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Local

IDOT confirms that Amtrak route will go through Belvidere


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GENOA – Although Genoa officials have not been officially notified, a passenger rail line will run through Belvidere instead of Genoa, a state spokeswoman said Friday.



“We can confirm that the Amtrak line connecting Chicago to Dubuque will run through Belvidere on the Union Pacific route,” Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said in an e-mail response.



Repeated requests Thursday and Friday for a phone interview with IDOT officials have not been returned.



Indications that a decision had been made surfaced earlier this week in Rockford media reports, which point to a comment Gov. Pat Quinn made Monday while campaigning in Rockford.



“I believe in rail, and we’re going to have passenger rail from Chicago through Belvidere, through Rockford and on to Dubuque,” Quinn was quoted as saying in the Rockford Register Star. “The route was picked, I believe, last week by the Illinois Department of Transportation, and we will go forward with that.”



After hearing that this announcement was made, Belvidere Mayor Frederic Brereton said he spoke with the head of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s railroads bureau, George Weber.



“I called George Weber after I heard that; I wasn’t in attendance (for the governor’s appearance) and wanted to confirm that,” Brereton said. “His comment was, if that’s what the governor said, then we’re going to live by his announcement.”



As of Friday, Genoa officials had not heard anything official from IDOT. City Administrator Joe Misurelli said he was planning to follow up with the agency Monday, and Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bonnie Hanson said she wanted confirmation from an IDOT official before commenting. A message left with Mayor Todd Walker was not immediately returned Friday.



“It’s just baffling,” Misurelli said. “I would have thought that we would have received some contact or information.”



Last year, the Illinois Department of Transportation chose the Canadian National line, which runs through Genoa, in its application to the federal government for stimulus funds to restart passenger rail service between Chicago and Dubuque. The route was chosen over another option using a Union Pacific line that runs through Belvidere. Both routes would have stops in Rockford.



When the federal government rejected the application a few months ago, Quinn appropriated $60 million from the state’s capital budget to the project. But because the funding source changed, both route options were put back on the table.



Supporters of the Genoa route point to a 2007 Amtrak study, which found that option to be the cheapest and most direct line for the service.



An added station in South Elgin would open the rail corridor up between Rockford and western DuPage County, and combined with the Genoa station, would have a ridership population of 600,000 serviced by the two stations, Misurelli said.



“One of the thrusts we’ve had is this discontinued because of low ridership and it has taken 30 years to get it restored, so why wouldn’t you want to get the highest potential ridership route?” Misurelli said on Thursday, before IDOT’s confirmation.



The Amtrak feasibility report determined the Union Pacific line (Belvidere) would cost $43.8 million and the Canadian National line (Genoa) would cost $32.3 million in capital expenditures. The latter option also would have more riders and more revenue, yet also more annual operating expenses, according to the report.



Despite the study’s cost analysis, state Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Rochelle, has supported the line through Belvidere because of long-term benefits he believes it will have. He was told of the state’s decision by Boone County officials earlier this week, though has not received an official message from the state.



“I’m looking at the state of Illinois getting the biggest bang for its dollar,” Burzynski said. “Upgrading (the Union Pacific) route now for Amtrak makes sense because it will make it much more effective later on to convince Metra that we need a commuter route out there.”

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