States take larger role in passenger rail

June 24, 2015

Governing magazine: A federal law enacted in the late days of the Bush administration is starting to force states to take a closer look at local Amtrak routes that they subsidize.

Illinois, which sits at the center of the country’s railroad network, has long promoted passenger rail. It’s rebuilt track so trains could travel faster between Chicago and St. Louis, added service along preexisting routes and even began planning for expansions to new cities. Ridership on Illinois routes grew by 85 percent in the last decade. But now the talk in Springfield is about cuts to Amtrak, not expansions.

That’s no surprise considering Illinois’ precarious finances. Nearly every service provided by the state is under scrutiny as Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders in the legislature try to come to an agreement on the budget.

But the uncertainty over Illinois’ passenger rail isn’t all the doing of lawmakers in Springfield. Illinois, like many other states, recently had to start paying higher subsidies in order to continue providing local Amtrak service to its residents. The increased state costs come as a result of a 2008 federal law, called the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, that required many states to pick up a bigger part of the tab for 28 Amtrak routes that are shorter than 750 miles. Those routes cross 19 states and carry almost half of Amtrak’s passengers.

 

Click here for the full story written by Daniel C. Vock for Governing magazine.

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