Normal Mayor Koos pushes more long-distance routes in his bid for Amtrak's board
Normal Mayor Chris Koos has made his case to help shape Amtrak's passenger rail service. Koos was one of several Amtrak Board of Director nominees who addressed the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday.
Koos told lawmakers Amtrak ridership through Normal nearly tripled to about 230,000 annual riders — pre-pandemic — since he became mayor in 2003. Koos said Normal’s transportation center, Uptown Station, is a big reason why. The federal government provided much of the funding for the transportation center in 2010.
“The station has been an incredible success,” Koos told the committee. “It is the busiest Amtrak station in Illinois after Chicago Union Station.”
Koos said Normal's uptown transportation center has generated $175 million in economic impact in the 10 years since it opened.
Koos also said Amtrak needs to be better.
“Amtrak’s on-time performance must significantly improve, and freight rail companies must be held accountable for meeting agreed-upon timetables. I’m also intent on making Amtrak a safer system,” Koos said. “Grade separation and railroad right-of-way improvements that create safer conditions in Normal should be replicated in other Amtrak communities.”
Several senators, including Montana Democrat Jon Tester, pressed Koos and several other Amtrak board nominees for commitments to reverse cuts to Amtrak's many multistate routes, primarily in rural communities in the western U.S.
“I don’t plan on stopping any of you from being on this board, but you guys have a lot of work cut out for you to understand long-distance travel,” Tester said.
Amtrak eliminated and reduced the frequency of some long-distance routes as a cost-saving measure as demand dropped sharply after the start of the pandemic.
Koos said he's on board with emphasizing long-distance routes. “An eye-opener for me was to take a map of the national system and take the long-distance routes off of that map and see what kind of system you have,” he said.
Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran commended Koos for a letter he wrote to the committee in which he specifically emphasized the value of Amtrak's longer routes. Moran then questioned the commitment of the other nominees.
“I see a significant difference in what Mr. Koos was willing to say and what you all were willing to say, jointly. One is said much more emphatically and much more direct (with) much more specificity,” Moran said.
Each of the other nominees — David Capozzi, Sam Lathem and Robin Wiessman — indicated they are also committed to Amtrak's long-distance routes.