Genoa officials were outraged to learn that the return of a passenger rail service to Rockford no longer includes a stop in their city.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday announced a $233 million state capital investment that will restart Amtrak service between Rockford and Chicago as early as next year. The state's original plan included stops in Genoa and Freeport, but in the new agreement, stops will be located in Elgin, Huntley and Belvidere.
“The whole way this was handled was disgraceful,” Genoa Mayor Mark Vicary said. “We just found out about this [Thursday] night. It's a travesty, and it was taken away from us in the darkness of the night.”
Service will begin with one round trip daily between Chicago's Union Station and a temporary station located in Rockford. Service would expand the following year and eventually connect the new route west to Dubuque, Iowa, state officials said.
The Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce was sending letters to members last week encouraging them to reach out to Quinn to voice their support for the city stop.
“We had no idea this was something that was going to happen,” said Cortney Strohacker, the chamber's executive director. “We were looking forward to the economic development opportunities it would bring, and were looking forward to not only having Amtrak available for us, but for others who wanted to come to Genoa.”
The service was originally planned to run on Canadian National Railway tracks, but after years of failed negotiations with the Montreal-based company, officials were able to finalize an agreement to switch to a new route that used tracks owned by Metra and the Union Pacific Railroad.
Guy Tridgell, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said because negotiations with Canadian National were unsuccessful, officials went with their second option.
"Our preferred choice all along was to go to Genoa using Canadian National Railway [tracks], but we were unable to reach an agreement on that,” Tridgell said. “Negotiations were not as fruitful as we had hoped, and in order to get this important service to Rockford, we decided on another option.”
Longtime Genoa resident Brenda Jarog, who has advocated for a train stop in the city for years, was shocked by the announcement.
“What they are telling small towns is that we don't matter,” said Jarog, owner of Specialty Gifts. “We are a small town, and as long as we are quiet they are going to bypass us like we don't exist.”
Jarog said she plans to continue her fight for a stop in Genoa.
“We are going to take this to [Gov. Pat] Quinn and show him why we need a train station in Genoa,” she said. “Genoa has been cut off for too long now, and we have to do something about it.”
The last time rail service was offered from Chicago to Rockford was 1981.