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Illinois mayors, universities tell lawmakers proposed Amtrak budget cuts would hurt

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Amtrak rail service reductions that would follow proposed cuts in next year's state budget will hurt businesses and impact students, Illinois university officials and mayors told a state Senate committee Tuesday.

"Amtrak's frequent and convenient economical service and its close proximity to campus make it an important feature for students, faculty and staff," said Larry Dietz, president of Illinois State University in Normal.

More than $165 million in private investment has been made in the blocks surrounding that city's Amtrak station, which sees more traffic than any other one in Illinois outside of Chicago.

Amtrak officials warned at the same hearing that any service reduction will be expensive to restore, even if the state's fiscal situation improves after next year. Eliminated routes and times would be absorbed for use by freight train companies, which own the vast majority of tracks Amtrak uses.

Officials from the Illinois Department of Transportation and Amtrak have yet to negotiate which routes would be affected by the 40 percent cut Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed to the state contribution for Amtrak to help close a $6 billion gap in next year's budget. The publicly-funded rail service says reductions likely are unavoidable if the cut is approved.

Sen. John Sullivan said Tuesday that the contribution is paid for by the state's road fund and not come from general revenue.

A budget deal to cover a $1.6 billion gap in the fiscal year that ends in June pulled money from a number of state funds that are paid for by fees on various services. More than $250 million was drawn from the state road fund as part of that measure.

Illinois currently contributes $42 million a year as their share to fund service to the state's three downstate and the Chicago-to-Milwaukee lines. Rauner's cut would drop that contribution to $26 million.

Amtrak officials said a 2008 federal law requires states to pay for short-distance routes within their borders and to absorb an equipment charge. They say the $16 million that would be cut is what covers those added costs.

Officials from Amtrak also said they are examining the possibility of raising ticket prices.

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