Bringing passenger rail service to Rockford

Our community is facing the exciting prospect of the restoration of passenger rail service for the first time since 1981. Through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16), we have the opportunity to convince Amtrak to bring a train through Rockford on its way from Dubuque to Chicago. During a recent public forum, Sen. Durbin made it clear that if we want this to happen, we must act quickly, and we must act with a unified voice. In other words, the communities of northwest Illinois must come to an agreement on what route the train should take.

Amtrak studied three potential routes. Route A runs through Belvidere and Marengo. Route B runs by the Rockford Airport down to Davis Junction and then east. Route C runs down the former Blackhawk line that was used prior to discontinuation of service in 1981. The results of the study lead to the conclusion that Route C would be the obvious choice. It has almost double the annual ridership, double the annual revenue, costs less to build and operate, and is 45 minutes faster when compared to Routes A and B.

The Amtrak study shows that Route A is the same route that has been favored by a Boone County group that is trying to bring commuter rail to Belvidere. [Winnebago County Board Chairman] Scott Christiansen (R) favors Route C in an effort to connect the Rockford Airport to O’Hare. While both of these concepts have merit, it could be many years before they come to fruition.

Amtrak presents our best opportunity to bring rail to our area within two years. It is better to get started with rail now than to wait for the perfect project to develop. The recent history at the airport supports this. We were without passenger service until 2004. We could have waited for service with a major carrier such as United or American, but instead went with now-bankrupt Transmeridian. While Transmeridian is long gone, we are now setting records with passengers at the airport. By getting an airline here, the airport was able to begin down its path to success.

Our elected officials have a choice to make in the next few weeks. They can agree to support the most logical route to get a train here soon. Or, they can hold out for their favorite plan, and lose the project to the Quad Cities or Peoria. Sen. Durbin and Rep. Manzullo have worked hard to bring us the possibility of passenger rail service in northwest Illinois.

As a region, we have stated that we want to return passenger rail service to northwest Illinois. Elected officials and community leaders have publicly expressed the desire. Now, one of the most powerful members of the U.S. Senate has offered us an opportunity to get rail here now. He has put a lot of effort into obtaining this goal. If we set up roadblocks to achieving this goal, we will lose the project to another community. Not only will that cause us to fail to reach a goal we all want, it will create the impression that we can’t cooperate regionally. Also, what motivation will Sen. Durbin have to bring projects to northwest Illinois if we turn away something that he has worked so hard to achieve?

Therefore, I urge all local governments to come to a unanimous consensus on a route that the federal and state government will accept. As a region, we need to agree to do whatever is necessary to expedite the process to approval and bring passenger rail back to northwest Illinois.

Greg Tuite is a Rockford Township trustee.

from the April 18-24, 2007, issue

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