Posts Tagged ‘Rockford Amtrak service’

Group Seeks Study to Restore Service to Dubuque

December 1, 2020

A group based in Dubuque, Iowa, is hoping to return Amtrak service to their city by piggybacking onto a proposed new service between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

Amtrak’s Black Hawk ran between Chicago and Dubuque in the late 1970s and early 1980s before being discontinued in 1981 during a State of Illinois budget crunch.

A committee of Dubuque government and economic officials along with officials in three Illinois counties are undertaking the study.

Their hope is to come up with a proposal that would extend the Rockford service to Dubuque.

The group is seeking a consultant to conduct the study, which is expected to take 14 months.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has been working for the past several years on reviving service to Rockford.

IDOT hired a manager for the project earlier this year. The state allocated $275 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget to pay for planning work for the project.

The Iowa-Illinois group’s study would examine such matters as a route, station locations, infrastructure needs, and costs and revenue potential.

Proposals are expected to be received in December and a contract awarded in January.

Illinois Funding to Help Amtrak Services

June 13, 2019

Amtrak travelers in Illinois will benefit from a recently enacted capital spending program approved by the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. J. B. Pritzker, but it will be years before those benefits can be seen.

There remains much work to be done on engineering studies and land acquisition. Some of those efforts have been on hold since 2015.

In some cases, negotiations have yet to begin between the Illinois Department of Transportation and a host railroad.

That includes a project to improve on-time performance and reliability of Amtrak service using Canadian National tracks between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

An IDOT spokesman told Trains magazine that his agency needs to agree on the details with CN, but the project is expected to include some sidings, universal crossovers and other unspecified improvements.

The capital project has earmarked $100 million to improve service on the route used by the City of New Orleans and the state-funded Saluki and Illini.

Amtrak sued CN in 2012 over poor on-time performances of its trains in the Chicago-Carbondale corridor, but that litigation has become bogged down in the courts.

Trains reported that IDOT and CN have already held talks about how to alleviate some sources of delay to Amtrak trains.

IDOT and Union Pacific also need to agree on the nuts and bolts of what it will take to implement a long-discussed plan to reroute Amtrak and UP freight trains onto a grade-separated double-track line in Springfield.

Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains now use a former Gulf Mobile & Ohio route that runs parallel to Third Street and which has numerous grade crossings.

The Illinois capital program has set aside $122 million to move Amtrak and its Springfield station to a corridor along 10th Street that will also be used by Norfolk Southern.

One downside of the move is that the Amtrak station would be further from the heart of downtown Springfield and the statehouse complex.

The capital funding program is expected to give a boost to two proposed new Amtrak routes.

One involves service between Chicago and Rockford using Metra’s Milwaukee West District to Big Timber Road west of downtown Elgin and thence over a UP line via Belvedere to Rockford.

A connection needs to be built at Big Timber to connect the Metra and UP routes.

The IDOT spokesman told Trains that there is no federal funding or service frequency plan for the service.

“The new infusion of funding will require us to re-engage with UP, Amtrak, and the local communities on scope, budget, and schedule after the hiatus,” the spokesman said, making reference to a decision by former Gov. Bruce Rauner to revoke funding approved earlier for development of the route.

Another new Amtrak route would link Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa.

The City of Moline, Illinois, has created a station for the service, but engineering and property acquisition needs to be done on a connection near Wyanet, Illinois.

The plan is to use the BNSF route now used by Amtrak’s Illinois Zephyr, Carl Sandburg and California Zephyr, to Wyanet and then switch to the Iowa Interstate for the remainder of the trip into Moline.

“Negotiations with the railroad will proceed on the construction, operating, and maintenance agreements,” the IDOT spokesman said, noting that IDOT and Iowa Interstate have yet to discuss “scope, budget, and timelines” that must precede an environmental assessment and preliminary engineering.
The capital funding program allocated $225 million to match a route-specific federal stimulus grant that is set to expire on June 30, 2019,

However, IDOT is talking with the FRA about extending the deadline for the grant.

IDOT had not given a timeline for when the service to Rockford or Moline would begin.

Rockford was once served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Dubuque, Iowa, Black Hawk, before it was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1981.

Although Amtrak has never served Moline, the former Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific offered intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and nearby Rock Island, Illinois, until Jan. 1, 1979.

Rail Benefits From Illinois Capital Plan

June 4, 2019

The Illinois General Assembly has approved the first capital spending plan in 10 years and intercity rail service is expected to benefit from it.

The legislature approved the plan on Saturday and it is expected to be signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

It includes $2.7 billion for transit and $500 million to fund passenger service on two intercity routes.

This includes $225 million toward establishment of Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, and $275 million to develop service between Chicago and Rockford.

Other rail passenger projects funded by the plan include $100 million to extend of Metra service on a BNSF line into Kendall County, and $400 million for CREATE projects designed to alleviate Chicago-area railroad bottlenecks.

Some funding was earmarked for repairs and upgrades at specific Metra stations.

The last capital spending plan in Illinois had been adopted in 2009.

Transportation officials said many projects were delayed due to lack of capital funding.

The latest capital funding bill was approved with bi-partisan support in the legislature.

It also had the support of various business groups including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.

Susan Massel, a spokeswoman for the Regional Transportation Authority, said her agency is pleased that $2.7 billion was approved for transit capital funding through bonding.

She also noted that the plan also contains annual, sustainable revenue, or “pay as you go” funding for public transportation capital funding.

To pay for the capital spending, the Illinois motor fuel tax will increase from 19 cents per gallon to 38 cents.

“This is the type of long-term, stable capital funding that public transportation needs and riders deserve to address our long term capital need of $30 billion over the next decade,” Massel told Trains magazine.

Huntley Wants to be Stop on Rockford Route

January 29, 2019

Officials in Huntley, Illinois, are pushing to be made a station stop for a proposed Amtrak route between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

They spoke at a Jan. 15 meeting in Rockford sponsored by the Rail Alliance Initiative for Northern Illinois that was attended by two Amtrak officials.

One of the potential routes that would be used for the service involves Union Pacific-owned tracks that pass through Huntley.

The other route passes to the south on tracks owned by Canadian National that were used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Dubuque, Iowa, Black Hawk, when it operated between 1974 and 1981.

That train stopped in Rockford.

Derrick James, senior manager of governmental affairs in Amtrak’s Chicago office, said Amtrak hopes to be able to make the trip between Chicago and Rockford in less than 90 minutes.

“One of the challenges I’ve had working with legislators is distinguishing between commuter rail and intercity passenger rail,” James said. “Amtrak’s charter is to run intercity trains . . . and our experience is that passenger service works between towns of good size. The train needs to get you as quickly as possible from Rockford to Chicago.”

There have been proposals in past years to link Huntley with Chicago by commuter rail agency Metra.

But Metra has been reluctant to build a connection at its Big Timber station in Elgin to the UP line that passes through Huntley.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has projected that it would cost $233 million to extend service beyond Elgin to Marengo, Huntley, Belvidere and Rockford by rebuilding the Union Pacific tracks and connecting them with the Metra Milwaukee West tracks at Big Timber Road.

James said having one stop between Chicago and Rockford would make the most sense for Amtrak and if that is the case it would likely be in Belvidere.

The push to revive Amtrak service to Rockford has been several years in the making.

In 2007 Amtrak conducted a feasibility that estimated the cost of reinstating the Black Hawk at $32 million to $55 million.

Amtrak Still Willing to Serve Rockford

January 19, 2019

An Amtrak spokesman recently told an audience in Rockford, Illinois, that the carrier wants to return to their city, but there are no firms plans to do that at this time.

Marc Magliari, who is based in Chicago, said the State of Illinois needs to decide what type of rail service it wants in Rockford, whether it be Amtrak or commuter rail.

“This is an area that’s unserved. We’d like to connect this part of the network to the rest of the network,” Magliari at a meeting of T.R.A.I.N. Illinois, a passenger advocacy group.

Amtrak service to Rockford ended in 1981 when the state ended its funding of the Chicago-Dubuque, Iowa, Black Hawk.

In recent years the Illinois Department of Transportation has studied reinstating intercity rail service to Rockford, but those efforts slowed during the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner, who was defeated in November in his re-election bid.

Magliari said Illinois transportation policy makers will meet next month to discuss the future of passenger rail in the state.

The Illinois Department of Transportation funds corridor service from Chicago to Milwaukee, St. Louis, Quincy and Carbondale.

As for returning service to Rockford, Magliari said, “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.”

New Governor Raises Hopes for Reviving Illinois Service

November 20, 2018

Northern Illinois rail passenger advocates are looking to a new governor to help jump start efforts to reinstate intercity rail passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa, and between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.

J.B. Pritzker recently ousted incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner whose administration had not been supportive of the proposed services, which were announced in 2014.

Also giving supporters hope is a favorable vote on an advisory referendum to create a station in Rockford for the proposed service.

A Rockford area state lawmaker, though, still sees a struggle to get the service going.

“It’s gonna be expensive – it’s gonna be a major effort, and if there’s not the political will to do it locally, then we should not head down that path,” said State Senator Steve Stadelman.

Stadelman, though, called the election of Pritzker a new opportunity.

He said he plans to meet with local leaders to gauge their support for the rail service.

Stadelman noted that the new governor has talked about the importance of transportation infrastructure. “I hope he’s willing to take a look at the idea,” Stadelman said.

During the Nov. 6 election, voters in Rockford and Boone and Winnebago counties gave 79 percent approval to the referendum question.

During the administration of former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, the estimated cost of the proposed service was put at $230 million.

The service would serve a region that has lacked intercity rail service for several decades.

Until 1978, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific operated a train known as the Quad City Rocket between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois. That train ran for the final time on Dec. 31.

Amtrak operated the Black Hawk between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, between Feb. 17, 1974, and Sept. 30, 1981.

The Black Hawk served Rockford and Freeport and ended during a state budget crunch.

In recent years, the Illinois Department of Transportation has studied reviving Amtrak service to Northwest Illinois using portions of the former Black Hawk and Quad City Rocket routes.

A new station was built in Moline, Illinois, which includes a hotel and shops.

“We’re hoping with the new administration that they’ll put a higher emphasis on passenger rail and keep it moving,” said Ray Forsythe, planning and development director with the City of Moline. We’re pretty excited.”

Funding for the revival of Northwest Illinois intercity rail service was included in the 2009 capital bill, the last one adopted by the Illinois General Assembly.

Lawmakers earmarked $150 million for Amtrak expansion for both the Quad Cities route and service to Dubuque via Rockford, along with money for rail upgrades for the existing line between Chicago and St. Louis.

Initially, the state planned to launch service to Rockford and extend it later to Dubuque.

Service to the Quad Cities was to use a BNSF route already used by other Amtrak trains to Wyanet, Illinois, and then switch to the Iowa Interstate, which owns the former CRI&P tracks.

The Federal Railroad Administration awarded $177.3 million in 2011 to IDOT to complete planning, environmental review, design and construction of the Quad Cities line, with the goal of having two round trips daily.

But Rauner’s inauguration in 2015 resulted in the Northwest Illinois rail service projects being put on hold.

In late 2016, IDOT resumed talks with the Iowa Interstate about using its tracks.

The two parties are discussing track upgrades, including installation of positive train control.

Also on the docket is the connection between the BNSF and Iowa Interstate lines.

However, negotiations with Union Pacific to use its tracks for the Rockford service have not resumed.

IDOT officials have not given a timeline as to when the services might be launched.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the carrier is interested in operating the Rockford and the Quad Cities routes because studies have found both have high potential for passengers.

Officials say that key to getting the routes started will be passage of another capital bill in the legislature.

A spokeswoman for Pritzker said he is committed to “working across the aisle” to get that done so that it can be used to attract federal grant money.

However, rail advocate will be competing for funding with such other infrastructure needs as roads, water systems and transit agencies.

Mayor Insists Proposed Amtrak Route Still Alive

March 29, 2015

Rockford, Ill., Mayor Larry Morrissey insists that the proposed Amtrak service to his city isn’t dead even as another public official said no new service was coming to the state.

Speaking with city officials by his side, Morrissey said the funds to build the rail line have been available since 2009.

At a recent public hearing, more than 150 people heard local elected officials, business leaders, and others demand that the state continue with the $223 million project to Amtrak service to Rockford by the end of 2015. State Sen. Steve Stadelman of Rockford scheduled the hearing Gov. Bruce Rauner put the Rockford service project on hold.

The elected officials attending the hearing listened and asked questions of the more than 20 witnesses who testified at the three-hour hearing. Many argued that a delay or cancellation would jeopardize economic stimulus benefits.

“The investment we’re talking about has an equally important impact on freight rail and our ability to attract industry,” said Morrissey.

The Illinois Department of transportation had been overseeing the upgrading of track between Rockford and Belvedere from 10 mph to 79 mph.

Morrissey noted that plans were already underway to rejuvenate the downtown area with a $24 million sports facility, a 75-room boutique hotel, and a $60 million, 150-room hotel and conference center complex.

The mayor noted that all of those projects would “have a direct connection to the train platform.”

“Without economic development of a major nature we’ll keep wallowing in (budget and employment) problems that the state has,” said Belvedere Mayor Mike Chamberlain.

Huntley Mayor Charles Sass said his village had already spent $4 million on planning for a downtown station and was poised to start construction.

IDOT Deputy Director John Oimoen said the project’s environmental studies are nearly finished and detailed engineering that would determine specific improvements and operating costs is between 15 and 20 percent complete.

One of the most impassioned argument for the Rockford service came from businesswoman Angela Fellars, the owner of a digital marketing and technology agency.

“The opportunity cost of not being able to work on a train between here and Chicago is costing me $400 a day in wasted work time spent driving. I’m angry that we even have to debate why this is a good idea,” she said. “Because I could spend some more time with my family, engage more in my community, volunteer more, and be a more active citizen. That’s why we need this train.”

Executive Order Halts Work on Illinois Rail Routes

February 10, 2015

An executive order signed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner last Saturday has put on hold work on upgrading the Chicago-St. Louis Corridor for higher speed rail passenger service.

The order prohibits state agencies from awarding contracts without the administration’s approval.

This also will affect plans by the Illinois Department of Transportation to implement Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford over Union Pacific tracks.

The order is effective until July 1. News media reports indicated that the governor’s office is undertaking a review of all state spending.

Illinois has spent $3 million on engineering items related to the Rockford rail service. Local media reported that Huntley, Ill., local officials have committed $50,000 to an engineering study that was to lead to establishment of an Amtrak station for the Rockford service.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn had sought to expedite service to Huntley and other northwest Illinois communities.

His administration identified $60 million for re-establishing Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford. That service had been projected to begin by late this year.


Review Puts Illinois Amtrak Expansion on Hold

February 4, 2015

Expansion of Amtrak service to Rockford, Ill., and to the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa is on hold by order of  Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner while his administration reviews them.

Rauner, who defeated incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn last November, had pledged to review all spending by the state. Service to Rockford had been projected to begin in late 2015.

The announcement prompted Rockford area officials to proclaim their continued support for the service.

“I would argue that anything you can do to improve transportation infrastructure economically benefits the Rockford region and the state,” said state Senator Steve Stadelman. “So it’s something that needs to go ahead no matter what our financial situation is.”

Rockford Settles on Site for Amtrak Station

January 7, 2015

Rockford, Ill., officials have decided on a site for a station for a proposed Amtrak service to Chicago.

The city is reported to be interested in a combination train station and parking deck at the site of the former Tapco building downtown.

The site, one of three that was considered, is south of a planned $53 million hotel-conference center by Gorman & Co. in the former Amerock building.

That project will cost $10 million to $12 million and include 300 to 400 parking spaces.

“What we’re trying to do is combine the train station with a parking structure to reduce that cost,” said City Administrator Jim Ryan to the Rockford City Council, The Amtrak service, which would be funded in part by the Illinois Department of Transportation,  is expected to begin between in late 2015 with one daily round trip.

IDOT plans to spend $223 million to upgrade Union Pacific tracks between Rockford and Elgin. Amtrak has said it would expand service in 2016 and eventually hopes to extend the route to Dubuque, Iowa. Funding of the track upgrade is part of a six-year $31 billion capital plan that outgoing Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn approved in 2009.

It is not known yet if Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner will support the rail project.