Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Illinois’

No Cuts in Illinois Service through June 30

February 6, 2016

Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation announced on Friday an agreement to maintain through June 30 the current schedule and fares of trains funded by the state.

“This agreement preserves the service that riders have come to expect, while saving taxpayers money and avoiding fare increases for our downstate routes,” said IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn.

IDOTService levels on Illinois-funded trains had been in jeopardy due to the lack of a budget for fiscal year 2016 and the desire of Gov. Bruce Rauner to reduce funding for Amtrak service by 40 percent.

Illinois has agreed to pay $38.3 million toward state-supported trains for the current fiscal year compared with $42 million in FY 2015.

IDOT negotiated credits for previous spending by the state on Amtrak equipment upgrades, including Wi-Fi service, as well as a $2.7 million cut in an Amtrak request for additional equipment upgrades and maintenance.

Amtrak said last November that nearly 1.3 million passengers rode Illinois-funded  trains in FY 2015, a 4 percent drop from the previous fiscal year.

The railroad blamed falling gasoline prices and service interruptions for the drop in patronage.

Illinois underwrites four pairs of trains between Chicago and St. Louis; two pairs of trains between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois; and two pairs of trains between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois. All three routes are covered in part by long-distance trains that are not funded by the state.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari called the agreement a good deal for both sides.

“We’ve had a long series of conversations with Illinois DOT and they wanted very much to try and find what they could do to save the service at the current level, so do we,” Magliari said.

Champaign-Urbana Saw Amtrak Ridership Decline in FY 2015 for the 2nd Consecutive Year

January 18, 2016
The southbound Illini makes its station stop in Rantoul in August 2012.

The southbound Illini makes its station stop in Rantoul in August 2012.

University towns tend to generate a lot of business for Amtrak and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, is no exception.

One some days the waiting room of the Illinois Terminal, the intermodal station that serves the hometowns of the University of Illinois, overflows with passengers.

Yet in fiscal year 2015, which ended last Sept. 30, ridership from Champaign-Urbana fell for the second consecutive year.

In FY 2013, Amtrak boarded 189,940 passengers in the Twin Cities but saw that number fall to 169,221 in FY 2015. FY 2014 ridership was 179,009.

At the next stop north of Champaign, ridership has shown a slight increase in Rantoul. The ridership numbers for Rantoul have been 5, 889 (FY 2013), 6,166 (FY 2014) and 6,199 (FY 2015)

Patronage fell in many areas of the country during FY 2015 and Amtrak has been blaming falling gasoline prices as a major culprit.

“We believe, as we’ve said before, as gasoline prices go up, so does ridership, and the inverse is true,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

He noted that parking, tolls and traffic tickets in and around Chicago have not changed.

Despite the ridership falloff, Magliari said, “we still have very strong ridership.”

IllinoisIn fact, Amtrak ridership remains at historic levels, with last year being the fifth-highest ridership year on record since 1979, said T.J. Blakeman, Champaign’s senior planner for economic development.

Local officials are concerned that Amtrak service may suffer cuts as a result of a budget stalemate between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly. The two have yet to agree on a budget for the current fiscal year.

Champaign-Urbana is served by three pairs of Amtrak trains, the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans, and the state-funded Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

The addition of the Saluki in 2006 provided a boost to Amtrak patronage from Champaign-Urbana, Blakeman said.

“It shows if we can continue to add service on this line, I believe we will continue to see increased ridership,” he said.

Between 2007 and 2014, Amtrak ridership in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor grew 41.6 percent.

Aside from budget uncertainty, another concern of Champaign County officials is delays.

Amtrak uses Canadian National tracks between Chicago and New Orleans and the two have sparred over freight delays.

Magliari said Amtrak has an action pending against Canadian National before regulatory authorities.

Ben LeRoy, an associate planner for the city of Champaign, thinks that bus carriers might also be siphoning away some Amtrak ridership due to the problems of delays.

LeRoy, said he takes Amtrak to conferences, but while a student at the University of Illinois he rode Greyhound because the fare was lower and the buses ran more frequently

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she has left the night before a meeting in Chicago because of the possibility of delays making her late to the meeting.

“That drives away passengers if you can’t be on time. I think that’s the biggest problem, and it’s not Amtrak’s fault,” she said.

Nearly 1,000 people have signed Champaign County First’s online petition at chn.ge/1PtVaBP to support intercity rail passenger rail service on the Chicago-Carbondale corridor.

The petition has described the service as an economic engine for the state of Illinois, the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University, which together constitute the I-57 Amtrak Rail Knowledge Corridor.

“Just imagine what would happen to the highways if all those people were driving,” Prushing said.

Blakeman said increased Amtrak ridership has played a role in reducing traffic congestion and parking shortages on the University of Illinois campus.

“We’ve reduced parking on campus. We’ve convinced students to bring fewer cars to campus,” he said.

Illinois Amtrak Ridership Fell 4% in FY 2015

December 17, 2015

Ridership on Amtrak trains and routes serving Illinois and funded by the state fell by 4 percent in the past federal fiscal year, which Amtrak said was due to more driving and service interruptions.

Amtrak carried nearly 1.3 million passengers in Illinois for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2015.

Most of the service disruptions occurred on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor where Amtrak, Union Pacific and the Illinois Department of Transportation have been working on a $1.8 billion high-speed rail project.

At various times, Amtrak’s Lincoln Service trains were canceled in favor of buses. The Chicago-San Antonio Texas Eagle detoured on those days on another UP route.

Amtrak has also cited weather-related delays and service suspensions for resulting in revenues and ridership being relatively flat during FY 2015.

“We had plenty of construction improvements,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said in reference to the Illinois high-speed rail work of which the federal government is contributing $1.6 billion toward the goal of operating trains at 110 mph between Chicago and St. Louis.

Magliari said the buses have lower capacity and do not travel as fast as the trains.

Amtrak operates eight Lincoln Service trains plus the Texas Eagle in the Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

Ridership between Chicago and St. Louis was 682,296, a decline of 5 percent from the previous year.

Patronage fell 4 percent on the Chicago-Carbondale route to 358,578 while the Chicago-Quincy route carried 244,444 passengers for a decline of 2 percent.

Illinois funds four trains in the Carbondale and Quincy corridors. The Carbondale corridor is also served by the City of New Orleans which operates between Chicago and New Orleans.

Although the administration of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed cutting the amount of state support for Amtrak operations, the state still plans to carry out the final phase of the high-speed rail work in 2016.

IDOT’s Brian Williamsen said work in 2016 will include crossing improvements, station and siding construction, and added bridge and structure upgrades. Positive train control systems will also be installed.

Amtrak trains began operating at speeds of up to 110 mph between Pontiac and Dwight in 2012, but Williamsen said the focus now is on completion of track and network upgrades in 2017.

“We don’t have 110-mph projections to pass along at this time,” he said.

Magliari said Amtrak expects to take possession of new locomotives next year that will allow for 110-mph speeds, but it has not yet been determined how many could be assigned to Illinois routes.

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, www.growillinoistransit.org.

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.


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