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Coming down the tracks

PRINCETON — The future of Amtrak and the possible expansion of the Chicago to Quad Cities line announced in 2010 is apparently still on track.

In the fall of 2010, a $230 million federal grant was awarded to Illinois and Iowa to establish a new Amtrak service between Chicago and Iowa City. The trains will run on a route beginning at Chicago’s Union Station and traveling on the BNSF Railway’s line to Wyanet, and then on the Iowa Interstate Railroad’s line from Wyanet to Iowa City.

In December, it was announced $177 million in funding was committed for the project, in addition to the $44.3 million the state had already secured for the $221 million project for construction to begin on the Chicago-Moline section of the passenger rail corridor.

The future looked questionable when Congress failed to agree on a transportation bill.

The U.S. Senate passed the two-year transportation bill 78-22 March 14, but the House balked, instead adopting last week a three-month temporary extension of legislation that already funds road and transit projects.

In a recent visit to the Quad Cities, Sen. Dick Durbin said the five-year version of the bill under consideration in the House would provide Illinois with less money and eliminate the possibility of bringing Amtrak service to the Quad-Cities.

However on Monday, Guy Tridgell, spokesman of the Illinois Department of Transportation, said funding is not a concern at this point.

Tridgell said environmental studies and preliminary engineering are ongoing, and public meetings will probably be held later this year.

The construction agreements with the railroads are still pending, but Tridgell expects work to begin next year with service tentatively scheduled for late 2014.

All this is coming at a time when Amtrak ridership is increasing.

According to information provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation, ridership figures for all state trains has increased by 85 percent during the past six years, going from 947.8 million riders in 2006 to 1.749 billion in 2011.

Ridership on the Zephyr/Sandburg corridor from Chicago to Quincy, which includes Princeton, increased from 118,502 in 2006 to 222,419 in 2011, an 87.7 percent increase since 2006 and an 8.0 percent increase since 2010.

IDOT numbers show Princeton hosted 32,849 riders in 2010, which is an average 90 riders per day. That number has nearly doubled in the last five years. In 2005, Princeton hosted 19,471 riders, or 53 riders per day.

Amtrak also provides statistics on the Princeton station, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in December.

According to the Amtrak Fact Sheet for Fiscal Year 2011, which ran from October 2010 to September 2011, there were 33,678 boardings and deboardings in Princeton and a total ticket revenue of $1,037,442.

Statistics for all of Illinois include:

• 56 Amtrak trains a day.

• Nearly 4.9 million riders at Illinois stations.

• 1,501 residents employed by Amtrak.

• Total resident employee wages, nearly $104 million.

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E-tickets are on their way

By the end of the summer, customers will be able to purchase and print electronic tickets for any of Illinois’ Amtrak routes.

Amtrak is currently experimenting with the e-tickets on its City of New Orleans line, and conductors throughout the state are undergoing training for the process.

“Passengers like the fact that, if you lose the ticket, all you’ve lost is a piece of paper. You can simply reprint it,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “The current tickets have an actual dollar value. If you lose it, you have to go through a refund process, which can be quite lengthy.”

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