Group says jobs, relocation help, training should be part of local high-speed rail

A faith-based community group called Thursday on local, state and federal leaders to include local jobs, relocation assistance and job training money in plans for high-speed rail.

Standing outside Springfield’s downtown Amtrak station, members of the Faith Coalition for the Common Good outlined the Springfield Rail Community Benefits Agreement, a list of goals they hope officials will follow.

The Rev. T. Ray McJunkins of Union Baptist Church said the group isn’t focusing on the local controversy over whether additional trains should be routed along the Third Street tracks or elsewhere.

“Our concern is that the entire community of Springfield will benefit from this multibillion-dollar project,” he said.

The coalition has asked five officials to sign the agreement: Illinois Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig; U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria; Springfield Mayor Mike Houston; and Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter. Houston and Van Meter already have signed.

Coalition members said they also will meet with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood next week.

The agreement calls for:

*Relocation assistance: The group wants relocation assistance and affordable housing for people who have to move because of the rail work.

*Local jobs. The group says local workers should be hired for the project, with a goal of having at least 30 percent of the jobs reserved for low-income people, minorities and women.

“We will not tolerate Union Pacific nor IDOT bringing in workers from out of state to do what our local businesses should be doing,” McJunkins said.

*Training money. The group is asking that 1 percent of the project’s budget be used for apprenticeships and on-the-job training and support programs.

*Green space and support for small business development.

*Protections against safety and noise problems for those living near or crossing the tracks.

*Creation of a committee of community organizations, unions, and business owners to monitor the project.

This story originally appeared in the State Journal-Register on June 2, 2011 and is available here: