhere tonight.”

Keelia Hamdan connects in Chicago with a train for Detroit. Losing options could lead to headaches getting home, especially after exams.

“It would be much more difficult to get around and as you can see a ton of people come like the end of the semester so it would effect a lot of people,” she said.

Rauner Threatens 40% Amtrak Funding Cut

June 27, 2015

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has indicated that he plans to slash funding for Amtrak service in the state by 40 percent on July 1.

The governor’s plan is to cut the funding from $42 million to $26 million as part of some $820 million in spending cuts that he plans to impose if there is not budget agreement by the time the 2016 fiscal year begins on July 1.

Rauner, a Republican, vetoed an earlier budget sent to him by the Illinois General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats.

The governor said that budget was nearly $4 billion out of balance. The legislature earlier passed a school funding bill that Rauner signed.

Although Amtrak has said it is unclear what effect the wrangling over the budget will have on its state-supported, Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, said in a statement that the cuts would result in fewer trains and higher fares.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Amtrak is awaiting official word as to how funding Illinois will provide for the service it helps underwrite on routes linking Chicago with Milwaukee, St. Louis, Quincy and Carbondale.

“We’ve not had any formal word from Illinois DOT,” Magliari said. “We’re still accepting bookings for current levels of service.”

Some observers have seen Rauner’s announcement of a new series of cuts to state programs as a strategy to prod Democratic leaders to include some of the governor’s pro-business proposals in a compromise budget deal.

In particular, Democrats have balked at Rauner’s attempts to alter worker compensation laws and have voted down his push for a property tax freeze.

Democrats have proposed extending an income tax hike that is scheduled to expire, but Rauner said he won’t support that without the legislature adopting at least five of his initiatives.

In a spending proposal made in February, Rauner said he wanted to reduce Amtrak funding subsidy by 40 percent, a move that Amtrak said would result in cuts to Illinois Amtrak service. The specter of Amtrak cuts prompted statements of concern from lawmakers and university town officials, who say the reductions would hurt students, business and tourism.

The budget bill approved by the General Assembly would keep Amtrak funding at its current $42 million level.

For now, Amtrak is continuing to operate under its current schedule. “We don’t anticipate any July 1 change,” Magliari said.

Budget Talks Crucial for Amtrak Service in Illinois

May 11, 2015

The next few weeks will be pivotal for the future of intercity rail passenger service in Illinois.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed a budget that would dramatically reduce the level of state support for Amtrak trains as well as public transit.

Rauner would cut funding for Amtrak from $42 million annually to $26 million.

It is not clear how this affect Amtrak service in the state other than there may be fewer trains.

At present, Illinois helps to underwrite the costs of two roundtrips daily between Chicago and Quincy, two roundtrips between Chicago and Carbondale, and four roundtrips between Chicago and St. Louis. Illinois also helps to fund the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha service.

Amtrak has declined to say how service cuts would play out if the Illinois General Assembly adopts Rauner’s budget recommendation.

There is widespread agreement that service reductions would be the result, but Amtrak won’t say which trains might be discontinued and/or operate less frequently.

The budget cuts stem from a $6 million budget deficit that is staring lawmakers in the face for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Not surprisingly, rail and transit supporters are seeking to rally public support against the governor’s plan.

They’ve organized the Grow Illinois Transit Campaign and established a website,

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association and National Association of Railroad Passengers has joined the fight.

They’ve pointed out that not only would Amtrak suffer under the proposed budget cuts, but so would public transportation offered in Chicago by Metra, The Chicago Transit Authority and the suburban-oriented PACE bus network.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in 2006, Illinois increased support for Amtrak and state-supported service doubled on the corridors linking Chicago with Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis.

Also doubling was ridership on those corridors. The state trains carried 242,144 passengers in 2005. In 2014, they carried 633,531, an increase of nearly 162 percent.

The Carbondale and St. Louis corridors are also used by long-distance trains for New Orleans and San Antonio respectively. Operations of those trains would not be affected by any cut in funding for Amtrak.

Connecting bus service also links such cities as Peoria and Danville, neither of which are served by Amtrak, with Amtrak stations in Champaign, Normal and Galesburg.

The latter point enables passengers to connect with long-distance trains traveling to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay.

But it is not just existing service that is facing the guillotine. Development of new service between Chicago and Rockford, and Chicago and the Quad Cities region has been frozen.

There is fear that further development of the Chicago-St. Louis corridor for high speed service will be halted with the project far from complete.

The state, Amtrak and Union Pacific have spent millions to upgrade the corridor in several places for speeds of up to 110 mile per hour.

Not surprisingly, the opponents of the funding cuts are pointing toward potential harm to economic development and tourism.

At a news conference at the Statehouse in Springfield, Midwest High Speed Rail Association executive director Rick Harnish played the economy card.

“More and more people are choosing where they are going to live or do business based on access to walking, buses and trains,” Harnish said. “Therefore, it’s critical if we want to grow this state’s economy … we need to make it attractive for (people) to travel throughout the state so that they can stay here but access the other things they want.”

Gina Gemberling, acting director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, told The State Journal Register that the trains are a “vital link for bringing state, national and international tourists to see our important historic sites.”

Springfield tourism officials said 194,762 people rode Amtrak to Springfield in 2014, almost 20,500 more than the 174,265 who used Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.

The city’s mayor-elect, Jim Langfelder, said he will work through whatever the legislature decides to do, but he also sees the value of transportation.

“Society likes convenience,” he said. “The more you can make transportation convenient, the better, not only for work but for tourism.”

The Rauner administration is seeking to lay the blame for the spending cuts at the feet of previous governors, which spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said left Rauner with no choice but to cut the budget.

“Illinois’ fiscal crisis is a result of years of insider deals and overspending, and as a result, the state is $6 billion in the hole,” she said. “Without structural reform, difficult choices must be made to balance the budget and ensure care to the state’s most vulnerable.”

Rauner is a Republican and the legislature is controlled by Democrats, so it seems likely that the governor won’t get all of what he is seeking.

But party affiliation might not matter much when budget negotiations reach a critical stage and tough fiscal decisions need to be made.

Transportation funding, though, is a small part of what is at stake and what the governor and lawmakers are fighting over as they seek to narrow the budget deficit.

There are issues involving funding for the pension plans of public employees, funding for Medicaid and proposed reductions in the budget of the Department of Children and Family Services.

The governor has proposed an increase of $300 million in funding for K-12 education.

Legislators and Rauner have been sparring over what has been dubbed the “Turn Around Agenda” in which Democrats would get new revenue sources to devote to priorities dear to Democratic legislators in exchange for passage of business oriented measures dear to the Republican governor.

It remains to be seen to what degree funding Amtrak and public transportation are dear to either side.

Illinois has a long history of funding Amtrak service. It was the second state to offer Amtrak to operate trains that were not part of the 1971 basic system and it has funded more trains for a much longer period of time than has any other Midwest state.

Lawmakers and state policy makers and employees are active users of Amtrak trains between the capitol city and the Windy City.

Western Illinois University, Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign are located on the routes used by the state-funded trains with Eastern Illinois University just 10 miles away from a station on the Carbondale route.

So there is an active travel by train culture in Illinois that is all but non-existent in Ohio, stunted in Wisconsin and just now starting to develop in Indiana.

In the end, transportation seems likely to face a reduction and the discussion is probably going to center on how much. It probably will not be the number put forth by the governor.

Perhaps all of Amtrak’s current slate of state-funded trains will continue in operation.

But the price of that might be that continued development of new services and full-speed ahead continuation of high-speed rail construction in the Chicago-St. Louis corridors will be casualties of whatever bargain that the two sides reach.

Amtrak Warns of Cuts if Illinois Reduces Funding

March 29, 2015

Amtrak has warned that the State of Illinois may need to repay more than $1 billion in federal grant money if the state cuts funding of service in the Chicago-Louis corridor.

Ray Lang, senior director of national state relations for Amtrak, said at an Illinois House committee hearing that the cuts being proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner would have a significant impact on other passenger rail routes in Illinois.

Rauner has proposed slashing the state’s share of Amtrak funding by 40 percent from $42 million per year to $26 million.

Lang said if service cannot be reduced on the Chicago-St. Louis route because of the federal payback issue, service would have to be cut on other routes.

Citing the Chicago-Carbondale corridor, he said the Illini and Saluki might be eliminated, leaving only the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans via Champaign and Carbondale.

“You’re talking about elimination of service on routes. Worst-case scenario is that you’d just have the City of New Orleans (train,)” Lang said.

However, Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell had a different perspective.

“The state’s financial support for Amtrak’s annual operations is independent of any construction work that’s ongoing or has already taken place,” Tridgell said.

Tridgell said that he was speaking in a general sense and not specifically about the Chicago-St. Louis route.

He also contended that no route decisions have been made. “Everything is still under review,” Tridgell said.

Rauner’s push to cut funding for Amtrak service is in contrast with the policies of former Gov. Pat Quinn, who had pushed for expanded Amtrak service, including new routes to Rockford and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

Those proposed new Amtrak routes took a hit when Rauner froze grants that were earmarked to pay for track construction.

State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, expressed outrage that Rauner froze spending on the projects. “That is crazy,” Verschoore told the committee.

Rauner also wants to reduce mass transit spending by $180 million, a level that has Democratic lawmakers who control the General Assembly upset.

“I do not think I can support that deep of a cut to any of these transit agencies,” said state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, who chairs the appropriation committee. “I tell you, something’s got to give.”l

Review Puts Illinois Amtrak Expansion on Hold

February 4, 2015

Expansion of Amtrak service to Rockford, Ill., and to the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa is on hold by order of  Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner while his administration reviews them.

Rauner, who defeated incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn last November, had pledged to review all spending by the state. Service to Rockford had been projected to begin in late 2015.

The announcement prompted Rockford area officials to proclaim their continued support for the service.

“I would argue that anything you can do to improve transportation infrastructure economically benefits the Rockford region and the state,” said state Senator Steve Stadelman. “So it’s something that needs to go ahead no matter what our financial situation is.”

Rockford Settles on Site for Amtrak Station

January 7, 2015

Rockford, Ill., officials have decided on a site for a station for a proposed Amtrak service to Chicago.

The city is reported to be interested in a combination train station and parking deck at the site of the former Tapco building downtown.

The site, one of three that was considered, is south of a planned $53 million hotel-conference center by Gorman & Co. in the former Amerock building.

That project will cost $10 million to $12 million and include 300 to 400 parking spaces.

“What we’re trying to do is combine the train station with a parking structure to reduce that cost,” said City Administrator Jim Ryan to the Rockford City Council, The Amtrak service, which would be funded in part by the Illinois Department of Transportation,  is expected to begin between in late 2015 with one daily round trip.

IDOT plans to spend $223 million to upgrade Union Pacific tracks between Rockford and Elgin. Amtrak has said it would expand service in 2016 and eventually hopes to extend the route to Dubuque, Iowa. Funding of the track upgrade is part of a six-year $31 billion capital plan that outgoing Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn approved in 2009.

It is not known yet if Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner will support the rail project.


Illini, Saluki to Have Shorter Trips on Dec. 15

December 15, 2014

Amtrak’s Saluki and Illini will operate today (Dec. 15) between Chicago and Champaign, Ill., due to track work being performed by host railroad Canadian National.

Passengers bound for or originating at points south of Champaign will complete their journey by bus.

Amtrak said that the southbound buses will operate on slightly later schedules than the trains due to the longer travel times between stations while the northbound buses will operate on earlier schedules.

Consequently, No. 390, the northbound Saluki will operate 30 minutes later than the normal train schedule, departing Champaign at 10:44 a.m.

The Saluki and Illini normally operate between Chicago and Carbondale, Ill., and are funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Amtrak Adds Service in Illinois for Holiday Travel

November 13, 2014

Amtrak announced that it will operate additional service for the Thanksgiving travel period on the Lincoln Service and Chicago-Quincy, Ill., routes.

Trains will operate on Nov. 30 between Chicago and Bloomington/Normal, Ill., and between Chicago and Quincy corridor, via Galesburg and Macomb.

In order to accommodate the additional round-trip on Nov. 30, train No. 300 will depart St. Louis 35 minutes earlier than usual and train No. 301 will depart Chicago 30 minutes earlier than usual, with both trains operating on a modified schedule that day only.

To accommodate an additional round-trip on Nov. 30, train No. 383 (Illinois Zephyr) will depart Chicago 20 minutes later than usual and operate on a modified timetable to Quincy that day only.

For the full holiday schedule, go to

Amtrak Renews Dispute with CN Over Dispatching

September 3, 2014

Seeking to force Canadian National to provide better handling of its Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., Saluki and Illini, Amtrak lodged an amended complaint with the Surface Transportation Board seeking an investigation of CN’s dispatching practices. Amtrak claims that these have caused unacceptable train delays on the Chicago to Carbondale corridor.

The complaint said that on-time performance of the State of Illinois supported Illini and Saluki service was 49 percent for the quarter ending June 30 and 42 percent for the prior quarter.

The on-time performance of the four trains has been less than 80 percent for three years and less than 60 percent for most of that time. Amtrak cited Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act which mandates that the STB initiate an investigation upon the filing of a complaint by Amtrak if the on-time performance of an intercity passenger train falls below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters.

Under federal law, Amtrak has a statutory right to preference in the dispatching of intercity passenger trains before freight trains. The amended complaint is part of the same case that Amtrak filed with the STB regarding CN’s performance in January 2012.

Those proceedings were stayed while Amtrak and CN attempted to address the issue of delays informally.

Amtrak said the recent poor performance of the Saluki and Illini prompted it to ask the STB to investigate the causes of delay and to award damages and other relief if violations of Amtrak’s right to preference are found.

CN spokesman Mark Hallman told Trains magazine that the railroad will respond to Amtrak’s investigation request to the STB. The City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans also uses the same CN tracks as the Saluki and Illini.

Illinois Seeking Increase in Amtrak Service

August 22, 2014
The southbound Illini is about to make its stop at Mattoon, Ill., as a northbound Canadian National freight train clears the station in August 2014.

The southbound Illini is about to make its stop at Mattoon, Ill., as a northbound Canadian National freight train clears the station in August 2014.

The state of Illinois is talking about expanding Amtrak service on the Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., corridor, which already sees six daily trains, four of them funded by the state.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin recently wrote to Amtrak to suggest that it offer additional service. Their letter noted that ridership has grown 117 percent since 2006 to nearly 400,000 passengers a year.

“Expanding service on this corridor will continue the great progress Illinois has made to improve passenger rail service throughout the state,” the letter said.

Amtrak’s Illinois service is funded by $10.5 million provided by the state. The Carbondale route is particularly popular with students attending University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University. Adding another round trip would help ease overcrowding and expand Illinois service. Quinn and Durbin requested that Amtrak start a formal feasibility study “as soon as possible,” though it is not clear where the additional subsidy funding would come from.

Scheduling of trains over the busy former Illinois Central main line could be an issue. “We do have some issues with the folks who own the tracks, CN” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. “And we do have some issues with how they’re handling our trains.” Amtrak has set no deadline for when it will schedule the feasibility study for the expansion of service.

State-funded trains on the corridor include the Saluki, which operates in both directions in the morning and the Illini, which operates in the evening. Also service the route is the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.


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