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Amtrak: Illinois Budget Cuts Would Mean Fewer Trains

Bill Dickinson

Amtrak officials say they don’t yet know which services would be affected if Illinois cuts its funding. But the rail company says it’s sure there would be some service reductions if its grant is cut by a proposed $16 million.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has suggested the state’s Amtrak operations subsidy, administered through the Illinois Department of Transportation, drop to $26 million from the current $42 million. A spokesman for Amtrak, which operates four intrastate train lines with service between Chicago and dozens of downstate cities, says the company can’t absorb a cut that steep.

“A 40 percent reduction in the contract amount cannot sustain the level of passenger train service we operate in the state today,” says Derrick James, Amtrak director of government affairs. He says Amtrak has met with Illinois Department of Transportation to decide what service level it could maintain.

The reduction to Amtrak’s state grant is part of several transportation cuts the governor has said are necessary for Illinois’ fiscal health. Rauner has also proposed less funding for mass transit in Chicago, the suburbs and downstate.

'Reining in these costs allows us to minimize reductions in other areas of the budget.'

“Reining in these costs allows us to minimize reductions in other areas of the budget,” Rauner said. James says Illinoisans have “flocked” to use of Amtrak, with business-class ridership up and an increasing numbers of student riders going by train to each of the state’s universities.

The state first began contracting with Amtrak in 1971, with the line running through Quincy, Macomb, Galesburg and Chicago. While the passenger rail company also receives federal money, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 brought uniformity to the cost states pay to Amtrak for intrastate service.

James says Illinois pays only for the intrastate Amtrak services it uses, including fuel, personnel and fees to private railroad companies, which own the tracks on which Amtrak operated. The state pays the difference between the cost to run trains and the passenger fares. For individuals, a trip from Springfield to Chicago can cost anywhere from $20 to $52.

Amtrak also faces cuts to its federal funding. James says service levels in Illinois would not likely be affected by a loss of federal money.

Credit Dan Gaken / Flickr.com/dgaken
An Amtrak train arrives in downtown Chicago.

Rhonda Gillespie is in the Public Affairs Reporting graduate program at University of Illinois Springfield and covers state government and politics for Illinois Issues magazine. She was previously managing editor of the Chicago Defender newspaper and a reporter for other Chicago and national news, university and trade outlets. She can be reached at (217) 206-6524.
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