Friday, April 11, 2014

Illinois eyes Amtrak Black Hawk restoration

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Amid a flurry of announced rail funding programs, Illinois has identified $60 million for re-establishing Amtrak service linking Chicago and Rockford, Ill., as early as late next year. Amtrak's Black Hawk last connected the two cities in 1981.

Plans call for one Amtrak round trip daily, linking Chicago's Union Station with a temporary station at 7th Street in Rockford, Ill., according to Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). A permanent station would be built after rail service resumes on the route, roughly 87 miles in length.

If service proves successful, IDOT may add a second round trip in 2016. Plans also call for an eventual extension of roughly 93 miles west to Dubuque, Iowa, just west of the Mississippi River, at some point.

"Next year, rail service between Rockford and Chicago will finally be a reality," Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement. "This funding and a new route are the final pieces of the puzzle to restart this critical rail service, which has been dormant for more than three decades. This is just the beginning–reliable, intercity passenger rail will create jobs and drive economic development in these cities, the region, and the state for years to come."

Said Amtrak President & CEO Joe Boardman, "We will work side-by-side with the Illinois Department of Transportation to restore service on this route, making it our fourth state-sponsored corridor in Illinois.  The people of the Rockford area have waited for 32 years for the return of service and we appreciate Gov. Quinn's tireless efforts to put these cities on the Amtrak map."

Total cost of the project, including right-of-way improvements and signal upgrades, currently stands at $223 million, funded mostly by Illinois' capital program, announced Thursday, April 10, 2014.

Work is expected to increase top train speeds from 59 mph to 79 mph, resulting in an end-point to end-point trip time of 90 minutes. Intermediate stops in Illinois include Elgin, Huntley, and Belvidere.

IDOT said the new route will travel over right-of-way owned Metra's Milwaukee District Line and also on Union Pacific track. Negotiations with Canadian National for use of its right-of-way proved unsuccessful, but IDOT officials said they are hopeful CN will eventually agree to allow service between Rockford and Dubuque on CN-owned tracks.

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