Written by Steven Keith
Wednesday, 20 March 2013 00:00
SPRINGFIELD — While the State of Illinois will be drastically cutting the amount of funds it provides for government agencies, as well as secondary and higher education, it will be increasing the amount of funds it spends on Amtrak train service, during the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
According to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s latest proposed budget, the state will spend $38 million on Amtrak train service in the fiscal year that starts July 1, a 46 percent increase from the amount it spent during the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
To comply with the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 that requires states to start picking up a larger part of the tab for rail service on routes shorter than 750 miles, Illinois, along with New York, Michigan and California, must increase the amount of funds it spends on Amtrak train service this year.
“A number of states face increased passenger rail operating costs because some Amtrak costs that had been borne by the feds will become the responsibility of the states as of Oct. 1, due to the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008,” said Illinois Department of Transportation Communications Manager Mike Claffey.
The amount the state spends on Amtrak train service in the upcoming fiscal year could be less than $38 million, said Claffey.
“We are in the midst of serious negotiations with Amtrak on what these increases will be, and thus have no final numbers yet,” said Claffey. “The extent of the impact is not yet known because we and Amtrak are in negotiations about what the level of increase will be.
“If we do not agree to these increases, the only alternative is to cut service. We think that would not be the correct course of action. Illinois is strongly committed to passenger rail and in fact, the state is a national leader in implementing high-speed rail.”
A final budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year will be approved in the spring or early summer.
Quinn said the state’s operating budget of $35.6 billion is the most difficult budget Illinois has ever had to balance. He blames lawmakers’ inaction on reforming the state’s multibillion-dollar pension problem for spending cuts in several areas, including higher and secondary education.
“When you have that tremendous amount of money that you have to put in the pension (system), something’s got to give,” said Quinn. “And our education, classroom education is going to get cut. And I don’t like that. I think that’s not the right thing for us to do as a state. That’s why we need pension reform.”
Despite the significant increase in state funding, Illinois will not get any extra train service this year.
Later this year, construction on a new Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque passenger rail corridor, a $60 million project, will begin. Passenger trains are scheduled to begin rolling between Chicago and the Quad Cities in the fall of 2015.
New bi-level, high-speed passenger rail cars will also go into service in 2015. A $268 million federal grant was awarded to the state to fund the new passenger rail cars.
A high-speed passenger rail service between Chicago and St. Louis that includes stops in Dwight, Pontiac, Normal and Lincoln is currently under construction.
Ridership on passenger railways located in Illinois has increased 92.5 percent since 2006. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012, more than 1.8 million people utilized Illinois’ Amtrak train service, an increase of 4.2 percent from the previous fiscal year.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 March 2013 14:05