SPRINGFIELD -New Amtrak service between Chicago and St. Louis and Chicago and Carbondale will operate as planned as part of a late night deal struck between the passenger rail company and the owner of the tracks it uses.
In an agreement announced Friday morning, the Canadian National Railway is dropping its opposition to Amtrak's plan to add two trains on the Chicago-St. Louis route and one new train on the Chicago-Carbondale line.
The service was expected to begin Monday, but was thrown into limbo when CN attempted to wriggle out of a contract it signed in July.
At issue was a concern by CN that additional passenger trains on a stretch of track between Chicago and Joliet would slow freight traffic.
As part of the pact, the two sides will oversee a study of the how the added trains impact service on the busy corridor.
"The demand for more passenger rail service in Illinois is clearly growing and we're pleased that CN's leadership has made it possible to move forward," said Amtrak President Alexander Kummant.
A statement from CN wasn't was available Friday morning.
The issue had taken on political overtones when it came to light earlier this week. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had threatened to draft legislation to thwart CN's attempt to curtail the additional service. Durbin also enlisted other members of the state's congressional delegation to publicly chastise CN for its position.
On Friday, Durbin hailed the agreement.
"I'm glad it ended this way," he said during a press conference at the Amtrak station in his hometown of Springfield. "It was very clear that if we went to court today we would have prevailed."
The added service was made possible by a $24 million subsidy from the state. That amount is double what taxpayers have been paying to keep Amtrak service rolling through the Prairie State in recent years.
For riders along the Chicago-Carbondale line, it will mean one additional round trip between the two cities, which serve three state universities and several communities. On the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, the added service will bring two more round-trip runs to cities including Normal, home to Illinois State University, and Springfield, the seat of state government and the center of tourist sites linked to Abraham Lincoln.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich thanked Amtrak and CN for coming to an agreement.
"This expansion of Amtrak service is too important to people in Illinois to allow it to be derailed before it even got started," Blagojevich said.