Monday, July 10, 2006

The Rockford Files - Illinois' Winning Hand

In a fit of uncharacteristic foresight, Amtrak is reported by the Chicago Tribune to be in agreement with the Illinois DOT on the re-establishment of rail service between Chicago and Rockford. Rockford is the largest small city in Northern Illinois that is not a suburb of Chicago. It lost passenger service in 1981, so we refuse to call this 25-year suspension of service a hiatus. Perhaps we should not even call it re-establishment. (See our blog entry about MoDOT's hopes for rail service.) Hopefully, it will not be a revamp of what used to exist either pre-Amtrak or at the time it was suspended.

Chicago's Metra already makes it beyond Elgin, to a decidedly non-railroad place name called Big Timber. We say non-railroad because, as far as we know, it never appeared on any railroad timetable before Metra. The contemporary station was just named for Big Timber Road. The point is that the most likely starting point is as an extension of this Metra line.

We are sure that Illinois and Amtrak will work out the details over the coming months. Illinois will have to pay to build some track connections, if the routing is going to be efficient. We would like to see the trains get right into Rockford's old downtown, and hope that the long-standing theory that says it's OK if the route just makes it to another travel connection (like an airport) doesn't prevail.

But it is noteworthy that Illinois has made a committment to Passenger Rail and recognizes that this is one of those high-benefit routes that can take a lot of passenger car traffic off the highways. In this case, the benefitting highway would be the Northwest Tollway (Interstate 90). This brings to mind other questions, such as how can a state that hopes to sell its tollway system to private enterprise justify using state money to take traffic off the tollway system? But we digress.

This is yet another route we would like to ride, because we never had a chance when it was either an Amtrak route or the old CNW Blackhawk service. Not quite as scenic as MoDOT's St. Louis-Springfield, this route would be a fun ride nonetheless; particularly the whole shebang from downtown Chicago (Union Station) to Rockford. Highlights would be the old Bensenville Yard of Milwaukee Road fame, crossing the Fox River at Elgin, the northern rolling farmlands of Winnebago County, Belvedere and Rockford (another river town: Rock Ford on the Rock River).

Kudos to Illinois DOT and the paying citizens of that great state.

© 2006 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com



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