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