Governor Bruce Rauner's proposed 40 percent cut in Amtrak funding drew objections from 16 university and municipal officials on Tuesday morning.
Schools as small as Spoon River College and as large as the University of Illinois flagship in Urbana-Champaign rely on Amtrak trains to bring their students to campus. They say the cut would reduce services and negatively affect enrollment at all downstate schools.
Jude Kiah, transit director at Western Illinois University -- the only state university that's not on an interstate -- said his school depends on two Amtrak trains per day.
"We don't have bus, we don't have airplane, we barely have any four-lane connection to the north and to the south,” Kiah told the Senate committee on Higher Education. "This is not a nicety, it's not a convenience. It would be absolutely catastrophic to us to lose this second train."
Some lawmakers suggested raising ticket prices to fund the trains, but Amtrak officials said that would not work.
Laurel Prussing, mayor of Urbana, told lawmakers she was surprised by the suggestion of cuts. "We have just gotten back from Washington, D.C., where we were lobbying for more Amtrak service, because we think that's what we need,” Prussing said. “So we're kind of dismayed that somebody wants to cut Amtrak service. I think that's a move in the wrong direction.”