Citizens group promotes bringing a passenger rail service back through Rockford

Published: Jan. 26, 2018 at 7:14 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- There's been talk of bringing a passenger train back to Rockford for years and now the idea is getting a little more support. A local group is working to promote this rail service but one state lawmaker believes it will still be a while before this happens.

Members of the group Bring Back Blackhawk and Senator Steve Stadelman want to restore a passenger rail service from Chicago to Dubuque.

Governor Pat Quinn announced a $223 million project to restore a Chicago to Rockford Amtrak service on Apr. 10, 2014. Once Governor Bruce Rauner was elected, he put a hold on the project on Feb. 20, 2015.

"Passenger rail is important for this community. It was set to go for 2015 and it hasn't happened, so it's been extremely disappointing. When the Rauner administration took over, they basically killed the project and that was detrimental to this area," said 34th District Senator Steve Stadelman.

The last passenger train, the Blackhawk, stopped running in the area back in 1981. Bring Back Blackhawk and Senator Stadelman believe there are many benefits to bringing a rail service back.

"I truly believe that economic development follows transportation infrastructure and if the region is left out of any plans for high-speed rail or passenger rail service throughout the Midwest, that's going to hurt our ability to compete nationally and globally,” said Senator Stadelman.

"We know that the further west we go in rural Illinois, we need some kind of boost in rural economic development," said Gerald Podraza, a member of Bring Back Blackhawk.

"The most important thing is to build a strong coalition of all of the intuitions along the way that would benefit and there are a lot of them. There's a strong list of manufacturers who need better access to world markets, universities, tourism. This is really a great place for trains, but you need to build a strong coalition that says it's time to pay for it and make it work," said Rick Harnish, the Executive Director of Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

The group is hoping for four trains that would stop in Rockford, Freeport, Galena, Dubuque, and Chicago. There have been organizational meetings in Dubuque and Galena within the past couple of months, with packed rooms of people looking for more information on the project. These proposals are up in the area but there are still some things that stand in the way.

"State finances have to be in order, we need the capital plan to fund these types of improvements, but at the end of the day, this is what needs to happen. You have to figure out a way to pay for it and make the track improvements and obviously in the State of Illinois, that has been financially difficult," said Senator Stadelman.

Even with these setbacks, Senator Stadelman and Bring Back Blackhawk are optimistic.

"I’m anticipating the strong possibility that there might be a change in governorship in Illinois and if there is, then we have much more of a possibility of moving ahead with this,” said Podraza.

“I wish more people were on board. It’s eventually going to happen, I would hope sooner than later, but we still have a lot of obstacles before we try to make this expansion a reality," said Senator Stadelman.

Senator Stadelman suggests the community comes together to try to find a way to finance this type of project in order to get politicians on board.

"You never know when an opportunity is going to come and so you have to prepare for it. It's been proven over and over again, the person who has the plan, when the time happens is the one who gets the money," said Harnish.