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It’s no Cheap Trick: Amtrak service to Rockford and the Quad Cities is on the horizon

1:09 PM CST on February 11, 2020

Rendering of the Quad Cities Amtrak station in Moline, Illinois, including a skyway to a Quad Cities MetroLINK bus facility.

Terrific news for people who love malt-crust pizza cut into strips with scissors, and the rock band Cheap Trick. Plans for Amtrak passenger rail service to the Quad Cities and Rockford seem to be moving along nicely.

The $45 billion Illinois capital bill that passed last year in Springfield included $225 million for Amtrak service between Chicago and the Quad Cities, plus $275 million for service between Chicago and Rockford.

Yesterday a Streetsblog reader asked for an update on these projects. "I'm biased as I have family in both of those areas, and while my family does have a car, it'd be nice to have an option other than driving. Occasionally when visiting relatives in Rockford, I've been dropped off at Metra's UP-Northwest station in Harvard for the long ride back into Chicago."

The Harvard stop is 31 miles northeast from downtown Rockford, about a 45-minute drive, and the trip between Harvard and Chicago's Ogilvie Center station takes about 1:45, for a total of at least 2:30. Meanwhile driving from the Ogilvie Center to downtown Harvard during the middle of a workday takes about 1:35, according to Google Maps.

The planned route between the Quads and Chicago. Image via IllinoisRail.org
The planned route between the Quad Cities and Chicago. Image: IllinoisRail.org

A source, who requested anonymity, told me the state of Illinois is in active negotiations with the Iowa Interstate Railroad to determine the upgrades needed to accommodate two roundtrip passenger trains daily to the Quad Cities. The service is tentatively named the Quad Cities Rocket. IAIS owns the last 50 miles into Moline, Illinois. the full route is about 160 miles.

For Rockford, the source said, the state is in the last stages of getting a consultant on board to manage the project. "Plans were pretty far along before [former Republican governor Bruce] Rauner’s election, when the project was put on hold, so there’s a fair amount of dusting off previous plans and updating needed.”

Guy Tridgell, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is overseeing these projects, confirmed that the above information is factually correct, except that he said that the Rockford plan “was in the early stages” rather than “pretty far along” when it was back-burnered under Rauner.

Approximate route of future Amtrak service between Rockford and Chicago along Union Pacific (blue) and
Approximate route of future Amtrak service between Rockford and Chicago along the Union Pacific (blue) and Milwaukee District-West (yellow) lines, with stops at (left to right) Rockford, Belvedere, Huntley, Metra's Big Timber Road Station in Elgin, and Union Station. Image: John Greenfield via Google Maps

Tridgell added that state environmental work will need to be completed along the Rockford line with preliminary engineering and final design before construction can commence. The Rockford route is Metra’s Milwaukee District West Line tracks to the Big Timber Road station in Elgin, where the train will make a stop, and then the Union Pacific tracks to Rockford with intermediate stops along the way in Huntley, and Belvidere.

So get psyched, Bix Beiderbecke enthusiasts and Japanese garden lovers, because it looks like it won't be too far in the future until it's possible to visit the home of John Deere and the Forest City by rail.

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