GALESBURG — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin met with local officials Wednesday to discuss proposed changes to Amtrak that could affect Galesburg and its neighboring towns.
Durbin met with Galesburg Mayor John Pritchard, Macomb Mayor Mike Inman and other city and county officials at Galesburg City Hall. The officials voiced their concerns about changes Amtrak made in the past few months as well as proposed changes to come. Some of the changes already enacted included the elimination of most private rail service and the ending of Amtrak’s hot meal service on its Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited trains.
A pending change that could affect Galesburg is the proposed shortening of the Southwest Chief line, one of the two Amtrak lines that stops in Galesburg. Pritchard said that Amtrak CEO and President Richard Anderson proposed a plan in June that included shortening the Southwest Chief’s route to a stop in Kansas and using a bus service to take customers the rest of the way west to California.
Pritchard did not have an estimate for how much tourism revenue could be lost in Galesburg as a result of the proposed change. No changes are planned for the Southwest Chief’s service between Galesburg and Chicago, but Pritchard expected the proposed change would still have an economic impact by cutting off Galesburg’s train access to the west.
“Once they take apart the Southwest Chief, we’ll never be able to put it back together,” Pritchard said. “The ridership, I think a good deal of it, will disappear.”
Pritchard asked Inman to come to the meeting because they both sit on a coalition comprised of western Illinois officials who meet quarterly to talk about Amtrak's western rail lines and their impact on their communities. Inman told the senator that he and other local officials felt “frustrated that many of these decisions have been made without a degree of transparency and input” from municipalities that would be affected.
“(Amtrak's) very heavily federally subsidized, although it's a corporation,” Inman said.
Durbin said he planned to meet with Anderson by the end of the year to discuss the officials’ concerns. He is also working with Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, to pass the THUD appropriations bill in the U.S. House of Representatives for fiscal year 2019. The bill includes $1.9 billion in funding for Amtrak services, including $1.3 billion for Amtrak’s National Network, which includes its long-distance routes.
The bill already passed in the Senate and Durbin hoped it would pass in the House by the bill’s deadline of Oct. 1.
“There’s (also) a continuing resolution that protects from the possibility that we won’t get it done that takes us to Dec. 7,” Durbin said.
Marc Magliari, public relations manager for Amtrak Government Affairs & Corporate Communications, sent a statement on the proposed Southwest Chief changes Wednesday:
“Since the spring, Amtrak officials have met with stakeholders from New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to review possible changes to service along a portion of the Southwest Chief route. No decision has been made yet but portions owned by BNSF Railway and the State of New Mexico face unique challenges because of extensive operational and capital investment costs required to continue the present service and to meet federal regulations. One thing is clear, which is that the status quo is not an option – we or others either have to invest more or make changes to this portion of the route.
“We know that many of our customers and stakeholders value this route – and we are evaluating all options. Amtrak is in dialog with the various stakeholders and will continue to work with all parties to find a sustainable path to address the challenges of the Southwest Chief route.