Gov. Pat Quinn is seeking to increase spending on Amtrak service in the state by $12 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.The trains are running faster on the Alton Route. We anticipate faster running times along the Way of the Zephyrs and the Main Line of Mid-America before too long.
The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reported that the 46 percent increase would bring total spending to $38 million for routes from Chicago to St. Louis, Carbondale and Galesburg.
But the increase doesn’t mean Illinois will be getting extra train service. A 2008 federal law requires states to start picking up a larger part of the cost for rail service on routes shorter than 750 miles.
Other states, including New York, Michigan and California, also are facing higher tabs.
Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey said the numbers are not final and the amount the state owes could be lower.
“We are in the midst of serious negotiations with Amtrak on what these increases will be, and thus have no final numbers yet,” Claffey said.
Amtrak ridership in Illinois has increased about 85 percent since 2006.
Amtrak has borrowed one good idea from the airlines, letting frequent travelers board the Hiawathas first.
About a quarter of the trips were made by passengers using multi-ride tickets. Amtrak operates seven Hiawatha Service round trips Monday-Saturday, and six round-trips on Sundays.I wonder if those "other suggestions" included a lunch-lounge car, or a Super Dome with a lounge downstairs, or a Skytop Lounge parlor car.
Amtrak and Wisconsin Department of Transportation representatives rode last month with a group of regular Hiawatha Service passengers who requested priority boarding, among other suggestions. Amtrak operates the service under contracts with WisDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation. WisDOT hopes to add priority boarding at the Milwaukee Station in the future.
“These are some of our best passengers and they usually need the least assistance because they ride so frequently,” said Ray Lang, Chief, State Government Relations, one of the Amtrak officials who met with an informal group of regular passengers. “In giving priority to the monthly and ten-ride passengers, our customer service representatives and conductors can give more assistance to those less-frequent customers who often need more help.”