Amtrak line from Champaign to Chicago in question

By Eric Heisig

Students who live in the Chicago-land area may soon be looking for another way to get home on weekends and for breaks.

The Canadian National Railway has expressed interest in purchasing the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern, or EJ&E;, Railway. This Amtrak line, named the Air Line Route, runs from New Orleans to Chicago, and connects the city of Champaign to Union Station in Chicago. However, if the Canadian National Railway is able to purchase the EJ&E; Railway, service to Chicago may be rerouted, adding significant time to the trip from Champaign, or suspended all together.

“I would be upset about this,” said Steven Canning, senior in LAS. “Whenever I go home, I either take the train or the bus. Over the last few years, Amtrak has always been cheaper.”

Amtrak has concerns about losing this line as well. If the Canadian National Railway purchases the line, Amtrak will lose a major line in its railroad system.

“The plans of Canadian National Railway to acquire the EJ&E; Railway pose a very significant threat to the continued operation of six Amtrak trains,” said Marc Magliari, media relations manager for Amtrak.

Magliari said Amtrak has been in talks with the Surface Transportation Board to build an alternate route to continue to connect these cities. Instead of the Air Line Route, the Grand Crossing Route would be the new connector into Chicago, allowing people from downstate Illinois continued service.

However, there is a problem with this. The project would first need to find funding, and the logistics and the construction of the line could take years to complete.

Magliari said if the Canadian National Railway does end up purchasing the EJ&E; railway, Amtrak would like to continue to use the Air Line Route until the project is completed.

“We would want to stay on the current route until the Grand Crossing Route is built,” Magliari said. “Every other route that has been suggested would add significant time to train schedules between downstate and Chicago.”

On Jan. 15, the Champaign City Council passed a resolution opposing the potential changes for the railway.

“I hope they realize why we need to have the railway run from here to Chicago,” said District 3 Council member Vic McIntosh. “This city would not be here if it wasn’t for Amtrak. It is a vital part of our economy and it makes a great partnership.”

The Surface Transportation Board is reviewing all the facts about the sale and has held a number of public hearings on the issue. The board has until April 25 to make its decision on the sale, and the decision will go into effect 30 days after the ruling is served.