SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin Thursday called on federal rail officials to investigate frustrating delays along the Amtrak route connecting Carbondale and Chicago.
In a letter critical of the company that owns the tracks -- Canadian National -- Durbin invited the federal Surface Transportation Board to visit Illinois to observe a number of problems with CN's operations.
Along with CN trains blocking rail crossings in Chicago's suburbs, Durbin said the on-time performance along the north-sound rail corridor between Carbondale and Chicago is averaging just 54 percent.
Other stops on the CN route affected by the delays include Du Quoin, Mattoon, Champaign-Urbana and Homewood.
The Democrat from Illinois said the delays are among the worst in the nation during the most recent fiscal year.
Key to the problem are slow moving freight trains that force Amtrak trains to wait along sidings.
"CN has failed communities across Illinois, from the suburbs of Chicago that have experienced a record number of blocked rail crossings to towns in Central and Southern Illinois that must face repeated delays in Amtrak service," Durbin said.
Amtrak supports Durbin's move and earlier this month filed notice with the Surface Transportation Board that it wants to move forward with a lawsuit regarding CN's shortcomings.
"Poor on-time performance is unacceptable to Amtrak passengers, employees, management and other stakeholders," Amtrak said in a statement Thursday. "It creates a major inconvenience for our customers and impacts the business through decreased ridership, lost revenues and higher operating costs for Amtrak, and for the states that sponsor routes."
Durbin met with transportation board chairman Daniel Elliott this week to outline the problems. He also sent a letter in June to CN chief Claude Mongeau, calling on the rail company to address ongoing safety and traffic issues.
Illinois helps subsidize the cost of Amtrak. In the current fiscal year, state taxpayers are spending $42 million for added service along the Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Carbondale lines, up from $38 million last year.
A CN spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for information.