CHICAGO – In a letter to President George W. Bush, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today voiced his concern over proposed federal funding cuts for passenger rail service in the United States. The Governor’s letter is in response to provisions in the President’s proposed federal budget that dramatically increase the burden on states to keep passenger rail service up and running.
"Amtrak, our nation’s primary rail passenger carrier, is an integral part of the Midwest transportation system, and of the nation as a whole. Eliminating its operating budget would be a major blow to the families that call rural America home, both in terms of travel convenience and as a regional economic engine," wrote the Governor.
Currently, Illinois provides $12-million dollars a year of financial support to Amtrak. This money is used to maintain regular passenger rail service from Chicago to Quincy, St. Louis and Carbondale. The state also partners with Wisconsin for Chicago to Milwaukee service, which served 445,000 riders last year.
"Amtrak provides vital and affordable transportation service for many of our families, seniors on fixed incomes, our members of the armed forces, and students. More than three million people travel in or through Illinois every year on the Amtrak rail system," the Governor said.
"Passenger rail is also vital to our economy. Chicago is home to one of the busiest rail stations in the country: more than one million people boarded trains at Amtrak’s Union Station in 2003. At least two thousand people, from concession operators to cab drivers rely on Chicago’s Union Station, Amtrak’s Midwest hub, for their livelihood. Our tourism industry from Chicago to the Shawnee National Forest would also feel the blow, and families seeking low cost vacations would have one less alternative."
Governor Blagojevich is urging the Bush administration to reconsider its proposed funding cuts. If enacted, the reductions could mean:
· Ownership of Chicago’s Union Station would be in question, jeopardizing at least two-thousand jobs ranging from concession operators to taxi drivers.
· Tourism in the Chicago area and throughout the state would be negatively impacted.
· Communities where rail is the only form of public transportation would find themselves without any.
· Long-distance passenger rail service would evaporate.
· Midwest rail infrastructure would deteriorate.
"I urge you to reconsider your budget as proposed, and work with the Congress to find a mutually agreeable level of federal financial support for Amtrak that will allow passenger rail to continue. My staff and I will work with our congressional delegation, including Speaker Hastert, to see that Amtrak trains continue to run in the Midwest," the Governor wrote in closing.