While Wisconsin’s once-leading plans to expand passenger rail are now on hiatus, other neighboring states continue to plan for new trains. Here’s an update from a Rockford Register-Star columnist on plans to restore Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque service:
By Chuck Sweeney
DUBUQUE, Iowa — George Weber, who heads the passenger rail division of the Illinois Department of Transportation, says passenger train service between Chicago and Dubuque, stopping at South Elgin, Rockford, Freeport and Galena with a possible stop in Lena, is on target to start in late 2014 or 2015.
Speaking at a meeting of the Tri State Alliance on Friday, a regional transport coalition among governments and chambers of commerce in eastern Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, Weber said the Canadian National Railway will have its cost analysis done in August, about six months later than it was supposed to be done.
The state has set aside $60 million to improve the freight-only line to a 79 mph speed limit. Weber said it’s important that the train be speed-competitive with the automobile.
Right now, the estimated time of five hours and 10 minutes is too slow, he said.
“The goal is to equal the time of the original Black Hawk,” Weber said. The Black Hawk’s route between Chicago and Dubuque took about four hours and 15 minutes.
That train ran from 1974 to 1981 and was discontinued, he said, because of declining ridership and poor on-time performance by the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, which is now part of Canadian National.
Steve Ernst, who heads the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning, asked Weber whether the new train’s name will be The Black Hawk, as the old train was named.
“Is there a better name?” Weber asked.
“No,” Ernst said.
“Then we’ll go with that,” said Weber. “It’s The Black Hawk.”
Passenger rail is historically the orphan child of IDOT, but not now. “We’re managing $4 billion in projects,” Weber said, including improving speeds between Chicago and St. Louis to 110 mph, equivalent to the speed of passenger trains in the 1950s and 1960s that were run by the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio.
IDOT is also developing passenger service between Chicago and the Quad Cities. Iowa transportation leaders hope to extend it across the state to Omaha, Neb., but there’s currently no funding for that part of the project, said Tammy Nicholson, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s rail office.
Weber said Illinois and California are ordering 130 new, bi-level passenger cars, all except 40 of which will go to Illinois trains. The new Black Hawk could feature the new cars, provided they’re not too tall to fit in the East Dubuque tunnel, Weber said. “I don’t think that will be a problem,” he said.
The daylong meeting took place in the historic Hotel Julien in renovated downtown Dubuque.
Reach Senior Editor Chuck Sweeny at 815-987-1366 or firstname.lastname@example.org.