The former Illinois Central line is a long way from Northern Illinois University, but that doesn't stop some public officials from pushing the connection.
State legislators will meet today to discuss adding money to the 2007-08 budget to cover the cost of updating the Blackhawk rail line, according to Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. The line, closed [to passenger trains] by the state [withdrawing its funding] in 1981, is an old Canadian National route that runs through Genoa. However, there is not a suitable structure to house a train stop in the city.
“There is a small wooden building on the CN track in Genoa, but it probably wouldn't be suitable,” said Magliari. “If people locally can build a stop, meaning the city or county, we can go from there.”
Magliari said there are still many factors that must be put into place before the train route can become a reality - the main one being funding. According to Amtrak officials, updating the CN line from Chicago to Dubuque would cost around $32 million dollars. The state also would have to set aside money to operate the train until it generates enough revenue to support itself.
“Service won't be starting tomorrow,” Magliari said. “But it is quite possible the northwest area of Illinois could have rail service in 2008 or 2009.”
The absence of train service at Northern Illinois University might be traced to the Union Pacific's 1955 decision to move its Chicago trains to the Milwaukee Road, also through Genoa. That left the Chicago & North Western with one round-trip a day between Clinton, Iowa and Chicago at Amtrak Day, and the North Western quite successfully obtained Amtrak's cooperation in not putting trains on any of its lines. Union Pacific now own the tracks through DeKalb, and they've also been quite effective at resisting Amtrak expansion.
Genoa City Administrator Joe Misurelli said city officials have not yet discussed building a station since the state's decision to open service on the CN line just came out on Wednesday.
“It's going to take time, but it would be a good opportunity for people out here,” said Misurelli. “My understanding is that Northern Illinois University is one of the only major universities in the state without that type of commuter system. It's very positive that the state selected the CN line.”