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Illinois budget sets out $12M increase for Amtrak

Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – One area of state government that’s not facing cuts under Illinois’ worst-ever budget is its support for passenger rail service.

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 (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.

The state is in the midst of launching faster train service on the route between Chicago and St. Louis. Passenger trains also are scheduled to start traveling between Chicago and the Quad Cities in 2015, and construction is slated to begin later this year on a new, $60 million project for the Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque corridor.

And Illinois has received a $268 million federal grant to fund bi-level, high-speed passenger rail cars. Those new cars aren’t expected to go into service until 2015.

Quinn called his latest proposed budget the most difficult that Illinois has seen. He blames lawmakers’ inaction on reforming the state’s multi-billion-dollar pension problem for spending cuts in several areas, including higher and secondary education.

A final budget isn’t likely to be approved until spring or early summer.

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