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Report: 2 Illinois routes among Amtrak's worst performing

CHICAGO — Two of Amtrak’s Illinois trains routes are among the worst-performing in the nation, according to a new government report.

Amtrak’s Illini and Saluki trains run between Union Station in Chicago and Carbondale in Southern Illinois.

The Office of Inspector General for Amtrak released a report Thursday revealing that only 6% of northbound Illini trains arrived within 15 minutes of their scheduled time during the 12-month period ending last September, the Chicago Tribune reported. Only 17% of southbound Saluki trains arrived on time, and 18% were late by more than an hour.

The report highlighted poor on-time performance as a crucial factor contributing to Amtrak’s operating loss of $171 million for the fiscal year.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who is on the Senate’s transportation committee, called both trains’ performance “unacceptable.”

“Reliability is the entire game for passenger and commuter rail,” Duckworth said in a statement. “It doesn’t matter if there is one train per day or ten trains per day, if your customers cannot rely on a train to arrive at the time it is scheduled, they might as well drive or book a flight.”

The Illini and Saluki lines run on tracks owned and operated by Canadian National Railway. In May 2018, Illinois’ other senator, Democrat Dick Durbin, sent a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration highlighting issues that the trains were regularly delayed by the Canadian’s railway’s freight interference and current speed limits.

In a statement, Dennis Newman, Amtrak’s executive vice-president of strategy and planning, said he agreed with the report’s findings. Newman also pointed to a comparable report by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general.

“The findings from these two important reports illustrate the real financial impacts of late trains,” he said.

Canadian National said in a statement that it is working with Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Illinois Department of Transportation and other railroads to investigate the matter and eventually find a way to lift speed restrictions.

The report said improving and maintaining on-time performance on all Amtrak routes, especially on long-distance lines, would result in $41.9 million in yearly cost savings and extra profits, plus a projected $336 million in one-time equipment savings.

Federal law requires railroads that permit passenger trains to run on their tracks to give them preference over freight trains, but Amtrak executives have noted the railroads often disregard the law, resulting in delays, according to the report.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

The Associated Press