Proponents of expanded Amtrak service in Illinois are meeting today in Chicago and despite the state’s budget woes, they’re talking expansion.Union Pacific must want that upgraded Alton Route for priority intermodal trains, as the Free Rein to 110 for the Lincoln Service will extend beyond Pontiac.
It’s a far cry from a year ago, when Gov. Bruce Rauner threatened to cut the state’s Amtrak subsidy by 40 percent — and service by half. After months of negotiation and pressure from downstate officials, the Illinois Dept. of Transportation in February agreed to hold the line on funding.
Now, Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Rick Harnish has a renewed goal.
“We should be talking about expanding, and I am satisfied that the state is continuing to talk about expanding,” he said. “We’re going to expand Amtrak and we need to do it sooner, rather than later.”
Harnish has a commitment from the Rauner administration to provide 110-mile-an-hour service between Chicago and St. Louis — or, more properly, between Joliet and Alton — next year.We noted the plans to add frequencies between Chicago and Milwaukee.
Harnish said the widely-held belief that passenger rail is Democratic issue and opposed by Republicans is a “misconception.”
“It isn’t really that clear-cut,” he said.
He said Republicans including Rauner, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — who killed high-speed Amtrak expansion between Milwaukee and Madison upon taking office — are all “moving forward important passenger rail expansion programs” in their states.