GENOA – Efforts to get an Amtrak stop in the city resembles the story of the little engine that could: City officials keep chugging along, hoping the passenger rail service one day makes a stop in Genoa, causing a boon for the community.
In a letter to the governor last month, Genoa Mayor Mark Vicary pleaded that Gov. Bruce Rauner derail plans by former Gov. Pat Quinn to restart Amtrak service from Rockford to Chicago, but not include Genoa and Freeport.
Rauner put all major new Illinois Department of Transportation construction projects on hold indefinitely, but representatives from the governor’s office and Genoa recently met in Springfield to discuss delaying the project further for more research.
“We live to fight another day,” Vicary said. “Maybe the sensible approach is to do nothing and wait until the state has money to invest in the infrastructure.”
Last April, Quinn announced the $233 million state capital investment project for Amtrak service between Rockford and Chicago via Union Pacific Railroad that would include stops in Elgin, Huntley and Belvidere.
State officials said they had negotiated unsuccessfully for years with Montreal-based Canadian National to use that company’s tracks for the route through Genoa and Freeport before pursuing the other route.
The state spent about $3 million on engineering for the project before Rauner put all major new Illinois Department of Transportation projects on hold, department spokesman Guy Tridgell said Friday.
In 2007, IDOT considered four possible routes – three of which included stops in Genoa – and narrowed them to two for further study in 2010.
The route Quinn ultimately chose, which includes a stop in Belvidere, scored poorly in both studies, which analyzed factors such as ridership and construction costs.
“It was more costly in terms of capital costs,” Genoa City Administrator Joe Misurelli said. “There would be less ridership, slower speed, and it would all around be more costly.”
The route Quinn chose needed $62.3 million in infrastructure upgrades and would attract 54,988 passengers a year for an annual revenue estimated at $1.2 million, according to the 2010 study, which is the most recent. Meanwhile, a plan that includes Genoa – dubbed Route C in the studies – needed $26.2 million in upgrades and would attract 76,357 riders annually to produce $1.6 million in annual revenue.
The studies did not address issues or costs associated with negotiating with Union Pacific or Canadian National.
When – or if – Amtrak comes through Genoa, the ideal location would be at Route 23 and Derby Line Road, by the Piggly Wiggly and the now-deserted Prairie Ridge Point Center, Vicary said.
Having Amtrak hum through Genoa would be a boon for the local business and help the county, especially since DeKalb County is the only county with a state school in Illinois that doesn’t have a rail service, said Cortney Strohacker, executive director for the Genoa Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It would be a great opportunity for local businesses to be seen by more passengers a day,” Strohacker said. “It’s not a Metra [station]. It’s not going to be bringing in several passengers a day, but it will help put Genoa on the radar.”