Duckworth gets U.S. commitments on Amtrak

Trump administration endorses better on-time performance, Chicago-Quad Cities line

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth won concessions from the Trump administration on Amtrak service in Illinois. (Ted Cox/One Illinois)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth won concessions from the Trump administration on Amtrak service in Illinois. (Ted Cox/One Illinois)

By Ted Cox

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth secured commitments from the Trump administration Wednesday to complete the long-awaited Amtrak line from Chicago to the Quad Cities, and to improve the on-time performance of the line between Chicago and Carbondale.

At a Senate hearing, Duckworth pressed Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Ronald Batory on whether he would help settle logistics between Amtrak, the Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Iowa Interstate Railroad to clear the way for direct service to resume between Chicago and Moline.

“I’ve been very involved since the spring of last year,” Batory said, “and I think we see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Resuming Amtrak service between Chicago and Moline — previously known as the Quad City Rocket — has been pursued for over a decade, since an Amtrak feasibility study estimated that 100,000 people would ride the line annually. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and his then junior colleague Barack Obama urged Amtrak to resume the service.

The project was slowed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner withholding state funding, as well as by the Iowa Interstate Railroad, which owns the tracks running into Moline, where they’ve already prepared for Amtrak by converting a former warehouse into a hotel, with plans to add a train station as well.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Moline recently worked to extend a $177 million federal grant to resume the service, and Gov. Pritzker allotted $225 million in the recently passed $45 billion capital bill for the project.

Duckworth pressed Trump administration officials on whether they intended to “claw back” the federal funding, and they agreed they would inform her if it were being considered. “I hope it’s only a rumor,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth also won concessions on improving Amtrak’s on-time performance on the Saluki line between Chicago and Carbondale. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has said that has affected the declining enrollment at Southern Illinois University.

Trains like the City of New Orleans are typically delayed on tracks that give priority to freight trains, contrary to standing federal regulations. Pressed by Duckworth, Batory said his staffers “are already actively involved” in negotiations to ease those delays.

“I was highly surprised with how long the tale is on this — over five years,” Batory said. “It’s frustrating. I speak personally on that.

“It’s something that should be resolved, needs to be resolved,” he added. “It’s taken on the life of a soap opera.”

Duckworth instructed the Federal Railroad Administration head to “double down and let’s get this resolved.”

In a statement issued after the hearing, Duckworth said, “I’m glad these transportation leaders are committed to working with me on critical Illinois transportation initiatives, like advancing the Chicago-Quad Cities passenger-rail project, improving Amtrak’s on-time performance, ending roadway deaths by 2050, and expediting the DOT report on expanding the TIFIA program to include eligible airport-related projects,” adding, “These initiatives are critical to making Illinois’s transportation systems safer and more reliable, and I look forward to working with these administrators to make sure they are completed as quickly as possible.”