UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) – Rockford’s Mayor says Amtrak is not a dead deal is now asking us not to give up on the project.
While two local state representatives told 23 News that the current plans for a train line to Rockford aren’t happening, Mayor Larry Morrissey is not giving up on it.
Amtrak’s journey to Rockford has been more than a rollercoaster over the last 11 months and with its funding drawing concerns over the last few weeks, Mayor Larry Morrissey wants advocacy for the project to remain top priority.
“Nobody should give up. This is not a lost cause. We have to stay optimistic and keep pushing and keep advocating. If we do that, I think we’re going to have our station, we’re going to have train service,” says Morrissey.
The Mayor called for a press conference to address any questions aimed at the status of the $223 million dollar project. He says Rockford is a great investment.
“We’re not asking for a handout. We’re not asking for charity. What we’re saying is that we’re a great investment opportunity for the state of Illinois.”
While the city waits on the go-ahead for the station, it moves forward with the rest of plan, $3.2 million in improvements, including parking near Amerock.
“If they don’t come in ‘15 or ’16, we still have to have ample planning and work and advocate through the political process in appropriations to get that money to bring it here. If it doesn’t come here, we’re still going to have to build a parking structure for the hotel project,” says Rockford City Administrator Jim Ryan.
Morrissey says the line isn’t likely to be ready by next summer, but we need to be ready for the political process to run its course.
Morrissey remains confident that no matter how long it takes, a passenger train will eventually come to Rockford.
Again, we first heard from Representatives John Cabello and Brian Stewart last night that Amtrak Senior Director Ray Lang answered “no” after being asked if the train is coming to Rockford, but an Amtrak spokesman says it just means it’s not happening right now. At this point, the project is still suspended by Governor Rauner and like City Administrator Jim Ryan says, the money will still have to get by appropriations.
UPDATE: It’s being considered a major blow to our community as millions of dollars in development plans continue to pour in surrounding what was believed to be the future Amtrak site and a local lawmaker tells us that plan is now off the table. It’s news we’ve heard many times before and it’s a stark contrast from what the community heard almost a year ago.
“We’re going to bring a train from Chicago to Elgin to Huntley to Belvidere to Rockford,” said former Governor Pat Quinn just 11 months ago, telling us we were on track for Amtrak, but with the new year, comes a new state leader and a new philosophy on state spending.
Today we learned point blank that Governor Rauner’s vision does not include Amtrak coming to Rockford.
“I think taxpayers wanted to know one way or another if it was coming or if it was not and I had the opportunity and I asked the question,” says Representative John Cabello.
Cabello is a spokesperson on the public safety appropriations committee and in testimony this afternoon in Springfield, Cabello was able to talk to Amtrak Senior Director Ray Lang specifically about the prospects of Amtrak coming to Rockford.
“He said there were plans to expand Amtrak from Chicago to Rockford and Chicago to Quad Cities. Since things have been frozen, they have frozen those plans as well. I said okay, that doesn’t tell me anything. So I asked is the train coming to Rockford and he said no,” explains Cabello.
Cabello says the answer wasn’t a surprise at all.
Cabello also told me he believes it was the right decision at this time.
Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey says he’s not surprised by Mr. Lang’s testimony this afternoon and not hitting the panic button yet, he’s just testifying as to what would happen under the proposed budget.
Meantime, Amtrak Spokesman Mark Magliari tells 23 News that Amtrak did not declare this Chicago to Rockford line dead or alive. He says for the route to operate, it requires state sponsorship, something the route does not currently have.
UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- An Amtrak official tells a House Committee that an Amtrak rail is not coming to Rockford.
Representative Brian Stewart is part of the Public Safety Appropriations Committee that is having a hearing that is still going on.
Stewart left the meeting to tell 23 News that Committee Chair John Cabello asked Amtrak Representative Ray Lang during testimony if Rockford would be getting Amtrak.
We're told the answer was a point blank "no."
Representative Cabello also confirmed this information to 23 News, although he was unable to leave the meeting to offer his reaction at the time.
We will have that reaction from both tonight on the 23 News Update at 10.
ROCKFORD (WIFR) – Governor Bruce Rauner has suspended many infrastructure projects, like the Amtrak line to Rockford for the foreseeable future and now we may never get to hop aboard the train to the Windy City.
Local republicans believe that although former Governor Pat Quinn announced the more than $200 million dollar state investment last April, no money was ever set aside for the fast track to Chicago.
In a letter from the Illinois Department of Transportation to our local lawmakers, it tells stakeholders about the possibility that the Amtrak project may or may not be terminated and that does not sit well with state representative John Cabello.
“What we’ve come to find out with a couple different projects is somebody was going around and saying ‘You guys are going to get X amount of dollars for this project’ with no one really saying how we’re going to pay for it or where the money’s coming from,” said Cabello.
Cabello, along with Joe Sosnowski, Brian Stewart, and Dave Syverson say that there was never any money allocated for the line and Sosnowski says the availability of funds was falsely advertised. But Democrat Steve Stadelman says otherwise.
“There's a separate pot of money for capital projects like this and that money was approved. If the governor would choose to use that money for this project, he'd have the ability to do so,” says State Senator Steve Stadelman.
In the state’s 2009 Capital Bill, $7 billion was set aside for high speed rail and Stadelman says $60 million of that was held for Amtrak, one advocate for the line, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association believes republicans could be trying to shift blame onto the old administration in case Rauner does not want to approve it.
“They're afraid that Rauner's going to kill this project and they're trying to figure out how to put the finger on Pat Quinn because he's not there anymore. Rockford was so close to having a good train service and now to have people trying to kill it is a real bummer,” says Rick Harnish, the Executive Director with Midwest Rail.
While the Governor and IDOT evaluate projects like this, Rockford to Chicago commuters will just have to continue to hit the road.
Cabello says the project hinges on the State’s budget and that the conversation should wait another three years. Stadelman adds that the operation budget and the capital fund work completely separate from each other and if Rauner wants Amtrak to come to Rockford, he can make it happen simply by saying “yes.”
Also in its letter, IDOT says it is currently reviewing the costs and benefits for the project to taxpayers, but Governor Bruce Rauner is working through many issues of the current budget and is focused on the long term fiscal problems of the state.