Passenger rail advocates are trying to maintain the state’s subsidy for Amtrak. The state is paying $42 million this year to support most of the trains from Carbondale, St. Louis and Quincy to Chicago. The governor’s budget proposal cuts that to $26 million, the amount the state paid two years ago, but last year a new funding formula took effect, under federal law. Rick Harnish of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association tells us what $26 million would buy.
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“It essentially means that the price cut that the Rauner Administration has proposed is that all we could afford is the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor, and that I think is unacceptable from many perspectives. One, politically, it’s hard to imagine just one route being funded by the General Assembly,” he said.
The state increased Amtrak service in 2006, doubling the number of state-supported trains serving Downstate. Since then, ridership has increased by 125 percent. (Ridership on all Illinois contracted routes is up 79 percent overall since that time, but the route with the most ridership, between Chicago and Milwaukee, saw an increase in service from six round-trips a day to seven.)
Harnish is particularly concerned about the St. Louis-to-Chicago route, in which the federal government has invested $1 billion on new tracks, signals and soon-to-arrive new coaches and locomotives. He says that’s money Illinois would have to pay back if the state reduced service on that route.
Illinois is the No. 2 state in the nation for contracting service from Amtrak, behind California.