From WILL - News Headlines -

Sen. Durbin: Preserve Funding for Amtrak Service

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says federal support for Amtrak service should be preserved.

Speaking Monday afternoon at the Illinois Terminal Building in Champaign, Durbin said an appropriations bill introduced by House Republican would slash Amtrak funding by 60 percent, and eliminate 1,800 jobs in the state. Durbin urged lawmakers in Washington to maintain Amtrak funding, saying it is critical to the state's economy.

"We are not going to cut everything at the federal government level," Durbin said. "There are some things that we're going to even increase. I think when it comes to transportation infrastructure that's the last place we ought to cut."

Amtrak Board Chairman Tom Carper said with ridership up over the last decade, now is not the time to cut funding for passenger rails.

Meanwhile, Durbin said the Republican spending bill would also force Amtrak to eliminate a route that passes through Champaign from Chicago to Carbondale. With many UIUC students originally from the Chicago area and many other faculty members who travel to Chicago for meetings, U of I President Michael Hogan said Amtrak is a necessary service for the university community.

"Taking the train into Union Station and back here at the Illinois Terminal is much more than just a convenience," Hogan said. "It also means hundreds if not thousands of fewer cars parked around our campus. "

The University of Illinois is researching the feasibility of a high-speed passenger rail line for 220-mph trains between Chicago and Champaign. The spending bill introduced by House Republicans would provide no money for high-speed and intercity rail projects.

"Faster trains could hold the power to bring a new twenty-first century wave of prosperity, and to address concerns about fossil fuels and the environment, highway congestion, and the security related inconveniences of air travel," Hogan said.

Sen. Durbin has pushed an amendment to restore $100 million for high speed and intercity rail, which he said wouldn't require additional revenue.

Durbin also talked about President Obama's $447 billion jobs plan. Last month, the president announced the measure, which would be supported by tax increases on the wealthy. Senate Republicans blocked efforts to pass the full version of that legislation.

Still, Durbin said one aspect of the bill that could still have a chance at making it through Congress seeks to modernize the nation's schools, with about $1.1 billion going to Illinois and supporting as many as 14,500 jobs in the state. He said that would help schools - like the John Hills Magnet School in Decatur - that are struggling to make necessary upgrades.

"It has an old heating system. It has no air conditions to speak of. It has asepsis issues. The list goes on and on," he explained. "The president pays for this by increases taxes on those making over a million dollars a year by one half of one percent, and unfortunately we can't get a single Republican to vote for it."

A bipartisan group of 12 members of Congress has until Nov. 23 to find at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings. Critics have expressed doubt that the bipartisan panel will overcome its stark political differences.