Bill plans more Amtrak trains

By Erin Kelley

A proposed budget amendment could give students two more trains a day that they can use for traveling to and from Chicago at the Illinois Terminal.

Passengers can leave from Champaign to Chicago at 6:10 a.m. or 9:49 p.m., currently, and from Chicago to Champaign at 4:05 p.m. or 8 p.m., said March Magliari, media relations for the Chicago office of Amtrak. The bill would add a train to and from Chicago in the morning, Harnish said. The morning train from Chicago would make a midday stop in Champaign-Urbana.

The amendment, called HB 4978, is asking the state government to give up to $35 million to Illinois Department of Transportation. The bill, supported by universities and communities, would add more trains on Amtrak lines from the funds given to Illinois Department of Transportation.

The funding will allow Amtrak to add two extra trains running between Chicago and St. Louis and one extra train running between Chicago and Quincy each day, said Rick Harnish, executive director of Midwest High Speed Rail Association. The money would also allow Amtrak to keep the existing trains that run between Chicago and Milwaukee everyday, Harnish said.

Currently, Amtrak receives $12.1 million a year for the routes between Chicago and Milwaukee, Chicago and Quincy, Chicago and St. Louis through Bloomington-Normal, and Chicago and Carbondale through Champaign-Urbana. The proposed train additions would cost around $18 million.

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“The additional frequency could give people the option to come down for a Saturday afternoon football game, come down for lunch with their kids who attend the U of I, or come down to do studies during the day and come back at night,” Magliari said. “A lot of folks are saying they would like to take the train but there isn’t one scheduled at the time they need it. They have been asked what would work better and this is it.”

Eventually, the train will provide faster and more affordable transportation from Chicago to Champaign than any other form of transportation, Harnish said.

Harnish is optimistic that the Assembly will approve the bill.

“It’s a small amount (of money),” Harnish said. “I don’t foresee it being a problem.”

According to the Illinois General Assembly Web site, the bill has 97 co-sponsors. Presently the bill is in the house rules committee. Terry McLennand, assistant director of state relations at the University Office of Governmental Relations, said he is not sure if the bill will pass because it is a lot of money to appropriate out of the budget, especially with the budget being tighter than last year. He said there have been various rumors that proposed amendments to the budget will not be accepted, though there are many good ideas.

“It is good for Western, Southern and other universities because it will increase economic development, access to the University, access to residences, and add to the vibrancy of the community – the University community,” McLennand said.

Both the presidents of Western Illinois University and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale have spoken in favor of the bill, McLennand said. Chancellor Richard Herman is expected to sign a letter that will be presented to the state government from a coalition of communities and other groups, said Robin Kaler, associate chancellor and director of public affairs.