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Genoa's rail fight continues

GENOA – Genoa-area officials again are appealing to residents to convince the state to choose a route through Genoa for an anticipated passenger rail line.

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

When the federal government rejected the application last month, Gov. Pat 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.

At a Thursday meeting of the Genoa Economic Development Committee, city administrator Joe Misurelli urged committee members to reach out to everyone they know and ask them to contact state officials to express support for the Genoa option.

A new facet to the Canadian National route is the revelation that a station would be added in South Elgin, Misurelli said, opening the rail corridor up between Rockford and western DuPage County.

“It took 30 years to get this far, so why would you not want to give it the best chance of success from the beginning?” Misurelli said. “Make it more sustainable, give it the most ridership available. Rockford and Belvidere ridership is still served with this spacing, but you add 600,000 potential riders (with the station spacing on the Genoa route.)”

State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, is trying to get supporters of both routes to come together and reach a compromise, he said. IDOT has said it hopes locals can reach a consensus on the preferred route, he said.

“People feel passionate about it,” Pritchard said. “I don’t know what that compromise would look like, because they’re different routes with different benefits. But I’d like to see if we can compromise and come up with something beneficial to everyone in our area.”

Pritchard noted that a study completed by Amtrak in 2007 found the Genoa route would be the best and most direct line for the service, which is why he supports it, he said.

“This was the fastest to get up and going, had the potential to get the most riders and it’s the cheapest to do,” Pritchard said. “Those are rational concerns in this time of federal and state budget problems.”

State Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Rochelle, however, said he has always supported the Belvidere option. He said he is looking at long-term possibilities for the region, and sees the Amtrak line as a potential precursor to commuter rail service to Rockford.

“If we’re going to be upgrading tracks, let’s do it once in one location rather than doing it twice,” Burzynski said. “It makes more sense to do that. ... If I do see commuter rail coming back to DeKalb County, I think it’s going to be through Elburn, not through Genoa.”

Misurelli said Genoa officials soon will meet with supporters of the Canadian National line from South Elgin to coordinate lobbying efforts.

“Write to the secretary of IDOT, to the governor, to your legislators, to other legislators in the northern Illinois region, even if you don’t live in their district,” Misurelli said. “I would think anyone from any part of the state, if they’re going to spend $60 million on this, would want it to succeed.”

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