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updated: 4/15/2014 10:51 PM

Will new Amtrak service to Rockford be a boon?

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  • Elgin's Metra station would be among the stops when rail service between Chicago and Rockford starts next year.

      Elgin's Metra station would be among the stops when rail service between Chicago and Rockford starts next year.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Quinn announces Amtrak service

Previous versions of this article said Elgin's Chicago Street Metra stop would be the Elgin stop on the proposed Chicago to Rockford Amtrak line, but which of Elgin's three Metra stops would serve as the city's Amtrak stop is not yet known.

Elgin leaders are expecting "unprecedented growth" in business with the anticipated Amtrak service between Rockford and Chicago starting next year.

Meanwhile, Huntley officials say the new rail line might help them obtain a long-envisioned commuter train service in town.

Gov. Pat Quinn recently unveiled the $223 million project, which marks the return of passenger rail to Rockford for the first time since 1981, using tracks owned by Metra and the Union Pacific Railroad.

The proposed route would use Metra's Milwaukee District-West Line and connect to the Union Pacific Railroad near Big Timber Road in Elgin. Stops are planned in Elgin, Huntley and Belvidere.

"It is essential for the economic development and the ultimate financial well-being of all communities to have quality transportation," Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said in a news release. "I thank Gov. Quinn and the state of Illinois for providing our region with improvements to I-90, high-speed rail and bus rapid transit between Elgin and Rockford that will bring us all unprecedented opportunities for growth."

The Elgin Development Group meets Thursday to discuss how to take advantage of the project.

"It could be very exciting," said Bob Malm, the group's director, adding that much will depend on how many trains come through Elgin and their frequency.

"It's important for the whole area to have sound infrastructure and transportation, and helps (with) recruiting business to this area."

Elgin has three Metra stations: one south of Chicago Street just east of Route 31, one on National Street also east of Route 31, and one south of Big Timber Road between McLean Blvd. and Randall Road.

Meanwhile, there are no train stations in Huntley.

The $223 million project includes track, signaling and safety improvements funded primarily through Quinn's $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now construction program. Also included in the project cost is a $5.85 million investment to be split between Huntley and Belvidere to develop their own stations.

Huntley's comprehensive plan identifies two sites where a future commuter station could locate -- at Kreutzer Road and the Union Pacific railroad tracks just east of Route 47, and at Coyne Station Road, also along the Union Pacific tracks on the northwest side of town.

"Ultimately, the track improvements that are being proposed are obviously an important part of building the foundation for any future rail that might be in this corridor," Huntley Village Manager Dave Johnson said.

Village leaders were pleasantly surprised by the project's announcement late last week. Officials said the state had earlier passed up the northern route option for a southern route going through Genoa, which would have left Huntley without train service.

"We worked on this hard a number of years ago, and then it went dormant four years ago," said Victor Narusis, Huntley business recruitment coordinator. "It came back alive without really any notification to us, and now we're doing our best to try to understand the details."

Officials are trying to set up a meeting with the governor's office and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The new northern route was selected after lengthy negotiations with Canadian National Railway, whose tracks were originally chosen for the Amtrak service.

It is unclear whether the Amtrak project would require affected towns to pitch in funds.

"That could be a significant investment that's required," Narusis said. "Identifying that source of funds would have to be something that we'd have to begin to work on."

Getting a train station in town would be a boon to local employers and residents, Narusis said.

"It's another one of those very important things that puts Huntley on the map, cementing its place in suburban Chicago," Narusis said. "If this all does come through to fruition, we're going to be pursuing, hopefully, a plan whereby Metra might come out here, too.

"Look at what Palatine and Arlington Heights have done with their rail locations. There is an opportunity to take some of the best elements of what they did and possibly incorporate them here, too."

The Amtrak service will begin with one daily round trip between Chicago's Union Station and a temporary station in Rockford. Service will be expanded the following year and eventually continue west to Dubuque, Iowa. Preliminary improvements to the Union Pacific tracks will accommodate Amtrak trains at 59 mph by next year's end. Once improvements are completed in 2016, train speeds will increase to 79 mph and a second Chicago-Rockford round trip will be added.

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