ILLINOIS Department of Transportation (IDOT), Metra and Union Pacific (UP) have announced plans to restore Chicago - Rockford passenger services in late 2027. IDOT’s Rebuild Illinois capital expenditure plan has allocated $US 275m to the project.

Amtrak’s Black Hawk service between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, which made an intermediate stop in Rockford, last ran in 1981.

Chicago commuter operator Metra was selected by the state to use its 63km Milwaukee District West line and to operate an extended service beyond Elgin to Rockford in partnership with host railway UP. Intermediate stops would be at Huntley and Belvidere.

According to the Rockford Star, Metra was selected over Amtrak, with officials citing advantages including its ownership of Milwaukee District West line infrastructure.

UP owns the Big Timber Road - Belvidere and Belvidere - Rockford sections of the 145km route between Chicago and Rockford, and IDOT says the following work is required to restore passenger services:

  • track improvements between Elgin and Rockford to raise the current maximum speed from 64km/h for freight to 127km/h for passenger services
  • construction of a connection between the Metra and UP lines near Big Timber Road in Elgin
  • enhanced level crossing surfaces, highway approaches and warning devices
  • improved bridge structures, which may include the Rock River Bridge
  • providing new track to increase capacity such as a potential passing loop at Marengo and a potential second main line track past Belvidere yard, and
  • construction of new stations in Huntley and Belvidere.

These improvements are expected to enable journey times of slightly less than two hours between Chicago and Rockford, with two round trips per day planned. Station locations in Chicago and Rockford, as well as the fares structure and timetable, are still to be determined.

Pending Metra board approval, the next phases of the project involve negotiating operations and infrastructure maintenance agreements between IDOT, Metra and UP. Engineering studies are also required to determine the precise scope of the track improvements needed to support higher speeds.

“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,” says Metra CEO and executive director, Mr Jim Derwinski.

“All across the state, Rebuild Illinois is making connections between communities and giving residents options to get to where they need to go,” says Illinois transportation secretary, Mr 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.”