Tag Archives: Illinois

Officials Optimistic About Expanding Amtrak Service In Illinois

CHICAGO (CBS) — Proponents of expanded Amtrak service in Illinois are meeting today in Chicago and despite the state’s budget woes, they’re talking expansion.

It’s a far cry from a year ago, when Gov. Bruce Rauner threatened to cut the state’s Amtrak subsidy by 40 percent — and service by half. After months of negotiation and pressure from downstate officials, the Illinois Dept. of Transportation in February agreed to hold the line on funding.

Now, Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Rick Harnish has a renewed goal.

“We should be talking about expanding, and I am satisfied that the state is continuing to talk about expanding,” he said. “We’re going to expand Amtrak and we need to do it sooner, rather than later.”

Expansion could bring Amtrak to the Quad Cities and Peoria, neither of which has had direct passenger rail service since the early 1980s, when the old Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific R.R. collapsed. The Rock Island was never a part of Amtrak.

The top priority is one already in the works. Harnish has a commitment from the Rauner administration to provide 110-mile-an-hour service between Chicago and St. Louis — or, more properly, between Joliet and Alton — next year.

Harnish said the widely-held belief that passenger rail is Democratic issue and opposed by Republicans is a “misconception.”

“It isn’t really that clear-cut,” he said.

He said Republicans including Rauner, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — who killed high-speed Amtrak expansion between Milwaukee and Madison upon taking office — are all “moving forward important passenger rail expansion programs” in their states.

At the meeting, Amtrak outlined how it is attempting to transform Chicago Union Station into a multi-level shopping arcade while moving its ticketing and passenger lounge to the station’s Great Hall, in an attempt to eliminate crowding at Amtrak and Metra gates. And Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she remains supportive of a plan to run CTA express trains between the Loop and O’Hare Airport, utilizing the mothballed “Superstation” beneath Block 37. Preckwinkle voted to finance the project as an alderman. The half-finished station was mothballed because of huge cost overruns, and indications are that it will not be revived unless a private partner can be found to finish the project. More recent discussions of an O’Hare express service have focused on the use of existing, but upgraded, commuter and freight rail lines.

 

Illinois Panel finalizes recommendations to overhaul regional rail transit

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A task force formed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to examine transit service in the Chicago area has concluded that the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) should be abolished and Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace be consolidated under a single “integrated” board with three operating units, according to a report submitted to the governor yesterday.

The Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force unanimously adopted the report and recommendations. The panel recommends that a new oversight board be established that would set policies and prioritize transit investments.

In addition, the panel calls for new governance rules, new sources of revenue to help support transit and new performance-based management practices for transit service.

Quinn appointed the task force in August 2013 in the wake of a patronage scandal involving Metra’s board. His executive order called on task force members to make recommendations on ways the region’s transit agencies “can improve their operations, repair the damage done to the public trust and modernize the transit system” for the communities that depend on it.

“If the Chicago region is to be globally competitive it must have a globally competitive transit system,” states the task force’s letter to Quinn. “Currently, we do not. These recommendations will position us to achieve that result.”

In addition to Quinn, the report was sent to the Illinois General Assembly, which would need to change state law in order to alter or abolish the RTA.

The task force’s recommendations can be read here.