Rockford area state senators Dave Syversen, a Republican, and Steve Stadelman, a Republican, both participated in a recent public hearing conducted by the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee at which around 200 Rockfordians participated, despite the mid-day schedule and the immoderate weather. The project has become politicized -- what isn't these days -- but there's bipartisan support for expanded rail service between Chicago and Rockford. The governor is a Republican and both houses of the legislature are Democratic. Let the wrangling begin.
Rauner's budget would cut spending for passenger rail from the current $41 million a year to $26 million in the budget year that begins July 1, said Derrick James, of Amtrak.But as the negotiations begin in Springfield, the tussle between advocates of the traditional Black Hawk route on the old Illinois Central through Genoa and advocates of getting the new routing in place and in operation resumes.
"That's a 40 percent reduction, and we cannot sustain existing service we support today" on the Chicago to Carbondale, Chicago to Quincy, and Chicago to St. Louis routes, said James. And there would be no funding to operate trains on new routes from Chicago to the Quad Cities and Chicago to Rockford.
Efforts to get an Amtrak stop in the city resembles the story of the little engine that could: City officials keep chugging along, hoping the passenger rail service one day makes a stop in Genoa, causing a boon for the community.The state will do some capital spending, but in a divided state house, those projects with the strongest bipartisan support are likely to get through. That's likely to rule the Rockford service out.
In a letter to the governor last month, Genoa Mayor Mark Vicary pleaded that Gov. Bruce Rauner derail plans by former Gov. Pat Quinn to restart Amtrak service from Rockford to Chicago, but not include Genoa and Freeport.
Rauner put all major new Illinois Department of Transportation construction projects on hold indefinitely, but representatives from the governor’s office and Genoa recently met in Springfield to discuss delaying the project further for more research.
“We live to fight another day,” Vicary said. “Maybe the sensible approach is to do nothing and wait until the state has money to invest in the infrastructure.”
State officials said they had negotiated unsuccessfully for years with Montreal-based Canadian National to use that company’s tracks for the route through Genoa and Freeport before pursuing the other route.The proposed routing by way of Huntley and Marengo emerged in part because of CNR's (the current owner of the Illinois Central tracks) unwillingness to work with the Passenger Rail authorities. That's when the state was willing to spend money on track upgrades. If anything, the suspension of engineering work on the project will only reinforce the reluctance already emanating from Montreal.
The state spent about $3 million on engineering for the project before Rauner put all major new Illinois Department of Transportation projects on hold, department spokesman Guy Tridgell said Friday.
In 2007, IDOT considered four possible routes – three of which included stops in Genoa – and narrowed them to two for further study in 2010.
The route Quinn ultimately chose, which includes a stop in Belvidere, scored poorly in both studies, which analyzed factors such as ridership and construction costs.