News

Amtrak routes in Illinois, Missouri not in danger

The Illinois Zephyr-Carl Sandburg route had 112,888 passengers during the first half of Amtrak’s fiscal year from October 2012 through the end of March. That was up 1,384 from the same period the previous year. (H-W File Photo)
Posted: Sep. 19, 2013 6:22 am Updated: Oct. 3, 2013 7:15 am

By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer

Amtrak customers in Illinois and Missouri are not in danger of losing their passenger rail service anytime soon.

A recent story in the Wall Street Journal told how lawmakers in Indiana are reluctant to fund some Amtrak routes to comply with a law passed by Congress in 2008. The story said routes would be lost if Indiana and 18 other states did not provide funds for the train service by October.

"Illinois has been doing that for a long time," Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman, said.

Magliari said the Illinois Zephyr, which travels the route between Quincy and Chicago along with the Carl Sandburg train, has been a state-sponsored train for more than 40 years. The Amtrak route between St. Louis and Kansas City has received state funds since 1979.

"What's new in Illinois is that the state has paid for three of the four trains that travel the Chicago-St. Louis route every day. The state will now be paying for that fourth train. The state has known about that since 2008 and had planned for it," Magliari said.

Part of the confusion caused by the Wall Street Journal story was created by a map that showed short-line routes where state funds will be required. Chicago-based routes to Quincy, St. Louis and Carbondale were shown on the map without an explanation that Illinois is a long-time funding partner.

Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable, is a frequent Amtrak passenger as he makes the trek from Quincy to his office in Chicago. He also was an Illinois House member decades ago and voted for the state funding to support the Quincy-Chicago route.

"It's a great link, a vital link between us and the city. People take the trains for meetings and hospitals, for Cubs games, college students, you name it. I've seen the ridership grow and grow. Even with the second train, it has continued to grow," Mays said.

Mays voted in the House during the 1980s to help fund the Amtrak routes, saying the area didn't have good road connections to Chicago. He said based on the price of gasoline and the passenger numbers, train service remains a necessity and customers pay a majority of the costs.

"We have a really good fare box recovery rate on the Quincy route," Mays said.

The Illinois Zephyr-Carl Sandburg route had 112,888 passengers during the first half of Amtrak's fiscal year from October 2012 through the end of March. That was up 1,384 from the same period the previous year.

 

-- dwilson@whig.com/221-3372