By Paul Gorski
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) recently announced Amtrak service to Rockford will start in 2015. 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/ (and I wrote a related article, “Meet John Doe: Amtrak is coming in 2015, but regular rides to Chicago are available now,” at http://rockrivertimes.com/2014/04/16/meet-john-doe-amtrak-is-coming-in-2015-but-regular-rides-to-chicago-are-available-now/).
Others have chimed in, too. State Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, who has worked with the governor to bring Amtrak here, stated in a recent press release:
“Getting Amtrak service back on track has been a priority for me since I’ve taken office. Many people have worked to bring us where we are today. I am excited to be part of the final push to make Amtrak service a reality. For too long, the Rockford community’s needs were ignored. No longer. Our growing, vibrant city boasts tremendous transportation opportunities, and the addition of passenger rail service to and from Chicago enhances the amenities our community needs.”
OK, great, so Amtrak is coming to Rockford. Folks are excited. What does this mean for our community? To me, it means new construction jobs for local residents, and that is very good for our local economy. It also means we are laying the groundwork to bring Metra commuter rail from Chicago and Chicago suburbs to Rockford; bringing Metra rail to Rockford should be our new regional transportation goal. Notice how I focused on bringing people “to” Rockford.
Amtrak service will, at best, have two daily scheduled routes into and back from Chicago, and will only make three stops between Chicago and Rockford. Connecting Rockford to Chicago via Metra passenger rail could offer more scheduled routes and more stops between Rockford and Chicago. However, commuting to Chicago via Amtrak or Metra will not be speedy. Previous transportation studies report a two-hour-plus Amtrak ride; a commute on Metra train will take even longer. Those commute times might be too long for many local residents on a daily basis. At least we would have two more transportation choices for highway-challenged drivers and those residents who simply want to relax on their way into and back from Chicago.
Many residents outside our region are accustomed to long commutes. While Metra rail service to Rockford would expand transportation and employment opportunities for local residents, it would more importantly open Rockford up to a larger pool of tourists and workers willing to come here. More frequent rail service to Rockford could help bring people to our concerts, our sporting events and the ill-conceived casino that will likely come to Rockford. We could also see more manufacturers set up shop here if they had access to a larger labor pool.
So, clap and cheer for the long-awaited Amtrak service when it arrives, but then get to work and pressure local leaders to bring Metra commuter rail service to Rockford.
Paul Gorski (firstname.lastname@example.org) authors the “Meet John Doe” and “Tech-Friendly” columns seen in this newspaper and is a Cherry Valley Township resident.
From the April 23-29, 2014 issue