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Full Steam Ahead For Amtrak

Amanda Vinicky

  Amtrak ridership in Illinois has risen in recent years; it's up almost 85 percent from 2006 through last year. That trend developed after the rail service added routes. The train service could grow more in the future.

In 2006, lines branching out from Chicago that went to Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis added trips.

Then there's the ongoing construction on tracks, that's supposed to make way for so-called "high speed rail" on line that runs through Bloomington and Springfield, and into Missouri. There's a potential for more expansion going forward.

At the request of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn, spokesman Marc Magliari says Amtrak will begin looking into adding onto the service that runs through the eastern part of the state to southern Illinois; that route saw ridership increase 117 percent in the past decade or so. 

"There are days the train sells out," he says of the Chicago/Carbondale service. "There are days you can walk into the Illinois Terminal station, which is the name of the station in Champaign, and see the waiting room overflowing. So there certainly is demand."

He says Illinois has already taken some steps that could open up seats for interested travelers.

"The existing single-level trains are selling out on all three of these downstate routes, and the state has on order, to be built in Illinois, double-decker equipment which will have higher capacity," he says.

Those cars -- to be manufactured by the Japanese company Nippon Sharyo at its plant in Rochelle, will be more modern, and outfitted with wireless Internet; but Magliari says that's a couple of years away from being ready.

Magliari says Amtrak is also in the midst of a study analyzing the feasibility of a route that would run parallel to Interstate-74.

Illinois' transportation department recently announced an agreement it described as a "milestone" with Iowa's Interstate Railroad to begin design work on passenger rail service, that could ultimately lead to service from Chicago to the Quad Cities.

Amtrak critics oppose using government funding to subsidize the service, and point to failures to run on time.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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