Amtrack Reaches Transportation Deal

Erika Ward

Amidst the current budget impasse, Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) came to a deal on Friday that would allow the existing services on state-supported routes to continue without increasing fares.

 Last fiscal year, IDOT paid $42 million in expenses to Amtrak, while the new deal costs the state $38.3 million and lasts until Jun. 30.  The new deal still costs more than the $26 million that Gov. Bruce Rauner initially proposed in his budget.

 According to the announcement, the state is using credits that would otherwise be used for upgrades in equipment in order to get a lower price from Amtrak. According to a release, the equipment upgrades included an investment to establish onboard Wi-Fi service, which will be put on the back burner for this deal.

 Currently, there is a round trip service from Union Station in Chicago and Macomb, which comes through twice daily on the Carl Sandburg route and the Illinois Zephyr route.

 In 2014, Chicago’s Union Station proved to be one of the busiest Amtrak stations, having a total ridership of 3,377,259 people coming to and leaving Chicago.

 “Our partnership with Illinois is one of the longest and the second-largest, growing to more than two million passengers a year,” said Jay Commer, Amtrak SVP/General Manager of the state-supported business line in a release.

“Amtrak looks forward to working with the State of Illinois to continue to provide this important service to its residents.”

Students, like freshman mechanical engineering major Jason Tanksley, rely on Amtrak to get to and from Western Illinois University.

“Amtrak is the best way for me to get home and back to school in the safest, fastest way possible,” Tanksley said.

“It definitely makes it a lot easier because then my parents don’t have to drive up and pick me up, but depending on when you get your tickets it can be kind of expensive because I do live three and a half hours away,” said broadcasting major Baylee Brynteson.

President Jack Thomas said in a statement that he is pleased that a deal was reached between IDOT and Amtrak.

“More than 73 percent of Western’s on-campus student body lie within a few miles of the Amtrak line from Adams County and Quincy to the greater Chicago area,” Thomas said. “That includes about 50 percent of Western’s students who reside in the greater Chicago metro area.

“This does not take into account the international students who use Amtrak to travel to and from Macomb and Chicago’s O’Hare Iternational Airport,” Thomas continued. “Western faculty and staff also use Amtrak as cost-effective transportation to attend meetings, conduct University-related business in Chicago, or travel to Midway orO’Hare airports.”

Thomas finished his statement by reiterating the importance of Amtrak services to the students at Western.

“Amtrak provides a necessary, economical service for our students, faculty, staff and guests,” Thomas said.

The new deal will remain in effect until June 30, upon which a new deal will need to be made to keep the state-supported routes open.