Lawmakers Frustrated Over Blocked Rail Crossings and Late Passenger Trains

(The Center Square) – The head of the Federal Railroad Administration was put on the defensive regarding poor on-time service by Amtrak trains in Illinois that taxpayers subsidize.

During a recent House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials hearing examining freight rail safety, Federal Railroad Administration head Amit Bose was asked for solutions to the chronically blocked rail crossings that occur in many Illinois communities, especially Decatur and Bement.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois, said a prolonged blocking of the roadway by a train adversely affects many lives.

“In these municipalities, trains block crossings for hours and sometimes days at a time,” Davis said. “The communities are literally divided, emergency response times are slowed, access to schools cut off, and frustrated citizens constantly have their lies disrupted.”

Davis is taking on U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Illinois, in next week’s GOP primary in the newly drawn 15th Congressional District, a result of redistricting.

In December 2019, the FRA launched the blocked rail crossing incident reporter for public and law enforcement to report blocked highway rail grade crossings. Since that time, 235 reports have been filed in Bement and 197 reports have been filed in Decatur.

“At FRA, what we do with that data is we look at it very closely to the extent that we can reach out to the railroad companies directly and share that data with them and let them know that we’re hearing a lot of complaints from that specific area and talk to them about operational changes that they can make,” Bose said.

Bose also was asked for solutions for the late passenger trains, including the Saluki Express and the Illini Express Amtrak routes in central, eastern and southern Illinois that critics say constantly have the worst on-time service for passengers.

“These lines are well known to have had years and years of continuous delays and now we think we have the tools in our toolbox necessary to move forward in a positive direction,” Bose said.

Bose pointed to additional funding to improve grade crossings to improve delays.

“Well I appreciate your optimism, but forgive me for being somewhat of a pessimist because I’ve had this same conversation for years now, and I get a lot of positive talk that we’re all working together, but I don’t see the improvements to fix the short stunt issue on those particular lines,” Davis said.

There are 30 Amtrak stations in Illinois that serve 17 different routes. There are plans for two new routes with trains leaving Chicago and heading to Rockford and the Quad Cities.

Even before COVID-19 decimated its revenue, Amtrak has lost money each year. With a trillion dollar deficit, federal and state taxpayer funding for the rail service has been targeted by many for elimination.

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