Service to Rockford to Begin in 2015

Rail passenger service is expected to return to Rockford, Ill., in 2015 after the Illinois Department of Transportation reached an agreement with Union Pacific and Metra.

The parties will undertake $223 million in infrastructure improvements to make the Chicago- Rockford route a reality.

The service will be operated by Amtrak and involve one daily roundtrip.

Trains 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 announcement came after several years of negotiations with Canadian National failed to result in agreement to use its tracks, which had been designated as the preferred route for a proposed Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque, Iowa, service.

The former Illinois Central Railroad route now owned by CN previously hosted Amtrak’s Chicago-Dubuque Black Hawk. That train, which IDOT helped fund, was discontinued in September 1981 when the state reduced its funding of Amtrak service.

The $223 million will be 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. The state will also provide funding for the establishment of stations in Belvedere and Huntley. The initial work on the UP route will accommodate trains at 59 mph by the end of 2015.

Other improvements planned for 2016 will help increase train speeds to 79 mph and allow the inauguration of a second Chicago-Rockford roundtrip.

IDOT said it will continue to talk with CN about an agreement that would allow the route to be extended to Dubuque via Freeport and Galena. All of those cities had been stops for the Black Hawk. Trains magazine reported that Illinois was able to strike a deal with Union Pacific for signal and track upgrades because of the partnership that it has established with UP to increase speeds on Amtrak’s Chicago-St. Louis corridor.

The Rockford trains will use the same tracks that Amtrak’s Hiawatha service uses between Chicago Union Station and the Western Avenue interlocking as far as Pacific Junction

At the latter point, Rockford trains will use Metra’s existing station to Elgin. There is a crossover connecting Metra and UP at Western Avenue, but it only serves one track.

Using Metra to Elgin will keep the Rockford trains off UP’s freight-congested main line as far as West Chicago, where the line to Rockford diverges. Before the 1971 coming of Amtrak, the former IC served Rockford corridor with a train that operated between Chicago and Sioux City, Iowa.

The UP line to Rockford, which was formerly owned by the Chicago & North Western, has not hosted scheduled passenger service since the early 1950s, although it has seen period excursion trains.

Restoration of Amtrak service to Rockford was among a flurry of announced rail funding programs in Illinois in recent weeks.

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