Passenger Rail Service To Return To Rockford For First Time Since 1981

Metra passenger rail in Rockford A Metra train sits on tracks spanning the Rock River near Davis Park on Thursday, July 6, 2023, for an announcement about passenger rail returning to Rockford for the first time since 1981. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)

ROCKFORD — Passenger rail service is returning to Rockford for the first time since the Black Hawk route ceased operations in 1981.

Gov. JB Pritzker and other state officials visited the city Thursday to announce the return of rail. While some details are not yet know, we did learn more about how rail will connect between Chicago and Rockford.

Read the full story here: Passenger rail to return to Rockford for the first time since 1981

Here are 12 key questions about the service:

When will the first trains start running?

The first trains are expected to start running in late 2027, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Who is the service provider?

Metra was selected by IDOT, which was also considering Amtrak.

Metra already has commuter rail serving the city of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs via the Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway and other rail lines.

“They realized that Metra already has a regional rail service in Chicagoland,” state Sen. Steve Stadelman said of IDOT’s decision. “It already goes to Elgin, and extending out to Rockford will hopefully be a relatively efficient lift.

“It just taps into the Chicagoland public transit system already, so it seems to make more sense logistically.”

How long will the trip to Chicago take?

The estimated travel time between Rockford and Chicago is 95 minutes, according to  Jim Derwinski, CEO and executive director of Metra.

“It needs to be car competitive,” Stadelman said. “If people can take the train into Chicago for the same or less time than it takes you to drive and at a competitive price point, people will use that service.

“Again, it has to be car competitive, and all signs are that it will be.”

Where will the Rockford station be?

The precise location hasn’t been determined, but it will be in downtown, Stadelman said.

The original plan was for the station to be located next to the Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront Hotel, but that’s not likely anymore.

“They’re looking a little further west on the (Union Pacific) tracks maybe a block or two that way,” Stadelman said during an interview in Davis Park. “It will be downtown. It will be on Main Street, just not quite sure where.”

How much will tickets cost?

That’s unclear at this time.

“That we have not got into yet,” Derwinski said. “As the operator we’re going to be working with the Illinois Department of Transportation to figure out what that price point will be.”

What will the schedule be?

The exact schedule has not been determined, but there will be two round trips seven days per week, Derwinski said.

“The current base proposal is two trains in and out seven days a week,” he said.

Where will be the stops be?

There will be stops along the route from Rockford to Chicago in Huntley and Belvidere. The exact locations hasn’t been determined.

Derwinski said Metra is working with IDOT and the communities along the line to determine the location of stops and stations.

Will there be an additional tax to bring train here?

No, Pritzker said.

“The whole idea here is that in the Rebuild Illinois capital plan, that those dollars, which come from everybody that’s here but also all across the state, is helping to pay for Rockford and the development here,” Pritzker said. “There’s no plan for any tax on people who are boarding the trains here.”

How is it paid for?

The project is funded through $275 million from the bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital program.

“The state will be funding IDOT and Union Pacific to upgrade those tracks,” Stadelman said. “I got those dollars in the capital plan four years ago, that’s the money that will generate the improvements on the tracks.”

Who owns the tracks?

The track from Elgin to Chicago is owned by Metra, and the track Elgin to Rockford is owned by Union Pacific, which operates freight on the rail now.

“There will be a trackage agreement to operate on their property,” Derwinski said.

What improvements need to be made for the tracks?

Engineering studies will soon be conducted to determine the scope of track improvements needed. As it stands now, the rail cannot support speeds of up to 80 mph needed for passenger service.

Among the improvements are grade crossings, upgraded bridges and double-tracking at various locations.

“The list goes on and on and on,” Derwinski said.

How can I keep updated on the progress?

A website,, provides an overview of the project. You can sign up for status updates that will come in the coming months.

Access this online article here:

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at  or follow him on Twitter at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas

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Source: Rockford Register Star         September 23, 2019