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Chicago will be testing ground for Amtrak’s pets-on-board program

U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham CaliforniRepublican  has been pushing for nationwide pets-on-trains law has used his his French bulldog Lily

U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, a California Republican, has been pushing for a nationwide pets-on-trains law and has used his his French bulldog, Lily, (pictured) — to tout a proposed bill. | Provided photo

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Updated: April 28, 2014 3:44PM



Amtrak travelers between Chicago and Quincy will be allowed to take small cats and dogs with them for $25 in the first test in the nation of what could become a systemwide pets-on-board Amtrak policy.

Dogs and cats up to 20 pounds will be accepted in carriers that will be stored under the seat of each owner from May 5-Nov. 2 on two Illinois Amtrak trains.

“A small pet carrier for a 20-pound animal will fit,’’ Illinois Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said Monday.

Plus, Magliari said, at least one car per train will be “pet-free” for those who may be allergic to pets or who prefer not to sit near them.

Amtrak is “supportive” of accommodating pets on trains and “we are optimistic a plan can be reached to address the needs and concerns of all our passengers,’’ Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said in a news release.

The agency is collaborating on the project with the Illinois Department of Transportation, which funds Amtrak, and a working group led by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, a California Republican, who has been pushing for a nationwide pets-on-trains law.

Denham brought what he called “part of this family” — his French bulldog, Lily — to a November 2013 news conference touting the Pets on Trains Act of 2013. His bill, not yet passed, would require pets to be crated on train trips of up to 750 miles.

“If I can take [Lily] on a plane, why can’t I travel with her on Amtrak, too?” Denham says on his website. “Allowing families to bring their animals with them will facilitate transportation and efficiency while also providing a much-needed source of revenue for Amtrak.”

The Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains will be the first Amtrak testing grounds in the nation for the service. Trains 380-383 operate to and from Chicago, LaGrange, Naperville, Plano, Mendota, Princeton, Kewanee, Galesburg, Macomb and Quincy.

Advance reservations are required for pets, and ticketing and travel with them can only begin at stations in Chicago, Naperville and Galesburg, where scales will be available to weigh pets.

What happens if a dog barks incessantly? Or has an accident in his crate?

“I would be shocked if the pet owner didn’t take action to empty the carrier into the nearest restroom,” Magliari said. Otherwise, he said, “This is a pilot to see what issues come up. We’re taking it one step at a time. We’ll see what lessons we learn from this to see how easy or difficult it is to implement throughout the system.’’

The Illinois Department of Transportation has received calls from pet owners inquiring about bringing their pets on Amtrak, said IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller. Some airlines allow pets on board in carriers with their owners now, she noted.

“It’s fairly common within the airline industry and more people are looking to not have to drive certain places and want to take the train so we saw a need for this,’’ Miller said.

“We think this is an exciting opportunity and we are looking forward to seeing how passengers respond to this pilot program,’’ Miller said. “We are leading the way.’’

Amtrak allowed pets on board in the 1970s but only in baggage cars that had no heating, air conditioning or ventilation. The service was discontinued after less than 10 years, Magliari noted.

Amtrak will continue to allow service animals on trains at no charge.

Email rrossi@suntimes.com

Twitter @rosalindross



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