Metra in Rockford ‘Not ready for prime time’

By Joe Baker
Senior Editor Emeritus

Recently, when it became apparent that Amtrak was coming to Rockford, it was suggested that we should also get Metra service. That is easier said than done. What are the prospects for such a venture?

Metra only serves six counties in the Chicago and Cook County area, except for a new line into Indiana, the South Shore, and a little bit into Wisconsin,” said Steve Schlickman, executive director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Something that poses a significant hurdle to bringing Metra here was pointed out by Schlickman. “All counties [on the route] have to pay for it,” he said. “[Metra] is running a deficit. It would mean a significant cost to Winnebago and Boone counties. They could do the same as Amtrak. The state pays some of the cost. You would need a groundswell of support.”

Schlickman added: “The first thing is there would be more stops. Each place would need a station. The local government pays for it.”

He believes the existing track from Chicago is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. “A trackage agreement is a big issue,” he said. “The Union Pacific guys are really tough negotiators.”

Schlickman said a single track would mean limited service to and from Chicago. Likely, there would be an inbound train in the morning and a train back in the evening.

A double track would be more cost — hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “It would be an ongoing cost.” There is another possible approach. “Amtrak could be considered community rail,” he said. “If you did it right, you might generate half the open costs.” He noted Rockford is becoming a more commercial corridor, and long-range planning is focused on the I-90 corridor.

The Harvard line does not serve the I-90 corridor,” he said. “The concern is for higher capacity. Transportation from Chicago to Elgin already exists. I could see it making sense.

We need concern [from residents],” he added. “We’re not ready to do it now.”

Near-term prospects for Metra in Rockford seem very remote.

Try to get state money,” Schlickman advised. “I wouldn’t say it is far-fetched, but it is not ready for prime time.”

From the Aug. 27-Sept. 2, 2014, issue

5 thoughts on “Metra in Rockford ‘Not ready for prime time’

  • Aug 27, 2014 at 9:27 am


    Amtrak is not ready for prime time either, we are rolling that out in stages.
    Stage 1, very slow tracks and one trip a day.
    Stage 2, somewhat slow tracks and two trips a day.

    The next step after that would be:
    1) Get Metra to say we could join the system if we met the requirements.
    2) One requirement is the passage of county sales tax specifically for Metra, right now 0.25 percent, but Metra may require us to pass a 0.50 percent sales tax. This would have to happen in Boone and Winnebago counties.
    3) More track and station upgrades. Local government can get federal dollars for station upgrades.
    Metra received $54 million in the early 2000’s to extend their service and pay for stations along the new routes. The same would have to happen here. Maybe not that much though, once the track upgrades for Amtrak are put in.
    4) To anyone who follows these types of projects, unless ground has been broken already, none of these projects occur in the near term. Once Amtrak is here, it would take at least five years, more like 7-9 years before Metra could be brought here.
    5) If would could connect with the line in Elgin, I see three possible trips a day. One very early, one midday, one late, all connecting with existing scheduled stops along the Chicago-Elgin route.

    The biggest hurdle is not the state coming up with money, it will be the passage of the sales tax in both Boone and Winnebago counties. Metra will not let us join if joining will increase the Metra operating deficit.

    I think public opinion will support the Metra service once people realize the proposed Amtrak route times will not get them into Chicago in time for work or in time to meet other Amtrak rail connections. Metra will help us connect with other communities other than Chicago. Metra has to be end goal, otherwise the investment in track upgrades for Amtrak will not reach its full return on investment.

    Thank you.

    Paul Gorski

  • Aug 27, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Regarding Amtrak service, there is a town hall meeting today, Wednesday, August 27, press release below…

    There is also a meeting today, Wednesday August 27th…

    From press release…

    ROCKFORD – Anyone interested in learning more about passenger rail service between Rockford and Chicago is encouraged attend an Amtrak Town Hall Meeting hosted by Illinois Senator Steve Stadelman.

    Senator Stadelman, D-Rockford, has invited Illinois Department of Transportation experts to give a 45-minute report on the status of the $223 million project. A question-and-answer session will follow.

    5:30-7 PM, WED., AUG. 27
    Zeke Giorgi Center Auditorium
    200 S. Wyman St., Rockford, IL

    “Passenger rail service to and from Chicago holds tremendous potential for economic growth and enhanced quality of life in the Rockford area,” Stadelman said. “The public is excited about the prospect of a rail link with Chicago, and I think it is important to keep the public fully informed and to involve as much public input as possible.”
    Construction is expected to begin in October 2014, with one daily round trip anticipated to be running by the end of 2015, two daily round trips by the end of 2016 and eventual service to Dubuque, Iowa. Amtrak will provide the restored Intercity Passenger Rail (IPR) service from Chicago to Rockford, using Metra & Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

    Track and bridge upgrades, increased capacity, a layover facility, a UP/Metra connection and new stations – including one in Rockford — are among the improvements being funded through Governor Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now! Capital Program.

    IDOT Project Manager Elliot Ramos will lead an overview discussion of Amtrak service and preparation work before fielding questions with Senator Stadelman and other transportation, engineering and municipal representatives.

  • Aug 27, 2014 at 11:44 am

    I think a station along O’hare would be nice.

  • Nov 8, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    To resolve the issue with us not being part of the Chicago RTA, we can create our own Regional Transit Authority instead of joining the Chicago RTA. Potential good names would be: Rockford Area Regional Transit Authority (RARTA) OR Rock Valley Regional Transit Authority (RVRTA).

  • Nov 12, 2014 at 12:47 am


    Thank you for posting your comment.
    Even if we created our own transit authority, we would have to pay for it, and we would still then have to create intergovernmental agency agreements to coordinate schedules and travel connections.

    The South Shore line in Indiana is such an independent agency with an agreement with Metra. I believe there might have been a misquote or misunderstanding in the original article inferring the South Shore was an extension of Metra into Indiana. The South Shore line is managed by its own board of directors,

    Re-reading Mr. Baker’s article, the only thing I can add is that if we do not work to get Metra or similar commuter service, the investment in Amtrak is wasted. While bringing Amtrak to Rockford will be nice, the one or two gate times to and from Chicago will not help regular commuters. However, we can piggy back off the Amtrak rail upgrades and expand rail offerings to include regular commuter service to and from Chicago.

    Thank you for reading the Rock River Times.

    Paul Gorski

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