Local Officials in Dark About New Amtrak Route

Elected officials in Northern Illinois say that have not heard anything officials about the plans to launch Amtrak service between Chicago and East Dubuque, Ill.

Recent news media reports indicated that the Illinois Department of Transportation, Amtrak and the Canadian National Railway had made progress in negotiations for use of a former Illinois Central route that runs via Rockford, Freeport and Galena.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn had pledged that the train would begin operations in 2014. Yet the Rockford Register Star received interviewed several local officials and none of them said that they had received word about when the train would begin.

“I haven’t heard anything,” said Freeport Mayor Jim Gitz who added that he’s worried that funding for the train could get caught up in budgetary debates in Washington, D.C.

“It would be a shame if the expansion of rail service into northern and northwest Illinois were to become the victim of budgetary forces or the forthcoming elections.”

Gitz supports the new Amtrak route and fears that if the service doesn’t begin by 2016 it may never happen.

Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, called the negotiations with CN agonizingly slow. “The governor says he’s disappointed that the cost has skyrocketed,”
Stadelman said. “Conversations are taking place now, revisiting the issue, determining the future of Amtrak service. “This service is still going to happen, it’s just taking longer than it should.”

IDOT has estimated infrastructure costs at $60 million for the route through Genoa.

The city of Rockford is moving ahead on a plan to construct a $12 million train and bus station at South Main Street and Kent Creek.

“The city and Rockford Mass Transit District will be announcing their architectural team that will help design the downtown station soon, hopefully right after Thanksgiving,” said Steve Ernst, executive director of the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

“It has just been a difficult and lengthy process. … Getting signed contracts out of Springfield has seemed to take an eternity.”

Ernst hasn’t heard anything new on the proposed Amtrak route since the summer.

“As far as I know the state and the CN still have not reached agreement. But seeing as they both signed a nondisclosure agreement for the negotiating period, IDOT has not been able to divulge how close (or how far apart) they are. But given the length of time, I have to believe that they still are far apart.”

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, has asked IDOT for a report on the status of the proposed Amtrak but still hasn’t received it.

“At this point, I’ve been told that IDOT is close to an agreement (with CN) where a contract can be worked out,” he said. “Now, what ‘close to’ means, we don’t have a definition yet.”

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