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All aboard for pets!

PRINCETON — In coming weeks, people boarding the Amtrak train in Princeton could be traveling with some four-legged passengers.

On Monday, officials with Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) announced they have teamed up to implement a pilot program which allows people to bring their small pets on the Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandberg trains. The pilot program will run May 5 through Nov. 2.

On Wednesday, Princeton Mayor Keith Cain said he has mixed emotions about the pilot program and how it will work. He’s not sure about the definition of “small pets”, as determined by Amtrak, and also the possible increased noise, specifically barking.

On a personal level, Cain said he and his wife Julia are frequent users of the train. In his experience, it seems many of the other passengers appear to be business people who wouldn’t be traveling with their pets anyway.

As mayor, he feels fairly confident the pilot program will not affect the number of people traveling by train, including those who board the train from Princeton, Cain said. However, he thinks it’s a good thing Amtrak has implemented the small pet plan as a pilot program to see how everything works, the mayor said.

Spring Valley resident Jean Babcock, along with her daughter Amy Babcock of Seatonville, own Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and are frequent travelers to prominent dog shows around the country.

Babcock said her dogs are used to traveling in cars and airplanes, and now if there happens to be a show on a train route, they would definitely take advantage of Amtrak’s new pilot program and bring their pets along for the ride.

“I think it’s a really good plan because a lot of people travel with their pets and this gives them another way to take them along,” Babcock said, adding it’s very likely it will boost travel traffic on trains.

As far as details of the new pilot program, Amtrak and IDOT have announced the ticketing and traveling with pets can begin only at staffed stations in Chicago, Naperville and Galesburg. Advance reservations are required and a surcharge of $25 will be assessed for travel. Dogs or cats up to 20 pounds each will be accepted in carriers, like those used in airplane cabins. The carriers are to be placed at the feet and under the seat of each pet owner.

In announcing the program, Amtrak President/CEO Joe Boardman said Amtrak is supportive of accommodating pets on trains and he is optimistic a plan can be reached to address the needs and concerns of all Amtrak passengers. The pilot program will be continuously reviewed, he said.

Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider agreed, calling the pilot program an exciting undertaking.

“We, in Illinois, welcome this exciting new pilot program, which is something that has been suggested by train passengers,” Schneider said. “By listening to and accommodating all passengers, I am hopeful we can create a long-term policy that allows pets on trains and makes traveling on Amtrak even more appealing to a wider audience.”

The affected trains operate to and from Chicago, LaGrange, Naperville, Plano, Mendota, Princeton, Kewanee, Galesburg, Macomb and Quincy. As before, Amtrak routinely welcomes service animals on trains at no charge and that policy is unchanged, Boardman said.

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