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Gov. Pritzker rolls into Rockford to announce Metra rail service

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker made a stop in Rockford on Thursday with a backdrop of a Metra train and local and state officials to announce that passenger rail will again connect the Forest City to Chicago.

Metra will use the Milwaukee District West line and relationships with the Union Pacific Railroad to extend service beyond Elgin to reach Rockford, with expected stops in Huntley and Belvidere.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces the return of passenger rail to Rockford on Thursday, July 6, 2023
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces the return of passenger rail to Rockford on Thursday, July 6, 2023

According to the Governor's office, travel time is anticipated to be slightly less than two hours between the two cities, with two round trips per day planned. Boarding locations in Chicago and Rockford, as well as a fare structure and schedule, are still to be determined.

Gov. Pritzker says the project is possible due to $275 million in rail improvements from the Rebuild Illinois statewide infrastructure plan. Service is expected to begin in 2027.

The next phases of the project involve reaching operations and maintenance agreements between IDOT, Metra, and Union Pacific, pending Metra board approval.

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara was on hand for Thursday's announcement.

"Passenger rail service will certainly make sure that this transformation, specifically in southwest Rockford, but all of Rockford is on the fast track," McNamara said. "Passenger rail service will benefit all Rockfordians."

Amtrak operated passenger rail service for Rockford until 1981. Since then, there have been a few stops and starts along the way to bring passenger rail back to the city, including citizen-led efforts.

In 2014, former Gov. Pat Quinn announced a plan to restore Chicago to Rockford Amtrak service but the project was put on hold when former Gov. Bruce Rauner took office.

Juanpablo covers environmental, substandard housing and police-community relations. He’s been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office in Chicago. As a civic reporting fellow at City Bureau, a non-profit news organization that focuses on Chicago’s South Side, Ramirez-Franco produced print and audio stories about the Pilsen neighborhood. Before that, he was a production intern at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and the rural America editorial intern at In These Times magazine. Ramirez-Franco grew up in northern Illinois. He is a graduate of Knox College.