Press Release - Thursday, July 06, 2023
Gov. Pritzker Announces Partnership with Metra to Restore Chicago-Rockford Passenger Rail Service
Rebuild Illinois project to support two daily round trips by 2027
ROCKFORD - Governor JB Pritzker was joined today by state and local officials to announce a partnership between the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Metra to once again provide safe and reliable passenger rail between Chicago and Rockford, restoring service that was discontinued in 1981. The first trains are anticipated to start running by late 2027, offering efficient, economical travel with stops in between the two cities. The project is funded through $275 million from Gov. Pritzker's historic, bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital program.
"With this new service, we're connecting more communities and creating greater opportunities for people across the state line region," said Governor JB Pritzker. "From the hundreds of construction and engineering jobs created by our planned rail improvements to the increased economic growth that comes with heightened connectivity, all the way to the long-lasting reduction in pollution and traffic congestion that will stem from more efficient rail alternatives to driving, the new Rockford Intercity Passenger Rail service will have positive impacts that will strengthen northern Illinois for years to come."
"The work to restore rail service linking Rockford, Belvidere, and surrounding communities to Chicago will open doors to support local economies and pave the way to safe, reliable transportation for all," said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. "When we are connected, we go further together. This project is a major milestone in that mission so that our regions can continue moving in the right direction."
To return passenger trains between Chicago and Rockford after more than 40 years, Metra will utilize its Milwaukee District West line and relationships with the Union Pacific Railroad to extend service beyond Elgin to reach Rockford, with expected stops in Huntley and Belvidere.
Other project components include improved grade crossings, upgraded bridges, and double-tracking at various locations. Stations also will be built in Huntley and Belvidere.
With these improvements, travel time is anticipated to be slightly less than two hours between the two cities, with two round trips per day planned. Boarding locations in Chicago and Rockford, as well as a fare structure and schedule, are still to be determined.
A new website, chicagotorockfordrail.org, offers an overview of the project. Status updates will be provided in the coming months, and public informational meetings will be scheduled as well.
Pending Metra board approval, the next phases of the project involve reaching operations and maintenance agreements between IDOT, Metra, and Union Pacific. Also required are engineering studies to determine the scope of track improvements needed to support increasing speeds from existing freight operations that peak at 40 mph to enable passenger speeds of 79 mph between Elgin and Rockford. To reach Rockford, a connection ultimately will have to be built between Metra and the Union Pacific tracks in Elgin.
"This will be a game-changer for Rockford and Belvidere," said State Senator Steve Stadelman, (D-Rockford). "Restoring passenger rail service to Chicago has been one of my priorities and will spur economic development across northern Illinois. Selection of Metra as the operator is an important step in passenger rail becoming a reality again, making the Rockford region a more attractive place to work and live."
"Today we're finally on the path of restoring a vital and historic connection between Rockford and Chicago," said State Rep. Maurice West, (D-Rockford). "By bringing quality rail service to our area, we're creating new economic opportunities for countless residents - particularly those who do not own a car. This Metra line will attract more visitors to our city, support jobs and make our community a better place to live. I'm excited to see the significant impact this will have."
"Bringing Metra service to our area is a game changer for our region," said State Rep. Dave Vella, (D-Rockford). "By better connecting Rockford and Belvidere to Chicago, this project is going to create jobs, open up economic opportunities and generate more interest in our community. This development has been a long time coming, and I appreciate the years of advocacy and hard work that has made today a reality."
"I am thrilled that we are one giant step closer to having passenger rail service from Rockford to Chicago. It has been a long time in the making and something that a lot of people didn't believe would actually happen," said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara. "Rockford is, unfortunately, known for getting so close to having something great and then letting it slip away. I'm proud that this rail project is on track and moving forward with service planned to start in 2027, in large part due to Gov. Pritzker's and Sen. Stadelman's staunch advocacy."
"This is a major step for Metra to journey outside our six-county, Chicago-area home, but it is something we are well-prepared to do," said Metra CEO and Executive Director Jim Derwinski. "We know how to operate passenger trains - we've been doing it for nearly 40 years, through polar vortexes and hot streaks and pandemics and with an on-time performance rate that is the envy of our peers. And we could not be more excited that we will soon be providing service to Rockford."
"Union Pacific couldn't be prouder of the partnerships we've forged with Metra and the Illinois Department of Transportation to expand passenger rail service in Illinois," said Union Pacific Chairman, President and CEO Lance Fritz. "This project underscores the opportunities that exist when the public and private sector work together."
"The return of passenger rail to the Rockford area is fantastic news and will not only benefit their commuters, it will have far-reaching effects and greatly enhance transportation options for business travelers, students, tourists and even residents of nearby states who seek an environmentally friendly option when traveling to Chicago," said Robert W. Guy, State Director, Illinois Legislative Board, SMART-Transportation Division. "Connecting Rockford to Chicago via rail could also help alleviate congestion on our over-burdened highway system. SMART-TD has long advocated for a return of passenger rail to Rockford and I applaud Governor Pritzker and IDOT on making that happen. I'm hopeful we can build on this recent passenger rail momentum, on the heels of new 110 MPH service, and return this desired transportation option to other regions of the state that have long-clamored for it as Illinois continues to be a leader in the Midwest for passenger rail development."
"It is fantastic to see passenger service restored to Rockford for the first time since 1981. We want to thank Governor Pritzker for his leadership in getting this service restored," said Brian Shanahan, National Vice President, Transportation Communications Union/IAM. "This will help one of our state's largest cities continue to grow its economy and provide its citizens access to countless jobs and opportunities. All Illinoisians deserve access to fast, frequent passenger rail service and investments like this one will help build a 21st century transportation network while creating thousands of good paying union jobs."
"All across the state, Rebuild Illinois is making connections between communities and giving residents options to get to where they need to go," said Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman. "The new service between two great Illinois cities strengthens our multimodal system of transportation and shows once again why our state is the transportation hub of North America."
Since its founding in 1984, Metra has become one of the largest and most comprehensive passenger rail systems in North America. The system includes nearly 500 miles of track with 242 stations on 11 routes.
Passed in 2019, Rebuild Illinois is investing a total of $33.2 billion over six years into the state's aging transportation system, creating jobs and promoting economic growth. Rebuild Illinois is not only the largest capital program in state history, but also the first that touches all modes of transportation: roads and bridges, transit, waterways, freight and passenger rail, aviation, and bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.
Rebuild Illinois includes more than $1 billion to expand and improve rail across the state, including $225 million to restore passenger service to the Quad Cities, $100 million to improve safety and reliability on Amtrak's Saluki service between Chicago and Carbondale, and $492 million to invest in modernizing operations in the northeastern Illinois through the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Pritzker also celebrated the start of high-speed passenger service between Chicago and St. Louis, a $1.96 billion project that broke ground in 2010 and delivered under his leadership.