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All Aboard? Rockford To Chicago Train On Track For Next Year

Susan Stephens

Rockford residents can look forward to taking a train into Chicago next year, after three decades without passenger rail service. 

The state of Illinois is contributing nearly a quarter of a billion dollars for the major project that restores a long-lost connection between Rockford and Chicago.

Governor Pat Quinn made the solution sound easy for one of the problems dogging Rockford for decades:

“We begin working on it right now, this summer, and then it will be operational next year.”

Quinn made his Amtrak announcement near the massive old factory that will be converted into a downtown hotel and conference center. Just this week, Rockford City Council approved a plan for the Amerock/Ziock Building, long-considered a downtown eyesore with a lot of potential. 

Former Amerock factory, future hotel and conference center in downtown Rockford.

  The state is contributing $223 million to the rail project. Governor Quinn says all of the on-going capital improvements in southwest Rockford are critical for economic development in the region:

“So for Rockford to say we can get to Chicago or Elgin by train, that’s going to help build businesses, keep businesses, attract businesses. The airport already does that. And having this train route reinstalled after 33 years is a real good step forward.”

Steve Ernst heads the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Even HE was surprised the project was back on track and moving quickly. The governor’s office had kept the news quiet while a deal was worked out with Union Pacific railroad to use its tracks.

“This is a phenomenal day and for me the end of a fifteen year journey. We’re actually going to see construction start, thank you!”

Rockford resident Dyanna Chandler got a commitment from the governor to invite her along for the inaugural trip next year. She told him she was one of the last passengers to ride the Rockford to Chicago train 33 years ago.

“A group of teenagers, we would get on the train, and would you believe it? We rode the train round trip for 88 cents! I realize that next year it will be a lot more than 88 cents.”

Chandler says it will be worth the price to be able to visit Chicago without the hassle of traffic.

Once-a-day service between Chicago and Rockford is planned to start next year, expanding to two round trips the year after. This is not the same route the state announced a few years ago: Genoa, in northern DeKalb County, is no longer a stop. Union Pacific’s rails are along a more northerly route than Canadian National’s rails, which was the route considered originally. Now, the path includes Elgin, Harvard, Belvidere, and Rockford. Planners will have to find another way to extend the line to Dubuque, Iowa.

Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.
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