Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ridership in Illinois skyrockets again -- almost a million passengers

Good news: another year of double-digit growth on Illinois-financed Amtrak service.

This press release by the Blagojevich Administration, picked up by the Trib, the Pantagraph, the Lincoln Courier, the Belleville News-Democrat and AP, outlines the good news:

Almost a million passengers on state-supported Amtrak trains from July 2005 through June 2006.

Every route had increases in ridership:

St. Louis-Chicago: up 9.2 percent to 133,036 [note: there are 3 round-trips a day, but 2 of them are not funded by Illinois, so these figures are only for the 1 round-trip]
Carbondale-Chicago: up 9.8 percent to 134,531 [does not include the New Orleans-Chicago train that passes through Carbondale]
Quincy-Chicago: up 4.6 percent to 118,502 [does not include the LA-Chicago train]
Milwaukee-Chicago: up 13.2 percent to 569,460 [does not include the Portland-Chicago train and Wisconsin covers 75% of the cost of this one]

And in October, the new service is scheduled to start, with 2 more round-trips on the St. Louis-Springfield-Bloomington-Chicago run, and 1 more round-trip each on the Quincy-Chicago and Carbondale-Chicago runs.

That's going to be great.

This will make living and working in Illinois more affordable, as people will have a more viable option that burning $3.50/gallon gas when they want to travel around the state. That's good for our economy, particularly our Downstate towns. It also makes our colleges more attractive, as it gives affordable access to Chicago to students and faculty at the campuses along Amtrak.

Illinois is now the second-biggest state partner to Amtrak in the country (California has a huge program).

If you want to book a ticket, check out or call 800-USA-RAIL. And if you are a state employee, ask for the state rate (you get a discount).

I think it's going to be big news in October when the new trains start running, and I think the General Assembly and Governor Blagojevich deserve a lot of credit for making the big investment in Amtrak service for all of Illinois.

(Full disclosure: I worked on this as a lobbyist for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association).