Monday, February 19, 2007

Illinois Amtrak ridership explodes with new service; leading legislator calls for additional expansion

If you run them, they will come.

The Illinois General Assembly and Governor Blagojevich doubled Amtrak service in Illinois last year and the new trains started rolling October 1st.

Ridership exploded.

On the Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis line, ridership went up more than 90% in the first three months of service.

Can you say: unmet demand?

That's a great investment in our economy, as we're buying mobility for our state. With affordable and reliable trains connecting the state, our quality of life and our economy are both improved. The more we're connected as a region, the more economically competitive we become, because instead of sending our money to fund the other side of the War on Terror by driving all over the place, we're sharing the oil on a train. Plus, with the money riders save with affordable transportation, they can spend on other things.

Mike Ramsey of Copley Newspaper, again, has the best piece out of many on the ridership numbers. It's here in the Springfield Journal-Register.

The legislature and Gov. Rod Blagojevich agreed last year to double the state's Amtrak budget to $24 million as part of a plan to grow intercity passenger rail in Illinois and promote tourism and commerce. The amount covered only eight months of service through June 30, 2007, and funding for a complete fiscal year is expected to cost about $30 million.

Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat who pushed for the rail expansion, said continuing state support is warranted, based on the ridership numbers IDOT has reported. In fact, he said, the results justify additional rail expansion.

Additional rail expansion. Fantastic! Hello, Decatur, Peoria, Rockford and Quad Cities. Would you like train service? All you have to do is ask. Wouldn't that be a better investment in economic development than another interchange or a 10 miles of a four-lane highway?

And with that sort of explosive growth on the Chicago-Bloomington-Springfield-St. Louis corridor, we should be moving up from 5 trains a day to 7 trains a day. I really would like a 3:00 pm northbound train out of Springfield for those Thursdays or Fridays when session gets out at 1:30 or 2:00. Wouldn't it be great to catch a 2:30 pm train back up to Chicago and be home in time for dinner? A late dinner, but still. How cool would that be?

The other corridors had fantastic growth as well in their first three months of service. From the Ramsey article again:

Ridership on the Carbondale line increased an average of 68 percent from November through January, compared to the same period a year before, according to the IDOT numbers. The "Illini" and "Saluki" trains carried 19,406 riders in November, 20,314 riders in December and 15,996 in January.

The ridership increase on the Quincy route averaged about 40 percent during the last three months, compared with the same period the previous year. The "Illinois Zephyr" and "Carl Sandburg" trains carried 14,103 riders in November, 14,650 riders in December and 11,126 riders last month.

40% growth is great. And that's only going up as more people start to realize that Amtrak in Illinois is a reliable service and shed their memories from the late 90s when Amtrak was a lot worse. These state trains also have a much better on-time-performance record than the national trains that come from San Antonio or New Orleans.

The more we invest in our trackwork to improve average speeds and decrease congestion choke points where there's only one track so one train has to wait on the side, the better these trains will be and the more economically competitive and viable all of our Downstate Amtrak cities will be -- not to mention how Chicago will grow stronger as well.

It's like an airport is right downtown for every Amtrak city.

Hopefully Congress will catch up with the General Assembly. I was going to say hopefully President Bush will catch up with Governor Blagojevich, but Bush is so tone-deaf on this (and so many other issues) since he's listening to his ideologues, that he'll never catch up to Blagojevich (who, in his statement, rightly called out Bush for releasing another dumb budget that cuts Amtrak. No wonder he's a 30% approval President).

Anyway, this is great news for Illinois. If you want to see the schedules for the new service, check them out here. Or call 800-USA-RAIL. If you haven't taken Amtrak in a while, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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