City mulls Amtrak options, public meeting set for Sept. 3

August 20, 2014

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Although a temporary Amtrak train station in the Midtown District has been scrapped, leaders are still eyeing 2015 as the year passenger rail returns to Rockford for the first time in three decades.

Last month, the city pulled plans to spend $8 million on a train station at 703 Seventh St. The station would have been used by Amtrak while the city built a permanent location on the west side of the Rock River. Now, a permanent station may be built at the corner of Cedar and South Main streets, across from the future $53 million Amerock hotel project.

Legat Architects, of Chicago, has been hired for $250,000 to site and design the facility, as it did on plans for a station near Tinker Swiss Cottage earlier this year. That station was nixed when the state couldn’t come to terms with Canadian National Railway. Had the deal worked out, Rockford would have been a stop on a Chicago-Dubuque, Iowa, run, and a new Amtrak hub would have been built in Genoa, Illinois. Instead, Belvidere, Illinois, will be a stop on the Chicago-Rockford run of tracks owned by Union Pacific.

A future deal with Canadian National could happen after 2015 to bring a Rockford through Freeport to Dubuque route.

If Legat finds favor at the corner of South Main and Cedar, Bill Howard says the buildings are ripe for a deconstruction project that would create an industry that has not yet caught on in Rockford.

Howard wants to re-purpose materials from the west end of the former Charles Joseph building at 514 S. Church St., and use them to redevelop the east portion into the Amtrak station.

East of 514 S. Church St. is a small building owned by the Holder Company and an old service station known as the Warshawsky “muffler graveyard.” The city is in negotiations with Warshawsky to purchase and raze all three of its buildings to accommodate the project.

This is an opportunity to create a deconstruction industry and employ people in jobs that have never been here before,” Howard said. “It also validates our opposition to prevent such materials from entering the landfill.”

Howard has already gotten the ball rolling — at least on the deconstruction end of the Charles Joseph building. His crews have been engaged by the previous owner as part of a settlement agreement when the city acquired the property. The trick now, he said, is to get leaders to re-purpose the property and materials to build the train station.

We want to use our ancestors’ materials to save our children’s trees,” Howard said. “And we need to do it. We are no longer a manufacturing society. Too much is being done with machines. But there is an industry with deconstruction. Just in Rockford alone, there are about 5,000 houses that need to come down. And we won’t make any progress by simply demolishing a hundred or so every year.”

The Illinois Department of Transportation has budgeted $10 million for the Cedar Street project; the City of Rockford is expected to kick in more than $5 million.

A public meeting about the new Amtrak site is scheduled for 4-7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 3, at Rockford Park District headquarters, 401 S. Main St. Howard intends to propose the deconstruction project during that meeting.

We have spoken to Mr. Howard about this idea in the past,” Rockford City Administrator Jim Ryan said. “We are all for deconstruction, if it’s economical. We just haven’t seen a formal proposal yet.”

From the Aug. 20-26, 2014, issue

8 Comments

  1. Jack Daniel

    August 20, 2014 at 1:57 am

    If it’s not approved, feel free to take your money and leave the county by relocating to a place with better transportation, such as the Chicago suburbs.

  2. Sue

    August 20, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Can you tell me who’s hosting the Amtrak public meeting. Thank you!
    Sue Askeland
    Office Administrator
    Transform Rockford
    815-312-7438

  3. Almost Retired

    August 20, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    I am curious WHY it has to be built downtown to “help” out the Amerock hotel. A better location would be by the I-90 and East State corridor so that it serves outlying commuters also. The downtown is confusing to negotiate for out-of-towners and you KNOW there will be a hefty parking fee to leave your car there while riding Amtrak. The area is NOT a place I would like to leave my car OR to come back at night to get into my car!! Who is going to financially benefit from this plan? Why not benefit ALL the hotels and eateries by the I-90 and E. State area? Since I am just a TAXPAYER, what do I know about logistics, right??

  4. John

    August 20, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    This is a terrific opportunity to redevelop the area. The only caveat I would have is to make sure IDOT and CN are really negotiating this time to go to Dubuque, with clearly defined deadlines, rather than just the stupid posturing both sides got away with for past 16 months on the taxpayers’ dime.

  5. Paul Gorski

    August 20, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Almost Retired,

    The rail connection is not available out at the I-90 hotel area. An alternative location would be out near the airport. Such a connection was proposed some 20 years ago. An Alpine Road station was proposed in one of the four proposed plans from 2007/2010.

    An updated IDOT feasibility study may be found here:

    http://passengerrailok.org/memberfiles/IL-AmtrakReport.pdf

    Regarding the downtown location, that area is not a particularly high crime rate area according to reported crime statistics. There are some neighborhoods within a mile or so that do have some crime, but I wouldn’t hesitate at all to park in the proposed Amtrak station location.

    Train stations, particularly new train stations, have a halo effect of economic development. Where ever a trains station pops up in northern IIllinois, economic development follows. I expect the hotel and train station to create a similar economic development halo effect.

    I have written about Amtrak previously, see:

    http://rockrivertimes.com/2014/04/16/meet-john-doe-amtrak-is-coming-in-2015-but-regular-rides-to-chicago-are-available-now/

    and

    http://rockrivertimes.com/2014/04/23/meet-john-doe-metra-rail-is-the-next-goal-now-that-amtrak-is-on-the-way/

    Route and station options were originally:

    • Route A: Chicago – Elgin – Rockford – Galena – Dubuque via Amtrak/Metra/UP/CN: This routing is begins at the Amtrak Chicago Terminal in downtown Chicago and uses the Metra Milwaukee District West (MD-W) Line to Big Timber; the Union Pacific (UP) Belvidere Subdivision to Rockford; and the Canadian National (CN) Freeport Subdivision to Dubuque serving stations in Chicago, Bensenville, Belvidere, Alpine Road, Rockford, Freeport, Galena, and Dubuque.

    • Route B: Chicago – Elgin – Genoa – Rockford Airport – Rockford – Galena – Dubuque via Amtrak/Metra/ICE/IRY/CN: This routing beings at the Amtrak Chicago Terminal in downtown Chicago and uses the Metra MD-W Line to Big Timber; the Iowa, Chicago,
    Illinois Planning and Environmental Studies for Page 3 FRA Applications for High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR)
    and Eastern (ICE) Railroad [now the Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway] to Davis Junction; the Illinois RailNet (IRY) to Rockford; and the CN Freeport Subdivision to Dubuque serving stations in Chicago, Bensenville, Genoa, Rockford Airport, Rockford, Freeport, Galena, and Dubuque.

    • Route C: Chicago – Elgin – Genoa – Rockford – Galena – Dubuque via Amtrak/CN: This routing beings at the Amtrak Chicago Terminal in downtown Chicago and uses the Canadian National Freeport Subdivision to Rockford and Dubuque, serving stations in Chicago, West Elgin, Genoa, Alpine Road, Rockford, Freeport, Galena, and Dubuque.

    • Route D: Chicago – Elgin – Genoa – Rockford – Galena – Dubuque via Amtrak/Metra/ICE/CN: This routing beings at the Amtrak Chicago Terminal in downtown Chicago and uses the Metra MD-W Line to Big Timber; the ICE Railroad to Genoa; and the CN Freeport Subdivision to Rockford and Dubuque serving stations in Chicago, Bensenville, Genoa, Alpine Road, Rockford, Freeport, Galena, and Dubuque.

    That has changed a bit since Canadian National isn’t playing nice.

    Thanks again for reading The Rock River Times.

    • Almost Retired

      August 20, 2014 at 9:01 pm

      Paul, thanks for the info but I am VERY familiar with that area and I STILL wouldn’t park my car overnight OR want to walk to my car at night there. I notice you didn’t address the HEFTY parking fees that will be charged because Rockford can’t seem to allow free parking ANYWHERE in the downtown area……that is why people stopped shopping downtown years ago. I don’t pay for parking when I fly out of Rockford so why should we be expected to pay to ride a train?? Just wondering if you know anything about the parking situation that will be there. Oh, and those neighborhoods a few blocks away where there IS crime, I am sure they will STAY a few blocks away and not venture into the train station area to rob or hurt people, right? The train station will DRAW them!! Let’s PUSH for the airport or Alpine area for a train station!!

  6. Paul Gorski

    August 21, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Almost Retired,

    Regarding parking fees, I do not support street parking fees or public parking lot fees to go to stores and restaurants.
    However, I’m not sure how much traveling you do, but parking fees at transportation hubs are a fact of life. Parking meters are installed at Metra rail parking lots. You are charged to park at the Van Galder bus parking lot. if you want to park overnight or longer at the Clock Tower Resort when you catch a bus there, you have to pay for a parking pass.

    We are fortunate that we do not pay for parking at our airport, that is rare. But we do pay to support the airport directly through an airport tax on our property bills. If I had a choice, I would opt out of the airport property tax and pay for parking when I needed it.

    Crime happens everywhere. My wife’s car was broken into while stored inside a local car dealer’s garage, although the garage was not broken into.
    Odd, very odd. Some years ago, some cars were vandalized in a neighborhood off of Sprngcreek Road; and that is a very nice neighborhood. My wife had a friend who had a car shot up in the Applebee’s parking lot on E. State St.

    Between August 17 and August 20 no violent crimes were reported in the vicinity of the proposed parking area. There were two drug/alcohol violations near Elm and Wyman. The nearest assaults or burglaries occurred across the river near Seminary and College. There were however three cases of theft or breaking and entering near the hotels on E. State and the bypass. All stats courtesy http://www.crimemapping.com.

    If I had my choice, the first depot would be at the airport. I’d also run Van Galder bus service out of the airport. Air, bus, and rail all out of the same location. But the bus people are happy with their depot off of Bell School Road and the city really wants the redevelopment dollars to be spent in downtown Rockford.

    I think you have read enough of my columns to know I’m not viewing this through rose-colored glasses. Where we put the Amtrak station will be of little importance unless we then work on getting Metra rail to Rockford. One or two-times a day Amtrak service won’t it itself have a big return on investment, other than the infrastructure upgrades that will occur downtown. Local leaders don’t want Amtrak as much as they want the federal and state dollars that come with Amtrak to invest in fixing up downtown. I want Metra, and if it takes getting Amtrak here first, I am fine with that.

    Take care. And, although I say it all the time, I genuinely thank you for reading The Rock River Times.

    Paul Gorski

  7. DAVID LASSANDRO

    August 22, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    there would be no way in hell i would park my car on s.main st it would not be there when i got back to it maybe 40 years ago but not now put the train out be the airport. and stop putting my tax dollars in downtown

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>