The birth of the modern suburb can be traced in many cases to the train lines that stop in the downtowns of those communities.
And when those downtowns needed an economic boost, train stations were a central focus and draw for the businesses, condos and apartment buildings that now dot the landscape in communities all along the Metra tracks heading north, northwest and west.
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It's no wonder, then, that the prospect of a new train line from Rockford to Chicago, with stations in Huntley and Elgin, has leaders in those communities excited about what the future will hold once those trains are moving.
"It's another one of those very important things that puts Huntley on the map, cementing its place in suburban Chicago," Victor Narusis, Huntley's business recruitment coordinator, told the Daily Herald's Madhu Krishnamurthy. "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."
Gov. Pat Quinn announced last week a $223 million project to start Amtrak service between Rockford and Chicago next year. It will return passenger rail to Rockford for the first time since 1981 and use existing tracks owned by Metra and Union Pacific Railroad. In addition to stops in Elgin and Huntley, it will have a stop in Belvidere.
Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said it could bring "unprecedented opportunities for growth" to his community.
It's an exciting prospect and one that we support in its initial stages. But how and whether it all gets funded are questions that still need to be answered.
And the fact that Huntley wasn't even in the know about the project before Quinn announced it gives some pause.
"We worked on this hard a number of years ago and then went dormant four years ago," Narusis said. "It came back alive without really any notification to us."
We urge the governor's office and the Illinois Department of Transportation to work more closely with the communities affected so all questions are answered.
While the state has included nearly $6 million for the new Huntley and Belvidere train stations, it's unclear to the communities what they may be required to pitch in. Certainly both officials and taxpayers of those towns should have a complete understanding of what will happen sooner rather than later.
That said, we agree that the service and the infrastructure improvements planned are important steps in developing the suburbs westward.
"It's important for the whole area to have sound infrastructure and transportation, and helps (with) recruiting business to the area," Bob Malm, Elgin Development Group director, told Krishnamurthy.
We look forward to seeing how this plays out in the next few years.