Amtrak Provides Study to Restore State-Supported Rail Service to Rockford and Northwestern Illinois

CHICAGO — Amtrak has completed a report requested by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) that evaluates possible Northwestern Illinois routes between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, via Rockford, Illinois.

This “Feasibility Report on Proposed Amtrak Service” is also in response to a July 2006 town meeting held in Rockford and hosted by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) who was joined by Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.), Amtrak and IDOT representatives, labor officials and community leaders from Boone, Winnebago, Stephenson, Jo Daviess, DeKalb and Ogle Counties.

In the report, the approximate cost of upgrading the railroad infrastructure to accommodate passenger train speeds is up to $62 million, dependant on the choice of routes. Not included in this figure are any capital costs for railcars and locomotives, nor what are assumed to be the local costs of providing stations.

The annual operating cost for any of the three routes is estimated at less than $5 million, based upon a single daily round-trip frequency. Chicago-Rockford travel times of about two hours and Chicago-Dubuque travel times of less than 4.5 hours are possible and would be competitive with automobile driving, dependant on the choice of routes, agreements with host railroads and required infrastructure improvements. Excerpts from the report and a map are included below.

Amtrak estimates two construction seasons would be needed to make the infrastructure improvements necessary to achieve these travel times.

“We appreciate all the effort that Amtrak has put into gathering the data assembled in this report,” said IDOT Acting Secretary Milt Sees. “This is a good first step, and gives us some of the information we need as we move forward and work with local communities, their elected leaders and Senator Durbin to determine the best course of action.”

“In July we held a meeting that showed us that Northern Illinois communities are committed to bringing Amtrak back to the area,” said Senator Durbin. “Today, we have a feasibility study that shows us that adding rail service along the Chicago to Galena/Dubuque corridor will give businesses and tourists a time competitive and convenient alternative to the Northwest Tollway rush hour.

“Amtrak already provides quick, cost-effective, and reliable public ground transportation to 30 communities in the state — it’s time to add communities in Northwest and North Central Illinois to that list,” Durbin concluded.

“With the completion of this report, we are now closer than ever before to restoring Amtrak service to Rockford and Northwest Illinois,” Congressman Manzullo said. “Daily passenger train service to Chicago will give our residents another great transportation option and bolster economic activity throughout northern Illinois. I want to thank Amtrak for completing this study, and I look forward to working with Senator Durbin, our state officials, and our local leaders to make this new train service a reality.”

The last passenger train service through Rockford and Freeport to Galena and Dubuque was operated from February 14, 1974, through September 30, 1981, using the CN (former Illinois Central or Chicago Central) route. At that time, IDOT contracted with Amtrak to operate the daily round-trip train known as the Black Hawk.

“Many parts of the country lost rail passenger service in the 70s and 80s,” said Alexander Kummant, Amtrak President and CEO. “With partners such as the State of Illinois — and with the support of Senator Durbin, Congressman Manzullo and others — the Rockford area can again have the economic and environmental advantages of Amtrak service.

“We look forward to taking the next step, which would involve negotiations with host railroads, development of detailed capital plans and funding requests,” Kummant added.

Last month, IDOT asked Amtrak to deliver another feasibility report, this one to study state-supported service to the Quad Cities (including Rock Island and Moline, Illinois,), which has never been served by Amtrak trains and which lost its passenger rail service in 1978, when the Rock Island Railroad discontinued operations. The findings of the study are expected by year’s end. The IDOT request is the result of a meeting Senator Durbin held several weeks ago in Rock Island, where public support was heard for a return of passenger trains to the region.