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Meet John Doe: Amtrak is coming in 2015, but regular rides to Chicago are available now

April 16, 2014

Paul Gorski

Paul Gorski

By Paul Gorski

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) recently announced long-awaited Amtrak service to Rockford will be here in 2015. He also announced they have scrapped plans for a southerly route and the new route will include Belvidere, Huntley and Elgin. Read more about the press conference at “Rail coming back to Rockford,” posted April 11 at http://rockrivertimes.com/2014/04/11/rail-coming-back-to-rockford/.

The southerly route was a shortsighted plan, as it would have made it more difficult to bring Metra commuter rail from Chicago to Rockford. I had hoped all along for an Amtrak route that included Belvidere and laid the groundwork, possibly, for bringing inter-city commuter rail to Rockford. Metra to Rockford is still a long way off, with substantial hurdles to overcome. But at least Amtrak is on its way.

Quinn said the Amtrak service will start in 2015 as a once-per-day service, possibly increasing to twice-per-day. That’s good, but if your looking for more frequent passenger service to Chicago, you do not have to look any further than the Van Galder/Coach USA buses that leave Rockford from two different depots everyday.

Van Galder’s daily bus schedule from Rockford includes: nine buses to Chicago/Amtrak station, eight buses to Midway Airport, and 17 buses to O’Hare Airport. These buses leave from Van Galder’s terminal off Bell School Road, just south of East State Street, and from the Clock Tower Inn on East State Street.

Some of my regular readers may be thinking, “seems you have told us this before.” Yes, I have. Why? Because, although I’m a fan of bringing Amtrak here, mostly to lay the groundwork for Metra passenger rail, I recognize we already have a private business providing passenger service to downtown Chicago and the major Chicago airports. I can say, as a regular Van Galder customer, the bus service is very reliable and the drivers are pleasant and helpful.

Perhaps I raise the issue again because the fiscal conservative in me wonders, “Why are we spending millions of dollars on Amtrak service between Rockford and Chicago when we already have a regularly scheduled passenger service in place?” For me, it is in the hope of improving the tracks and the switching equipment to support bringing Metra commuter rail to Winnebago County, but that is a long way off. In addition, the Amtrak service will eventually extend to Dubuque, Iowa, extending Amtrak service westward to other cities.

The plan to provide service from Rockford to Chicago is also consistent with the statewide effort to connect small towns and communities with Chicago, or Chicago with those communities, depending which way you are traveling. A map of the various Amtrak routes in Illinois is available at http://www.amtrak.com/illinois-services-train.

I will likely continue to take the bus to Chicago, though, because it gets me downtown when I need to be there, and I have options for my return ride home.

Paul Gorski (paul@paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper. Read “Tech-Friendly” at: http://rockrivertimes.com/?s=tech-friendly.

Posted April 16, 2014

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