All Aboard!

Passenger rail service returns to Rockford in 2015, part of eventual run to Dubuque

Passenger train service is coming back to Rockford after an absence of more than 30 years.

State officials last week announced a $233 million state capital investment to restart Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford beginning next year.

The return of passenger rail service — which will include planned stops in Elgin, Huntley and Belvidere — will start with one daily round trip run from Chicago’s Union State and expand the following year to eventually continue west to Dubuque, Iowa.

“Next year, rail service between Rockford and Chicago will finally be a reality,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in making last week’s announcement. “This funding and a new route are the final pieces of the puzzle to restart this critical rail service, which has been dormant for more than three decades. This is just the beginning – reliable, intercity passenger rail will create jobs and drive economic development in these cities, the region and the state for years to come.”

The announcement ends two years of negotiations and covers a different route than originally planed. 

Amtrak will use tracks by Metra and the Union Pacific Railroad on a new northern route selected following lengthy negotiations with the Canadian National Railway, whose tracks were originally chosen for the service. Switching to the new tracks will ensure that service begins in 2015 and isn’t held up by continued delays.

“(The) announcement is truly a team effort involving IDOT, Amtrak, the Union Pacific Railroad, the City of Rockford and many others,” Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) Secretary Ann L. Schneider said. “I am especially proud that we are working together to build a multi-modal system of transportation that benefits residents and improves the quality of life throughout Illinois.”

“I know it wasn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile and sustainable ever is,” Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said. “Working with the state of Illinois, the city of Rockford and its partners are transforming our city, and I am so happy to work with our state partners to make it happen, because it couldn’t happen without their support.”

The new route will use Metra’s Milwaukee District-West Line and connect to the Union Pacific Railroad near Big Timber Road in Elgin. 

The Rockford station will be temporarily located at 703 Seventh Street on the east side of the Rock River, while IDOT and the city continue to develop a permanent Main Street station on the river’s west side. 

Quinn and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin dedicated $3 million in state and federal funding in 2012 to develop this new, multi-modal station.  

The $223 million in track, signaling and safety improvements are funded primarily through Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now! capital program. 

Preliminary improvements to the Union Pacific tracks will accommodate Amtrak 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 the Canadian National Railroad to extend this corridor to its ultimate destination of Dubuque, Iowa, stopping in Freeport and Galena.

Included in the $223 million investment announced today is $7.85 million to rehabilitate the temporary station on 7th Street in Rockford and $5.85 million to be split between Huntley and Belvidere to develop their own stations. The existing Metra station in Elgin will serve as its Amtrak stop.


–News Bulletin news sources