Thursday, December 01, 2005

State Journal Register article on Abe Lincoln Express

Rick Harnish spoke to Downtown Springfield yesterday and the Springfield Journal-Register. The paper ran a page one story today here along with a photo. It's good to see a civic paper like the Journal-Register that gets the need for passenger rail for mid-sized cities like Springfield.

Here's the article (along with the ad from the paper):

Amtrak expansion urged
State asked to add two trains a day for Springfield-Chicago

Published Thursday, December 01, 2005

An advocacy group wants the state to add two more trips a day to the Amtrak route between Springfield and Chicago.

The Chicago-based Midwest High Speed Rail Association is asking Gov. Rod Blagojevich to budget an extra $15 million next year to increase the frequency of trains on three routes.

The group wants to increase the number of daily trips from Chicago to St. Louis from three to five. Springfield is a stop on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. It also wants to add one train a day to the Chicago-Quincy route and one train a day to the Chicago-Carbondale route.

Rick Harnish, executive director of the association, was in Springfield Wednesday to lobby for support of the budget request.

The group wants to add a 6:45 a.m. departure from Chicago that would arrive at 9:45 a.m. in Springfield and continue on to St. Louis.

"That allows people to come down here either for state business or to visit the museum and get here at a reasonable time during the day," Harnish said, referring to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

The association also would like to see a 7:15 p.m. departure from Chicago traveling south. The proposal calls for two northbound departures from Springfield, at 8:30 a.m. and at 7:05 p.m.

Travelers to Springfield would be able to arrive in time for a 10 a.m. meeting and catch an after-dinner train home, Harnish said. He's dubbed the proposed route the "Abe Lincoln Express."

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the rail service and the Illinois Department of Transportation have been exploring the possibility of more trips. He noted that Amtrak ridership grew last year in Illinois and nationally.

"I can't verify that that schedule is doable or if that name is available legally," Magliari said of Harnish's idea. But "it's certainly an interesting proposal."

IDOT and the Union Pacific Railroad have upgraded a 120-mile stretch of freight tracks between Dwight and Springfield. The eventual goal is to upgrade the entire Chicago-St. Louis corridor to handle passenger trains traveling at speeds up to 110 mph, up from 79 mph.

A more immediate goal of Harnish's nonprofit group is to make modest track improvements that would cut Chicago-Springfield travel time by 15 or 20 minutes. Harnish believes the work could be done using money left over from the upgrades on the tracks between Dwight and Springfield.

Improving the tracks and running an express train could cut the train trip from Springfield to Chicago down to as little as 2 hours, 40 minutes, according to a flier promoting the idea. That train trip now takes about three hours and 20 minutes.

Harnish is asking the governor to include the $15 million for the budget year that begins July 1, 2006.

A spokesman for Blagojevich said the governor has not decided how much spending to propose for Amtrak. Blagojevich is in the preliminary stages of drafting a budget he will introduce in February, Gerardo Cardenas said.

Blagojevich has maintained state spending for passenger service for the past three years while cutting other programs, Cardenas noted.

Harnish's request would more than double what the state now spends on passenger rail service. This year, the state set aside $12.1 million as its contribution to the federally subsidized Amtrak. The state's share is expected to rise next year just to maintain existing service. Harnish wants to add another $15 million.

"We need to continue making the steps toward the plan that we've already committed to doing," Harnish said.

Money for trains comes out of general-revenue accounts that also cover basic services such as schools and police.

"Those are very scarce dollars," said IDOT spokesman Matt Vanover. "The governor certainly supports passenger rail, but it's a very difficult time."

The number of passengers traveling from Chicago to St. Louis was 242,144 for the Amtrak budget year that ended Sept. 30, according to the Amtrak Web site. That's a 13.7 percent increase over the previous year.

Lisa Kernek can be reached at 788-1459 or


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