Putting the Cabbose Ahead of the Engine: Study Results for Expanding AMTRAK Service from Rockford to DuBuque

“Putting the cart before the horse” doesn’t work as a headline for a story about railroads, hence the title above.

A study has been released about the viability of railroad passenger service from Rockford to DuBuque.

The problem is starkly stated:

“The Chicago to Rockford study has not been completed. Therefore, limited information regarding the anticipated conclusions of that Study was provided by IDOT and, where applicable information was not available, assumptions were made.”

Three of the routes run along the Mississippi River. Chosing any of them would mean tourist would be the major users, in my opinion. They certainly are not the most direct route to Galena and DuBuque.

Railroad routes being considered for AMTRAK passenger service between Rockford and DuBuque.

The CN rails are the only ones that would serve Freeport and Galena, the later being the destination probably most likely to attract passengers.

Galena Train Station seen from the top of the levy across next to Downtown Galena.

There is no surprise that the consultants picked the old AMTRAK Black Hawk route to Galena, the shortest distance by far.

McHenry County would be served through a station in Huntley.

The trip west would take about 41 minutes to get from Huntley to Rockford.

My rough calculation is that getting from Huntley to Galena would take about upwards of two and a half hours.

Trains would go in each direction once a day.

The trip for the four cars and locomotive from the highest point in Illinois–Scales Mound–and Galena would appear to be an exciting one.

Speeds would be between 25 and 45 miles per hour for the estimated 108,200 passengers each year.

$279-377 million would be required to ready the preferred route for passenger service, the study says.

A major expense would be “Construction of a new rail connection between UP and CN track in Rockford will be necessary for the service to act as an extension of the future Chicago to Rockford service.”

There will also have to be substantial railroad tie and ballast replacement, plus “12 bridges would require substantial rehabilitation work and 5 bridges would require replacement.”

What are the estimated annual operating costs?

$7,180,000 to $9,710,000.

Ridership estimates are provided:

That’s not a lot of people.

Assuming a price of 20 cents per mile, the consultants estimate annual ticket revenue from $2.84 to $3.471 million.

So, passengers would pay less than half of the cost of this expanded service.

Although the cost-benefit analysis indicates there is no way customers can pay operating costs, let alone capital costs, the consultants offer other reasons for the project:

There are four major categories of quantitative benefit that were identified and modeled:

• Construction-period (temporary) job creation
• Operational-period (post-construction) permanent job creation [20]
• Safety benefit resulting from highway accident reduction due diverted automobile trip
• Air quality benefit from diverted automobile trips

In addition to the quantified categories, several benefits of the service were identified but were not quantified. Quantification and determination of the monetary value of these benefits would generally require analysis beyond the scope of this Study and which is more appropriate for later phases of project development

• Increased tourism enabled by improved accessibility
• Generally increased regional economic activity resulting in additional tax generation
• The potential for longer-term future Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) near stations
• Improved productivity for passengers switching their trips from automobile to rail
• Reduced roadway congestion

The estimate benefits quantified in the study did not impress me.

That the consultants do not recomment a thumbs down on this project is probably explained by the 29% take that consultants will make if the service is approved:

All that having been said, my wife and I would take the ride, if it becomes available.


Putting the Cabbose Ahead of the Engine: Study Results for Expanding AMTRAK Service from Rockford to DuBuque — 7 Comments

  1. IDOT probably is rushing this because there will be a lot of competition for the free government cheese.

    They have a chance to play with house money.

    There was $66 billion allocated to Amtrak in the obscenely bloated infrastructure bill that was passed last year.

    Amtrak was encouraged to seek out new routes and serve cities that aren’t currently served.

    Grandpa Joe loves Amtrak, even if it is a grossly inefficient money-loser.

    Maybe that’s why he likes it so much, because it dovetails so well with the rest of his economic philosophy.

  2. Took the same trip all the time back in the 70’s when i went to Loras in Dubuque.

    Caught the train in Rockford.

  3. A boondoggle and waste of government (per we taxpayers) money.

    Not only to build, but to maintain at a yearly loss.

    There is no proof of the need for this project.

    Those who want to travel from Chicago area or McHenry County can use highway US 20 to Galena or Dubuque and will go through various towns to get there and will spend money and time along the way.

    Using car/suv is tremendously more flexible in terms of options of what to do along the way, what to see, what to spend money on.

    Except for rail lines for commuting to jobs from suburbs to cities, passenger rail is just nostalgia from the 1800’s, 1940’s, 1950’s.


  4. They never asked the question:

    Are there people in Rockford who want to go to Dubuke and vice versa?

    I don’t think there are.

    It’s just like the Crystal Lake to Elgin Pace bus I see running up and down Randal Road empty every day.

    There is nobody in either place that wants to be in the other.

  5. LOL…these are the contemplations of failed losers.

    The state is bankrupt, Rockford is a DUMP and if anything is growing eastward and northward, and there will literally be NO-ONE on such a train.

    Everyone knows this is a bankrupt failure.

    That’s why Illinois is considering it!

  6. That Pace bus never has anyone on it which I am eating at Moretti’s.

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