Will We Still Have Amtrak in Ten Years?

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryOn October 19th, an Amtrak passenger train running between Dwight and Pontiac in Illinois achieved a speed of 110 miles per hour. This is the fastest Amtrak has ever gone in Illinois, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who was aboard that particular passenger train, hailed it as a first for train transportation in Illinois and that this speed will be maintained along this route. There is no question that Amtrak is becoming ever more popular as an alternate public transportation system in this state. Amtrak has five train lines in Illinois, and these lines serve over 25 cities in the state. Over 2 million people take the Amtrak train to and from work as well as for business trips and vacations. This year saw an increase in ridership by 5.5 percent. In many other parts of the world, train travel is becoming not only an important public transportation alternative to cars and airplanes, but high speed trains are making it competitive to the other forms of public transportation. So far, high speed trains are not yet a reality in Illinois. Hopefully this will change.

But there is a bigger question. Will Amtrak still be around by 2023? Although Amtrak service and trains have increased in Illinois, the future of the train system is in doubt. We have to remember that back in Washington, D.C., there are still people who want to eliminate Amtrak altogether. Then there is the national debt, and putting this on top of trying to put money into Amtrak may prove to be impossible in the end. One thing is for sure, no new routes or infrastructure for Amtrak can be built in Illinois in the foreseeable future. Plans to construct a northwest Illinois rail line are stalled—no money for the project. There is talk from Washington, D.C. (mostly Democrats) that high speed trains may be on the way to Illinois. This seems unlikely, given the fact that Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives and they see high speed trains as a boondoggle. Whoever is elected as president on November 6th, might determine what direction Amtrak will go. But I say might because with the national debt there may eventually be no money left to finance Amtrak at all. And although Amtrak is getting better in terms of overall service, the Amtrak system is not making enough money in the eyes of those who hold the purse strings. They may simply get rid of Amtrak to save money.

I can ask myself, “What do we do with all those thousands of miles of track/” “What do we do with all of those Amtrak train stations/” “What do we do for the millions of people whose very livelihoods depend on Amtrak to get to work, do their business, or need an alternate transportation to get from one end of the country to the other?” “Finally, what do we do for all those business, large and small, who depend on the passengers and business people who travel on Amtrak?” Even though Amtrak may not be a money making enterprise as it should be, it is an essential network for so many millions of people who need it for transportation or who need it for their business. Even with so many problems associated with the Amtrak system, I hope that whoever is in charge will maintain it as in my view there is too much to lose. I certainly hope to still be able to ride Amtrak ten years from now.

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