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Zero Illinois jobs assured in high speed rail project

(The following story by Bruce Rushton appeared on the State Journal-Register website on July 23, 2010.)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — All of a $98.3 million federal grant for high-speed rail will go to the Union Pacific Railroad, and there are no assurances that anyone in Illinois will get a job as a result, under an agreement between the railroad and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

In announcing the agreement this week, Gov. Pat Quinn touted jobs.

“Today’s announcement will create hundreds of jobs and is a major step towards making high-speed rail a reality in Illinois,” Quinn said in a press release issued Tuesday.

The release also says the project for track improvements between Alton and Lincoln “will support an estimated 900 jobs.” The state hopes to use federal stimulus money to complete a high-speed rail link between Chicago and St. Louis, and high-speed rail is expected to create 6,000 jobs in Illinois, according to the governor’s press release.

But Union Pacific will procure all labor under the contract with IDOT announced this week, and the labor will be provided under the railroad’s existing labor agreements. The contract also says the $98.3 million will go to the railroad to install concrete ties and new rail on an 89-mile segment between Alton and Springfield and between the capital city and Lincoln, and the railroad alone will own the improvements.

Out-of-state crews?

Such provisions come as no surprise to Brad Schaive, business manager for Laborers Local 477 in Springfield.

“I think it’s pretty transparent that that they’re talking about people who are currently gainfully employed,” said Schaive, who worked as a Union Pacific conductor in the 1990s. “They’ll bring in their own rail crews — it’s almost all automated by machine now. You’ll see a lot of out-of-state people come in and put the rail in and leave.”

Schaive said his office hasn’t received any calls from anyone interested in hiring workers for high-speed rail construction.

IDOT provided the contract to The State Journal-Register on Wednesday afternoon, one day after the paper first asked, then filed a formal request under the state Freedom of Information Act.

After receiving the contract, the newspaper sent written questions to Josh Kauffman, IDOT spokesman, asking how the job figures cited by Quinn were calculated. Kauffman said he would work on getting answers, but the paper received no further response as of Wednesday evening.

UP controls project

The contract allows Union Pacific to pull crews from the high-speed rail project if it is delayed for some reason, and the railroad can also pull crews if there is an emergency anywhere on the railroad’s system that requires immediate attention.

The railroad won’t be liable for any additional costs if crews must be pulled due to problems elsewhere on Union Pacific’s system.

The track improvements announced this week are a tiny portion of what’s planned on Union Pacific track between St. Louis and Chicago that would be paid for with a federal stimulus grant of more than $1.1 billion. The full project can’t go forward without Union Pacific approval, and the contract made public Wednesday puts the railroad under no further obligation.

“UPRR and IDOT acknowledge that this Agreement is applicable solely to this Project and does not obligate UPRR to perform any work or to participate in any project or in the construction of any improvements beyond the scope of this Project,” the contract reads.

The agreement says the number of high-speed passenger trains that use the tracks each day will be determined later, but that number will be “limited.” And just how to realize the goal of improving passenger service without hampering freight operations will be addressed in a future agreement, according to the contract.

Amtrak passengers will be bused around construction areas when track-laying machinery blocks the route. Work is supposed to begin by Sept. 30 and be complete by Jan. 31, 2011.

Friday, July 23, 2010

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