Now the state calls in the favors in order to expedite restoration of Passenger Rail to Rockford.
The still unnamed, Amtrak-operated service will use a combination of Metra’s Milwaukee District West commuter line and UP’s Belvedere Subdivision. A connection will be built between the two near Metra’s Big Timber station west of Elgin. The move comes after several years of protracted negotiations with Canadian National, whose tracks had been designated as the preferred route for proposed Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque, Iowa, service.Thus far, I have seen no reaction from residents of Genoa, or from Northern Illinois University or DeKalb-Sycamore interests, all of whom have expressed their preference for the former Illinois Central Land O'Corn routing through South Elgin and Genoa. That one train a day, most likely timetabled for the benefit of business or recreational travellers to the Loop, is unlikely to be of much use to Northern Illinois students or faculty seeking an alternative to the Reagan Tollway east at weekends. Better to work with Union Pacific to extend that third track to DeKalb.
Switching to the new route will ensure that service begins in 2015 and isn’t held up by continued delays, the state says. Preliminary improvement to the UP route will accommodate trains at 59 mph by the end of next year. Final improvements are planned to be completed in 2016, at which point speeds will increase to 79 mph and a second Chicago-Rockford round-trip will be added. The state will continue to work with CN to extend the corridor to Dubuque, with intermediate stops at Freeport and Galena.
The $223 million, funded primarily through Gov. Pat Quinn’s “Illinois Jobs Now!” capital program, will include expenditures of almost $14 million to build a temporary station on 7th Street in Rockford, as well as money to help Belvedere and Huntley build stations. The CN route would have by-passed populous Belvedere, home of a Chrysler assembly plant.
The fact that Illinois was able to strike a deal with Union Pacific for signal and track upgrades west of Elgin can be credited to the presence of the factory as well as the partnership the state and the railroad already have in increasing speeds on UP’s Chicago-St. Louis corridor. The decision to use Metra’s West line allows Rockford-bound trains to use the same tracks that Amtrak’s Milwaukee-bound trains travel out of Union Station through the Western Avenue interlocking as far as Pacific Junction, then utilize Metra’s existing station at Elgin.