Mattoon Depot - Amtrak 04/12/17

Amtrak passengers enter the train depot in downtown Mattoon on Wednesday.

KEVIN KILHOFFER, JOURNAL GAZETTE & TIMES-COURIER

MATTOON -- President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate federal funding for Amtrak's long-distance services, including the City of New Orleans trains that make daily stops in Mattoon and Effingham.

The 2018 budget proposal calls for retaining federal funding for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor that includes Washington, New York and Boston while terminating support for the long-distance routes, "which have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak's operating losses.”

Amtrak's City of New Orleans is one of 15 long-distance routes throughout the country. The northbound train stops in Mattoon at 5:23 a.m. on its way to Chicago. The southbound train stops at 11:13 p.m. on its way to New Orleans, making stops en route in Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana.

"I would hate to see them cut funding to that train; I think it's an important transportation link," said Mattoon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ed Dowd.

Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Cindy White said the City of New Orleans serves the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University.

White said this train is an important part of the transportation options for Chicago area students who are traveling to and from these three state universities.

"We do know that EIU students take advantage of that train," White said.

The budget proposal would leave intact Amtrak routes supported by individual states. Illinois-supported Illini and Saluki routes serve Mattoon and Effingham daily. These routes make northbound stops in Mattoon at 9:31 a.m. and 6:16 p.m., and southbound stops at 11:05 a.m. and 6:55 p.m.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said losing the City of New Orleans and the other long-distance routes Illinois, which all use Chicago as a hub, would hurt the state-supported routes.

"The loss of a quarter of the trains in Chicago will negatively affect the state-sponsored trains by giving them fewer trains to connect with and fewer trains to share costs with," Magliari said.

Mattoon Mayor Tim Gover said he has used the City of New Orleans to travel to morning meetings of the Illinois Municipal League in Chicago and to visit family in New Orleans. Gover said he has ridden alongside many other business and vacation travelers from the Mattoon area on these trips.

Gover said the City of New Orleans also offers passengers the option of upgrading to private bedroom compartments, an option not available on the state-supported trains.

The mayor said ridership at the Amtrak depot in Mattoon has increased substantially during the last decade and he is concerned that the loss of the City of New Orleans will reverse this trend.

Ridership in Mattoon was just under 16,000 in 2005, but then increased for several years as the city renovated the depot and Amtrak launched the Illini and Saluki trains in fall 2006. Amtrak reported that there were 37,536 riders at Mattoon's depot and 26,276 riders at Effingham's depot in 2016.

Gover and Dowd encouraged those worried about the potential loss of the City of New Orleans to contact Illinois' Congressional delegation.

Republican U.S. Rep. Shimkus of Collinsville, who represents the 15th congressional district, said the president’s budget proposal is a statement of his administration’s priorities and deserves careful consideration by Congress.

"Congress, not the president, is responsible for authorizing and appropriating all federal spending," Shimkus said. "As Congress debates funding for Amtrak, I will work as I always have to ensure taxpayer dollars are used responsibly.”

Amtrak President & CEO Wick Moorman said, in a prepared statement,  that Amtrak is focused on running efficiently. He said Amtrak covered 94 percent of its total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in fiscal year 2016, but these services all require federal investment.

"As the budget process progresses, we look forward to working with President Trump, Secretary (of Transportation Elaine) Chao, and Congress to ensure they understand the value of Amtrak’s long distance trains and what these proposed cuts would mean to this important part of the nation’s transportation system," Moorman said.

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Reporter

Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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