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Amtrak unlikely in Genoa

A new Amtrak route through northern Illinois might be stopping in Belvidere instead of dipping south into Genoa.

State transportation officials this week said they support changing the proposed Chicago-Rockford-Dubuque, Iowa, passenger rail line to meet local leaders' desires. Leaders in Winnebago and Boone counties have been pushing for the route to go through Belvidere instead of Genoa because it would draw more passengers from the more-populated area and would cut 20 minutes off a one-way trip.

"That's a shame," Genoa Mayor Todd Walker said. "It was a nice option. There's a need to have that railroad go west."

Amtrak conducted a feasibility study in 2007 with possible routes and cost estimates of a rail route from Chicago to Dubuque. Though the Belvidere option was not the preferred alignment, Illinois Department of Transportation officials said they would back whatever local leaders wanted.

"We always had indicated that we would defer to the locals in Rockford, based on that they would provide sufficient data and numbers to change the alignment," said George Weber, who heads IDOT's railroads division.

Rockford metropolitan planning leaders had indicated to the state that growth in areas like Belvidere and Huntley would bring more passengers aboard, Weber said.

Also, having an Amtrak station might increase the chances for commuter rail lines like Metra, Chicago's commuter rail service, to come to Belvidere, state Rep. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere, said.

Wait said he was "delighted" with the project coming to Belvidere, but said that he would have been happy with either location because both cities are in his district.

"It would serve the whole region up here," Wait said. "People from DeKalb County, whatever would be closest, they could go there."

The next step is to fund the $30 million project, which could come from federal stimulus money or a state capital plan.

"We're not funding it so if the federal government feels it's better to go in another direction, what more can I say?" Walker said. He also said that it was hard to gauge community support for the project.

"The [city] council didn't discuss it in great length," Walker said. "I'm not sure if residents supported it or didn't support it."

Genoa city officials have been advocating for a stop on the route over the past few years. But the plan lacked regional support, which may be why the Rockford Metropolitan Agency of Planning, with leaders from Winnebago and Boone counties, was successful in lobbying to change the stop to Belvidere.

The DeKalb-Sycamore Area Transportation Study is the metropolitan planning organization that covers all or portions of the DeKalb, Sycamore, Cortland, DeKalb County and Northern Illinois University. Local groups are not typically involved in the planning process for new Amtrak routes, DSATS transportation planner Brian Dickson said.

However, if rail service did come to Genoa, DSATS would be on board, he said.

"If it were something that it would come to Genoa, then we definitely would be interested in looking at connecting transit up to it," Dickson said.

And if the train stops in Belvidere, the agency would look into building some sort of connection from DeKalb County, Dickson said.

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