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Genoa trying to get all on board with train station

GENOA – Genoa City Administrator Joe Misurelli has taken to keeping two maps close at hand for anyone who wishes to see them.

A pair of concentric circles are drawn on both maps, and each has one of the rings centered on Rockford.

It’s the second ring that differs on either map. Both are focused like a shooting scope, bearing down like a bull’s-eye on Genoa and Belvidere, the two cities at the respective centers.

The target is Amtrak. At least that’s the target for Misurelli, who offers the maps as a way of questioning what the real target is.

“Where’s the perspective?” Misurelli asked. “Is it or isn’t it to have a more viable Amtrak and make sure that works out well? That’s where this all started, was a way to get from Chicago to Galena, not to get a commuter line.”

Misurelli was referring to a pending decision by the Illinois Department of Transportation on where Amtrak will go when service is restored from Chicago to Galena. Two potential routes have been submitted for federal funding: one would utilize the existing Canadian National rail line and build a station in Genoa, while the other would use the existing Union Pacific rail line and build a station in Belvidere.

In a 2007 study, Amtrak officials found the Genoa route would be more feasible and considerably more affordable, and would offer greater ridership. At $32.3 million to get it in shape, it’s estimated to be $11.5 million less than going through Belvidere, with an annual operating expense $300,000 less than the northern route. Rockford area officials have argued that the Amtrak study is skewed to some extent because the cost estimates for the Belvidere route includes $8.7 million in contingencies, while the Genoa route includes none.

But Rockford area officials, who have been working on a plan to acquire commuter rail service for more than a decade, seized on Amtrak as a way to get partial investment in a rail line that might carry Amtrak now and later accommodate Metra.

Decision looming

IDOT officials, who must soon chose a route, don’t want to make the decision. They’ve asked for consensus among local leaders and elected officials – an unlikely scenario since both sides would gain by landing the route.

Support for the Genoa route is growing in DeKalb County. The Genoa City Council last month passed a resolution supporting the Canadian National Route, which was quickly followed by a similar resolution from the DeKalb County Board.

And now a petition is circulating, along with a Web site and Facebook page, promoting what is being called the Blackhawk Express Direct Route. The Web site offers a link to the 2007 Amtrak study, which Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bonnie Hanson urges people to go to before linking to the petition.

“What I’m most interested in is getting people the information, and for them to know that both options are on the table,” Hanson said. “As the word gets out, I think it’s building excitement. People who weren’t aware that Genoa was still being considered are getting informed and getting excited.”

Hanson said the goal is to collect at least 5,000 signatures on the petition by the end August. The Web site also contains a sample letter of support, and contact information for state and federal elected officials, as well as appointed officials from IDOT, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration.

“There’s been a sense of urgency in trying to do as much as we can as quickly as possible to show the state that we support Amtrak as a region as well,” she said. “We’re showing our regional consensus, that we support Amtrak coming through Genoa, but benefiting all of DeKalb County.”

Geographic locations

On Misurelli’s map, the circles are drawn in a radius of 10 and 12 miles around one of the two proposed stops in Rockford – the route will include two Rockford stops no matter which route is chosen – and the other is around the proposed Genoa and Belvidere stations.

The circle around the Belvidere stop overlaps the Rockford stop by about half – meaning people in communities like Cherry Valley and Irene are within 10 miles of both stations.

But when the second circle is centered over Genoa, residents from Genoa, Kingston, Kirkland, Hampshire, Burlington, Sycamore, DeKalb and Cortland are all within 10 miles of an Amtrak station. None of those communities is within 10 miles of the Belvidere station.

When the center of the circle is moved from Belvidere to Genoa, the only community that loses its 10-mile link to Amtrak is Poplar Grove – a town with a population of less than 2,000. The Belvidere route means that DeKalb, a city of nearly 50,000 people, would be more than 25 miles from an Amtrak station while residents of Timberlane, population 735, will have a choice of three nearby stations.

Having the line come through Genoa would fully serve Rockford and Belvidere, Misurelli said, while also picking up Sycamore, DeKalb and Northern Illinois University.

“If you want to make Amtrak more viable, make it available to more people,” he said. “When you look at this thing geographically, it just seems logical.”

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