Chicago-Rockford Service On Hold

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OlympianHiawatha

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has scuppered plans to restart Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford because of funding cuts. Last year former Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $223 million plan to resume the service which was last run back in the 80s. But no rail has yet been laid or updated.
 

afigg

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Chicago Tribune short breaking news article on the Governor's action: Plan for Amtrak service from Chicago to Rockford on hold. Excerpt:

The plan to restart Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford is on hold.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Bruce Rauner says the project is part of his review of state spending projects. Rauner signed an executive order freezing discretionary spending and temporarily barring agencies from awarding contracts without approval.
Whether this is really just a short term hold on the project or the first step of cancelling the new service remains to be seen. I expect the new service to Quad Cities is safe because it is mostly federally funded and if the Governor were to kill it, the state would have to reimburse the federal government for much, if not all (in theory), of the funds the federal government has provided so far.
 

NorthShore

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Judging by his State of the State address, Rauner seems intent upon driving home and pursuing a hardline overarching agenda, despite a Democratic controlled legislature. However, he also seems willing to compromise. Whether this will be something legislators believe in enough to hold as a bargaining chip, who knows. More likely, the legislature will want to hang the hard and unpopular budgetary decisions which need to be made upon a Republican governor so that that they can contrast it with a Democratic candidate who will sound more popular to the voting public.
 
T

TT

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Anyone that drives on expressways in Illinois knows that there are some big delays during the morning and evening hours.

The trip to Chicago from Rockford on I-90 can be a nightmare. Therefore, bus service during busy periods such as morning

to Chicago and evening to Rockford can be fraught with delays and inconsistencies.

Not providing a seamless alternative for commuters between Chicago and major cities in Illinois (rail) does not serve those who need transportation or the businesses that thrive on customer and worker access.

To be sure, cost effective and timely transportation can be a necessary evil.

However for America to thrive, rail service is needed in key regions. If not now, then when?
 

Everydaymatters

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In 1990 I used to do the I-90 commute from Huntley to my office, which was a few miles from O'Hare. During the time I did this commute I was able to change my hours so I could beat some of the traffic. Still, the interchange by O'Hare was always a white knuckle experience.

I-90 has been a nightmare to drive for at least 25 years, but I support our new governor in cutting expenses where ever possible. The State of Illinois is completely out of control in its spending.

Didn't they try a train to Rockford several years ago? IIRC, it was only one or two roundtrips a day and there were only 2 or 3 riders, so they discontinued it.
 

MikefromCrete

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In 1990 I used to do the I-90 commute from Huntley to my office, which was a few miles from O'Hare. During the time I did this commute I was able to change my hours so I could beat some of the traffic. Still, the interchange by O'Hare was always a white knuckle experience.

I-90 has been a nightmare to drive for at least 25 years, but I support our new governor in cutting expenses where ever possible. The State of Illinois is completely out of control in its spending.

Didn't they try a train to Rockford several years ago? IIRC, it was only one or two roundtrips a day and there were only 2 or 3 riders, so they discontinued it.
Last train to Rockford was the Blackhawk. A once-daily round trip to Dubuque, canceled more than 10 years ago. I imagine the ridership was higher than 2 or 3 per day. The multi-millionaire Rauner is proving himself to be a guy who loves rich people and wants to cut their taxes while cutting the wages and benefits of working people, both in government and private sector. One of his many businesses was one that taught other business how to export their labor overseas. People apparently bought into his "I'm just an average guy with a $5 watch" TV commercials.
 
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OlympianHiawatha

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I am surprised there isn't a push to get Chicago-Rockford to be part of Metra service as it is only about 89 miles. Or is Metra already pushed to the limit on equipment?
 

andersone

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In my pre-AA days I used to make the drive from Freeport to Chi frequently. Once my brother in law by marriage and I decided to make the drive to Stickney in accordance with the rules of "Find they lighted Old Style Sign". (A popular beer from Wisconsin) The rules were simple, every time you saw a lighted Old Style sign you stopped and had one/ We ended up being six hours late to a family gathering, stopping total of 22 times. We ignored the rules for the last 37 lighted signs we saw. A miracle we are both still alive and I use this as an example of how stupid alcoholics can be in meetings.
 

NorthShore

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I am surprised there isn't a push to get Chicago-Rockford to be part of Metra service as it is only about 89 miles. Or is Metra already pushed to the limit on equipment?
The Metra chief has recently said that no expansion of services should be expected for some time. Only fares will be increased.
 

fairviewroad

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Didn't they try a train to Rockford several years ago? IIRC, it was only one or two roundtrips a day and there were only 2 or 3 riders, so they discontinued it.
As others have noted, the last passenger rail service to Rockford was more than 30 years ago.

You might be thinking of Amtrak's short-lived Lake Country Limited, which ran from Chicago to Janesville, WI in the early

2000's. That would have come close to Rockford, but not close enough to be of any use since Rockford residents

would have had to drive in the opposite direction from Chicago to catch a train back to Chicago. The route was

primarily there to serve mail/express packages, and was rumored to average in the single-digits in terms of daily ridership.
 

neutralist

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There won't be rail service on the corridor for a while. There are tremandeous business opportunity to be made.

The area is known for the manufacturing sector, the tracks are already there from Madison all the way to Chicago (via Janesville, Rockford, Illinois Railway Museum and the Metra MDW line). Those who can come up with the funding to put back passenger service is bound to reap the opportunities and benefits. But unfortunately I don't see how Amtrak will be able to acheive this.

A research survey is underway in the University of Illinois Urban Transporation Center about the new intermodal center south of O'Hare Airport that allows people to interchange to the more frequent Metra MDW line and connect straight to the airport terminal.

Assuming the transfer center did get built in time for the 2028 Olympic bid :giggle: , I bet will be major pressure to restore the rail line back to Madison and Dubuque like its former glory.
 
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neroden

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Rauner has made openly pro-passenger-rail statements.

It's worth noting that he's almost certainly a *borrow-and-spend* Republican in the Reagan tradition. His entire business record supports this and he's firmly rooted in that tradition. The hardline talk about budget seems to be pure theater -- expect him to cut taxes on the rich *and* increase spending, while issuing bonds with wild abandon.

This is probably not so great for the state in the long term, of course. The next governor will face a genuine fiscal mess.

But it's good for proposed expansions of train service.

I support our new governor in cutting expenses where ever possible.
Don't believe him for a minute. He's a total fraud when it comes "cutting expenses", just like Reagan was. For some reason this particular fraud convinces a lot of people -- they have done surveys, and lots of people at the time believed that Reagan balanced the budget. In fact Reagan had created the largest federal budget deficits to date. People also thought that Clinton had expanded government spending -- Clinton had, in fact, cut government spending massively. People thought Bush II had cut government spending -- he'd presided over the biggest expansion of government spending since WWII. People think Obama has massively expanded the number of government employees, when in fact he's cut it....

I guess politicians in general think they have nothing to lose by lying about this stuff, since nobody catches them. I do try to help inform people. :sigh:
 
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CHamilton

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UPDATE: Amtrak Project Dead According to Sources in Springfield


UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- An Amtrak official tells a House Committee that plans for the train coming to Rockford are dead.


Representative Brian Stewart is part of the Public Safety Appropriations Committee that is having a hearing that is still going on.

Stewart left the meeting to tell 23 News that Committee Chair John Cabello asked Amtrak Representative Ray Lang during testimony if Rockford would be getting Amtrak.

We're told the answer was a point blank "no."

Representative Cabello also confirmed this information to 23 News, although he was unable to leave the meeting to offer his reaction at the time.
 

Thirdrail7

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fairviewroad

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Ah, but here's a more relevant quote from the Amtrak flack:
 

“The route hasn’t been chosen, there’s been discussion about various routes, there’s been discussion about extending commuter rail service here but in the end if this many people get together to say they want service, we’ll come out and talk and that’s what we’re doing tonight,” said Magliari.
There doesn't seem to be anything new here. The Chicago-based Amtrak flack drove about 90 minutes out to Rockford for a meeting of rail advocates, told them what they wanted to hear, and promptly drove back to Chicago. Someone else will have to do the actual work of putting together a viable funding package. Yawn.
 

DSS&A

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The former  Illinois Govenor Rauner put this project's funds on hold four years ago.  Amtrak's statement the other day probably means they want to change the route again.  Some of the routing issues are as follows,  the  faster route through higher populations is out the north side of Union Station on Metra (Chicago to Elgin), Union Pacific (Elgin to Rockford) and CN (Rockford to Debuque).  This route has three different railroads and corresponding dispatcher "hand-offs".

The slightly slower route is south out of Union Station to 21st interlocking and on to CN tracks (Chicago to Dubuque through Genoa). This route has only two railroads , so none less dispatcher "hand-off". 

I have attended a few of the public meetings over the years. The original route was the faster route via Elgin and then suddenly it was changed to the other route via Genoa.  Amtrak publically made comments that Genoa was a close (23 minute) drive to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. So, they are interested in trying to attract college students.  However, it's important to note that it is only a 22 minute drive from DeKalb to the Elburn Metra cummuter train station which has significantly more service and lower fares. So, most NIU students will most likely continue to use Metra train service and not Amtrak if Amtrak's service is routed via Genoa. 

The chosen route went back to the route via Elgin and was proposed as a "start up service Chicago to Rockford" and not use CN tracks at all.  This implies they were having issues with CN.

Illinois' next Governor and his administration will write the next chapter on this project.
 
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Anthony V

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Regarding host railroad issues, the best thing we can do right now is forget about CN right now, and revive the 2014 plans.
 

illinoisandy

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In what would almost be my hometown train, I want to share a local, non-expert perspective on this train, and were it stands.   My core observation is it has the cards stacked against it.

First, to hopefully building on DDS&A's post, I will go with routing options and the challenges:

CN all the way, it seems Amtrak has a poor relationship, I’d have to believe without track upgrades, it might be dealing with a 60-mph route, think Cardinal, Hoosier State, the CN traffic seems like it could accommodate the train, but the route has lost two active siding over the years near Bartlett east end of Rockford, sitting in siding 30+ waiting for ..., again going back to the relationship .

Metra Milwaukee West / CP RR to CN Genoa, seems doable with a connection that would have to be build in a town, which leads to NIMBY complications. but three railroad, three dispatchers in 90 miles.

Metra Milwaukee West to UP in Elgin, Big Timber area, connector can be built, I believe they almost broke ground. To my knowledge the UP is “dark”, no signals, maybe a PTC waiver route with typically one UP train each way to Belvidere (auto plant) daily, but if PTC is a must, again cost and I’m sure, rightfully, UP would not want to pay for it or even part of it.  Would this be another 60 mph situation? Then there are the tracks between Belvidere and Rockford, essentially a low speed branch that would have to be rebuilt.

Another possible option not actively on the table is a Metra Milwaukee West / CP to Davis Junction then up about an 11 mile CP branch to Rockford. One catch to this route would be no possible East end station in Rockford. Also the last segment would need work to meet standards. It is really one of the least complicated routing options.

Then there is the elephant in the room, I 90 Addams Tollway and the well-established bus service that starts with “Van”.  I think the golden opportunity to start the service would have been when the multi-year rebuild was underway between Rockford and O’Hare, it was a mess.  Now it is a true modern smart Interstate, 4 lanes O’Hare to Elgin, 3 lanes Elgin to Rockford. Smart lanes east of Elgin, and posted 70 mph from about 5 miles west of I 294 / O’Hare to Rockford, lighted all the way to add.  I think most people are more than willing to pay the tolls for what you get. Then add a frequent, well-established bus service to boot.

The golden opportunity still maybe there for this route but it is not Rockford-Chicago segment, it is service to Galena, Dubuque, or even Waterloo, I know that is a long shot. US 20 is a mess west of Freeport to almost Dubuque, 2 lanes, curvy and busy, especially in the summer.  There are plans to expand and reroute US 20 around Galena out there but last I knew, not in short term construction plans.  Galena especially and Dubuque to some degree have tourism to help.  To me it seems like Iowa or broke. 
 

NorthShore

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Greyhound used to operate via Elgin and Rockford to Madison and the Twin Cities.   Then they shut down the well patronized Elgin station.   Do they even serve Rockford, anymore?   Seems they have even, largely, given up on these intermediate stops, along some of the same proposed rail routing.  (Elgin/Milw W, for instance, at the same depot as Greyhound was.)
 

Thirdrail7

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Ah, but here's a more relevant quote from the Amtrak flack:
 

There doesn't seem to be anything new here. The Chicago-based Amtrak flack drove about 90 minutes out to Rockford for a meeting of rail advocates, told them what they wanted to hear, and promptly drove back to Chicago. Someone else will have to do the actual work of putting together a viable funding package. Yawn.
Well, at least the flack didn't say they weren't interested in providing any service or equipment. Something is better than nothing.
 

DSS&A

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As stated above, the Tollway I-90 has been rebuilt to 70mph 4-lane from O'Hare (I-294 interchange) to Elgin and 70mph  3-lane from Elgin past Rockford and then north to the Wisconsin State line.

The former Blackhawk service was a morning train into Chicago with an evening departure from Chicgo (typical midwest service to Chicago until about 10 years ago when a second "mirror image (Chicago morning departure) round trip was added on most routes".  A former co-corker, who worked for Amtrak in Chicago in the 1970s, told me Amtrak wanted to add a Saturday and Sunday 2nd round trip departing Chicago in the morning and returning to Chicago in the evening to handle " Galena day trippers and full-weekend trippers". Amtrak thought the ridership would noticeably increase with just those two extra weekend round-trips, but Illinois wouldn't fund the extra weekend trains. 

Now that I-90 is upgraded, some of the potential riders will use I-90, but the Galena area is still a big market. 

A smaller market on the route is the proposed station stop at Huntley northwest of Elgin.  There is a large Dell Web retirement community in Huntley. Also, there are 7 colleges in or near Dubuque and two colleges in Rockford.

The plan when Govenor Rauner stopped the project was to have the usual single round trip into Chicago and then add a mirror image round trip departing Chicago in the morning a year later. The service was only going to go as far west to Rockford routing via Elgin until negotiations could be completed with CN.
 

Steve4031

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Us 20 west of Rockford is definitely not 6 lane 70 mph expressway.  It’s a beautiful drive but not fun with traffic or poor weather.   

Not sure how fast the train would be.  From what I see on the map there are a lot of curves.  
 
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