File Photo – Metra | Photo: Stephenrees / Wikimedia Commons

The governor announced Thursday that new funding will allow Metra to restore train service from Rockford to Chicago, resulting in a train station being built in Huntley.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said a partnership between the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Metra to provide passenger rail between Chicago and Rockford will restore service that was discontinued in 1981.

The first trains are anticipated to start running by late 2027 with stops in between the two cities, the governor’s office said.

The project is funded by $275 million from Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois capital program.

“With this new service, we’re connecting more communities and creating greater opportunities for people across the state line region,” Pritzker said.

“From the hundreds of construction and engineering jobs created by our planned rail improvements to the increased economic growth that comes with heightened connectivity, all the way to the long-lasting reduction in pollution and traffic congestion that will stem from more efficient rail alternatives to driving, the new Rockford Intercity Passenger Rail service will have positive impacts that will strengthen northern Illinois for years to come,” Pritzker added.

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Metra will use its Milwaukee District West line and relationships with the Union Pacific Railroad to extend service beyond Elgin to reach Rockford.

The line will make stops in Huntley and Belvidere, resulting in train stations being built in the two towns, the governor’s office said.

Other project components include improved grade crossings, upgraded bridges and double-tracking at various locations.

“The work to restore rail service linking Rockford, Belvidere, and surrounding communities to Chicago will open doors to support local economies and pave the way to safe, reliable transportation for all,” Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton said.

“When we are connected, we go further together. This project is a major milestone in that mission so that our regions can continue moving in the right direction,” Stratton said.

Travel time is anticipated to be less than two hours between the two cities. Two round trips per day are planned.

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Boarding locations in Chicago and Rockford, as well as a fare structure and schedule, are still to be determined, the governor’s office said.

“This is a major step for Metra to journey outside our six-county, Chicago-area home, but it is something we are well-prepared to do,” Metra CEO and Executive Director Jim Derwinski said.

“We know how to operate passenger trains – we’ve been doing it for nearly 40 years, through polar vortexes and hot streaks and pandemics and with an on-time performance rate that is the envy of our peers. And we could not be more excited that we will soon be providing service to Rockford,” Derwinski said.

Pending Metra board approval, the next phases of the project involve reaching operations and maintenance agreements between IDOT, Metra and Union Pacific.

Engineering studies are also needed to determine the scope of track improvements needed to support increasing speeds from existing freight operations, which peak at 40 mph, to passenger speeds of nearly 80 mph.

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A connection will have to be built between Metra and the Union Pacific tracks in Elgin.

McHenry County officials said Friday that the announcement is a “big deal” for Huntley, McHenry County and the regional economy.

“This will be a game-changer for Rockford and Belvidere,” said State Senator Steve Stadelman, (D-Rockford).

“Restoring passenger rail service to Chicago has been one of my priorities and will spur economic development across northern Illinois. Selection of Metra as the operator is an important step in passenger rail becoming a reality again, making the Rockford region a more attractive place to work and live,” Stadelman said.