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Gov. Rauner's budget could mean fewer Amtrak trains in Illinois despite climbing ridership

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed state budget would cut 40 percent from Illinois' funding for Amtrak trains during a time when ridership has been climbing.

Passenger numbers and ticket revenues have grown during the past five years, according to an analysis by The (Springfield) State Journal-Register (http://bit.ly/1zvFJ3w ).

The Lincoln Service train between St. Louis and Chicago, for example, saw more than 633,000 passengers during the most recent federal fiscal year. That's a 25 percent increase from five years earlier.

Ridership on the Illini-Saluki line between Carbondale and Chicago went up 22 percent to nearly 316,000 passengers during the same period. The Illinois Zephyr between Quincy and Chicago saw nearly 215,000 riders in the most recent year, up 6.2 percent from five years earlier.

Amtrak passengers are people like Jacksonville residents John and Barbara Fritsche, who waited Thursday at a crowded station in Springfield for a popular late-afternoon train to Chicago. "We probably take it twice a month," John Fritsche said. "We can read and work, and not be stuck in traffic."

Rauner's budget proposes $26 million in spending for Amtrak, a cut of $16 million from the previous year's appropriation. Frequency of passenger trains will depend on the final funding approved by the Legislature, but an Amtrak spokesman said the Rauner budget would likely lead to service reductions.

"We do not believe the current funding recommended would be sufficient to maintain the current level of service," said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

Under a cost formula worked out in 2013 between Amtrak and some state transportation departments, Illinois pays 85 percent of the cost of state corridor routes, with ticket revenues paying 15 percent. The formula stemmed from a change in federal law to make Amtrak funding from states more equitable.

The Illinois Department of Transportation released a statement on funding saying the agency "is working closely with the governor's office on finding solutions to the serious fiscal problems facing the state." The department said it would keep customers "appraised as the budget process moves forward."


Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com

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