Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions — Chicago to Rockford

What is an intercity passenger rail?

Intercity passenger rail service travels between cities and has fewer stops than traditional commuter service. IDOT supports existing service for four intercity passenger rail corridors within Illinois and continues to pursue opportunities to further improve the existing corridors as well as develop new corridors.

What is the history of rail service between Chicago and Rockford?

  • 1974-1981: Amtrak operated Black Hawk service between Chicago and Dubuque, IA including an intermediate stop in Rockford.
  • 2007: Amtrak conducted a feasibility study to reinstate service from Chicago to Rockford and Dubuque.
  • 2010-2014: IDOT continued to study options and routes for adding service and advanced preliminary engineering and negotiations with Program stakeholders.
  • 2015: Program was put on hold.
  • 2019: Governor Pritzker announced the $45 billion capital plan “Rebuild Illinois” which includes $275 million for Chicago to Rockford Intercity Passenger Rail corridor.
  • 2019-2020: IDOT reinitiates Chicago to Rockford Intercity Passenger program.

When will this project be complete?

Passenger service is expected to begin by the end of 2027. This timeline may be adjusted as negotiations with the host railroads on the construction and maintenance agreements, preliminary engineering and environmental clearances are advanced.

Why is this project needed?

The re-establishment of rail service between Chicago and Rockford has been long-awaited. Rail service will provide a safe and reliable transportation mode to communities across northern Illinois. Project benefits include but are not limited to economic growth, enhanced quality of life, improved air quality, and time and cost savings.

Has an operator for the Chicago to Rockford corridor been decided?

Governor JB Pritzker announced a monumental partnership between IDOT and Metra to provide safe and reliable service between Chicago and Rockford. 

What considerations influenced the operator decision?

Metra is one of the largest and most complex rail networks in North America. The Chicago to Rockford passenger service will use railroad lines, trains and stations already part of this vast network. Metra is also a regional, public entity with established partnerships in their service area. Their commitment to safe, reliable and affordable transportation make them the right operator for Chicago to Rockford passenger service. 

What infrastructure improvements are planned?

  • Evaluate existing track conditions and consider options to increase speeds from existing FRA Class 3 (40 mph or slower freight operations) to FRA Class 4 (up to 60 mph freight and 79 mph passenger operations).
  • Review options for potential siding and second main track locations.
  • Construction of a new track connection between Metra Milwaukee District West Line and Union Pacific Belvidere Subdivision tracks west of Big Timber (Elgin).
  • Track improvements including grade crossings, curves, warning devices, bridges, signals, railroad ties and rails will be evaluated.

Acquiring easements and/or right-of-way may be required for these improvements.

Where will the stations be located?

Stops along the Chicago to Rockford intercity passenger rail will be in Elgin, Belvidere, and Huntley. The project team is evaluating station locations to determine where exactly trains will board passengers. 

Will this route be designated as a high-speed rail route?

This route will not be considered a high-speed rail route. The infrastructure improvements planned for the Chicago to Rockford corridor will include enhancements to track, structures, signals, and at-grade crossings to allow for passenger operations up to 79 mph.

While the equipment fleet may be capable of traveling at higher speeds, substantial infrastructure improvements, similar to the Chicago to St. Louis rail, would be required for passenger rail operations over 79 mph. 

How many round trips a day are planned?

With infrastructure improvements, two round trips per day are planned and travel time is anticipated to be slightly less than two hours. 

Will the service be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible?

Yes, the service will be ADA accessible, providing another mode of transportation for the ADA community.

How will updates be shared with the public?

Program updates and major milestones will be shared with the public primarily through the program website. Click here to view recent updates. Additionally, other methods such as newsletters, public meetings, press releases, and project update e-mails will be used.

What are the opportunities for public involvement?

It is a priority of this program to ensure that all stakeholders have the opportunity to participate and share their comments or concerns. Public meetings with be held in the station communities to facilitate feedback from the communities and create awareness of the project.

State of Illinois public health and safety guidelines will be followed for public meetings. Due to the limitations of the pandemic, virtual alternatives to in-person meetings and events will take place when required.

Click here to learn more about the public involvement activities planned for this project.

How is this project funded?

In 2019, Governor Pritzker announced the $45 billion capital plan “Rebuild Illinois” that allocated $275 million for Chicago to Rockford Intercity Passenger Rail corridor.

Why is it worth the $275 million investment?

Various improvements are needed across the entire corridor to bring track speeds up to 79 mph. Planned improvements include upgrades to the existing tracks, construction of new track between Metra and Union Pacific, grade crossing improvements, and other project elements required to make the service a safe and reliable transportation mode.

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