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Gov. Blagojevich writes Bush of “grave concerns” about Amtrak, says end of service would be “major blow” to Midwest families and would waste state’s investment in Chicago-St. Louis route

CHICAGO (Feb. 8)—Joining a growing list of elected officials indignant over the administration’s proposed elimination of Amtrak’s budget, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today appealed to President Bush to “reconsider” his decision and work with Congress to keep the nation’s passenger rail carrier funded.

“Amtrak…is an integral part of the Midwest’s transportation system, and of the nation as a whole,” Blagojevich wrote in a letter dispatched from his Chicago office. “Eliminating its operating budget would be a major blow to the families that call rural America home, both in terms of travel convenience and as a regional economic engine.”

The governor also pointed out that elimination of Amtrak service would leave the state of Illinois with $80 million worth of “stranded investment” on the Chicago-St. Louis route in the form of 118 miles of 110-mph track upgraded at state expense for passenger trains that now may not run.

“Illinois has already made a commitment of more than $80 million to accommodate high-speed rail on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor,” Blagojevich told the president. “If the Congress passes your budget as proposed, it will severely set back bringing high-speed rail to the Midwest, if not kill the initiative altogether.”

The governor pointed out that in addition to its recent investment in high-performance track, Illinois has a long history of using state funds to pay for Amtrak corridor services connecting Chicago with St. Louis, Quincy, Carbondale and Milwaukee.

“But your budget as proposed would undoubtedly eliminate this service as we know it,” Blagojevich wrote. “Illinois, like other states around the country, is faced with serious financial difficulties of its own, and we have made painful cuts to balance our budget. But we have made the commitment, even during these troubled times, to provide $12 million annually to maintain passenger rail service as an option for our citizens. Illinois cannot afford to shoulder this burden alone, and should the federal government pull its commitment to Amtrak, rail passenger service in our state and all of the Midwest would cease.”

Blagojevich ended his appeal to the president by saying, “I urge you to reconsider your budget as proposed and work with the Congress to find a mutually agreeable level of federal financial support for Amtrak that will allow passenger rail to continue.”

“All rail passengers and rail employees should be grateful to the governor for his prompt and constructive response to the Bush administration’s effort to kill Amtrak,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“Frankly, I am not surprised by the way the governor has come to Amtrak’s defense,” Szabo said. “He may not come from a railroad background like Sen. Dick Durbin, but he has always understood the importance of railroad transportation—freight and passenger—to the economy of our state. I can promise you our union will be working closely with him, and with the Illinois delegation in Congress, to bring the fight for Amtrak funding to a positive conclusion.”

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