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