As the budget battle in Springfield continues, a high-speed rail advocacy group is speaking out against Gov. Bruce Rauner's plan to slash Amtrak funding from $42 million to $26 million.
Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, issued this statement Wednesday about the governor's proposed cut to Amtrak's budget:
Governor Rauner has announced a 40 percent reduction in Amtrak funding to begin July 1. If implemented, at least half of Illinois-funded downstate trains will be discontinued, starting a dangerous downward spiral. Ridership will decline more quickly than costs, forcing ticket prices higher and driving away even more passengers.
Budget cuts to Amtrak are counterproductive, and will not improve the state's fiscal situation. A more productive option would be for Governor Rauner and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to focus on reducing costs by taking tangible steps to increase revenue.
Today, Illinois contracts with Amtrak to operate eight daily round-trip linking Chicago and three suburban stations to twenty-four downstate stations. They provide safe, productive and affordable travel to students, tourists and business travelers. The program is a success, ridership has grown 140 percent since 2005. 1.16 million passengers boarded state-supported downstate trains in 2014. The proposed cuts would wipe out all that growth.
Illinois is not a single economy, but a group of smaller, interdependent economies. Our success will be determined by how well we connect these to one another and to the world. Amtrak is vital to strengthening those links.
Reduction in service would hurt business, tourism, and students. It is critical that Governor Rauner continues to invest in trains.
Additionally, the state will forfeit those slots to the freight railroads. Reacquiring these slots could cost hundred of millions of dollars, making any 'temporary";service reductions today financially irresponsible. We shouldn't let the short-term budget challenge permanently reduce our economic potential by permanently reducing our transportation options.