Illinois Leaders Stand Up to Support Amtrak
Written by Michael 'Rocket' Richards:
On Tuesday July 28th the Midwest High Speed Rail Association brought together a coalition of legislators, mayors, universities, chambers of commerce, regional economic development and tourism officials at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield. Their message: Amtrak service is vital for the quality of life and economic development in our communities - proposed cuts would devastate Amtrak communities statewide. The event was covered by the Associated Press, Chicago Sun-Times, State (Springfield) Journal-Register, Illinois Public Radio, WAND-TV Decatur and WCIA-TV Champaign.
Even though ridership on Amtrak’s trains has risen 140% in the past decade, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner targeted Illinois Amtrak service for cuts in his 2015 budget proposal. The Governor’s proposed budget would cut Illinois’ Amtrak support 40% to $26 million its current level of $42 million. Amtrak has said in legislative hearings that if the cuts were implemented it Amtrak would be forced to reduce the number of trains running from Chicago to communities across Illinois. 1.16 million passengers boarded state-supported trains Downstate in 2014.
MHSR Executive Director Rick Harnish brought a letter from 16 Illinois mayors and county leaders asking Governor Rauner not to cut Amtrak service to their communities. Macomb Mayor Michael Inman talked about the importance of Amtrak to Illinois. Inman said that “(Western Illinois) University relies heavily on getting the students to and from Chicago metropolitan area to get students to come to Western. Macomb enjoys some increased tourism dollars by the availability that folks have to come to Macomb by utilizing Amtrak,” he said.
Other mayors questioned whether service cuts were the best way to shrink the state’s share of Amtrak’s budget. Urbana mayor Laurel Prussing said “The best budget strategy is to grow revenue by improving service to get more passengers.” Champaign County Chamber of Commerce President CEO Laura Weis said that the State’s own studies show that Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale service should be increased not cut. “Ridership has increased so dramatically on the 1-57 corridor that our community had advocated for an IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) Feasibility study to add more trains. IDOT completed that study last summer and it confirms that our corridor could actually support two additional trains a day,” she said.
Joining local leaders were legislators from across Illinois who spoke about the importance of Amtrak to Illinois communities, led by Assistant Republican Leader Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) and House Transportation Chairman Dan Beiser (D-Alton), whose hometown is constructing a 17 million dollar Regional Multi-modal transportation center to take advantage of Amtrak’s high-speed rail upgrades on its Lincoln Service line.
They were joined by Rep. Don Moffitt R-Galesburg, Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), Rep Carol Ammons (D-Urbana), Rep Pat Verschoore (D-Milan) and Joliet-area representatives Natalie Manley and Lawrence Walsh, Jr (both D-Joliet). Joliet is also building a new train station and Verschoore noted that in his district, Moline is moving forward with a new train station and downtown development in anticipation of a planned train line between Chicago and the Quad Cities.
Moffitt said “When we have good passenger rail service it’s better for the environment…its jobs with the crews who are on those Amtraks; its jobs in terms of the economic development it can bring, tourism it can bring to these communities.” Hammond said “The availability an an Amtrak service brings to all of our higher ed communities is absolutely outstanding and it has been proven that we need that in order to bring the students from Chicago to (institutions in) Downstate Illinois…and also we cannot forget our International students (who don’t drive). They have got to have the availability to get to an airport…without the availability of Amtrak they would not have that.” Rep Ammons said “Champaign and Urbana depend on Amtrak services…I encourage the public to get involved in this issue.”
In addition to local leaders and legislators, Universities across Illinois are asking the Governor not to cut Amtrak service their students count on. Brad Bainter, VP for Advancement and Public Services said that 50 % of WIU’s students have always come from the Chicago area. “Doing away with Amtrak service only makes it tougher to keep our students in state and makes accessibility to all the Downstate schools tougher,” he said. “Southern Illinois University and Eastern Illinois University have also sent letters to the Governor opposing Amtrak cuts and MHSR also brought a letter to the press conference from University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise talking about the importance of Amtrak service to UI.
This was a bipartisan effort to support continued Amtrak funding. Check out the letter signed by Illinois mayors and county members here: http://www.midwesthsr.org/7-28raunerlettersigners