Durbin intervenes on future of Amtrak line

By Eric Heisig

Illinois politicians have decided to get involved in the future of a major Amtrak route.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sent a letter to the Surface Transportation Board on Feb. 15 regarding the potential purchasing of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway (EJ&E;) by the Canadian National Railway (CN), stating some concerns they need to investigate during the environmental analysis of the proposed sale.

The EJ&E; Railway is part of an Amtrak route that runs from Champaign to Chicago, which many students use to go home on weekends and on breaks.

Among the items Durbin said to look at was the impact of Amtrak’s service, which could be affected by selling the railway. Currently, Amtrak uses 11 miles of the railway to get into the city of Chicago, which is the cause for concern.

Durbin also said to look at how the sale will impact communities in both pedestrian safety and how crowded the suburbs are.

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“He wants them to look at trains going through communities and address concerns of those looking at congestion,” said Christina Mulka, spokesperson for Durbin.

Durbin has also urged CN to assist Amtrak in purchasing the Grand Crossing Railway, which would eventually serve as an alternate route after the EJ&E; Railway is purchased. However, CN has never committed to that plan.

“It is a matter of perspective,” said Jim Kvedaras, senior manager for U.S. public and government affairs for CN. “Sen. Durbin is trying to get them to undermine the cost of Grand Crossing. That is not our project and never has been.”

Amtrak is currently contracted to use the EJ&E; Railway until the agreement expires in 2010. After 2010, CN said Amtrak would be able to use the route until they have another way to reroute, such as Grand Crossing.

However, if CN does purchase the EJ&E; Railway, they plan to get all of their traffic off of those tracks.

“If we get all of our stuff off, Amtrak will be the last user,” Kvedaras said.

The whole situation has Amtrak concerned, especially since it is still up in the air.

“It is perfectly usable right now,” said Marc Magliari, media relations manager for Amtrak. “However, as the only user of it, we want to know how it will be maintained by them, and what they will charge if Amtrak is the sole user.”

The rest of the route from Champaign to Chicago would not be affected by the EJ&E; purchase, Kvedaras said. The route is a small amount of track to be worrying about when it is looked at in a larger picture, he added.

“It is only 11 miles,” Kvedaras said. “The rest of the 130 plus miles from Champaign and more from Carbondale are subject to recalculations for a different contract.”

Currently, Amtrak has not heard any estimates on what they would pay to use and keep up the EJ&E; railway if the deal goes through.

“Nothing has been provided by CN, and they’re the ones we’d be looking for to get those estimates,” Magliari said.