By Doug Schroder


Opposition to a rail line that would extend through Winnebago County farmland intensified today at a public meeting called to discuss the project.

Hundreds of residents gathered at Winnebago High School to learn more about the multi-billion-dollar project that would bypass Chicago’s complicated network of rail lines by cutting through agricultural property west of Rockford.

Great Lakes Basin Transportation Inc. officials say their revised 260-mile route would encounter fewer environmental hurdles than a previous proposed route that would have cut through Boone County.

But that’s small consolation for many residents in western Winnebago County.

“My first reaction was really embarrassment. My next emotion was anger,” said speaker Dustin Kaap, who lives near the proposed route. “This isn’t a railroad. It’s a tollway that (Great Lakes) wants to rent to train operators. A hundred years ago, when they built railroads … there weren’t landowners and communities like Winnebago that stood in their way. It’s a little different now.”

Kaap urged people attending the meeting to write letters of protest to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which must approve the project. Letters, he said, should point out the railroad’s threat to farms, school bus routes and the environment.

“That’s how we’re heard,” he said.

People at the meeting signed petitions in opposition to the project, purchase yard signs and learned about other ways to make their voices heard. A petition in favor of the project did not have any signatures as people filed into the school gym.

The two-page statement did outline how the proposed railroad would affect western Winnebago County:

— Eight to 12 trains would pass through the county daily.

— Most grade crossings (where a railroad and road, or two railroad lines, cross at the same level) would have no impact on local traffic.

— The privately financed railroad would work with individual landowners to minimize impacts on farm drainage and operations.

“The proposed rail line would speed the movement of freight across the entire nation, reducing costs to everyone,” the statement says.

Tom Smith, White Rock Township Supervisor from Ogle County, attended and had this to say about the project.

“The benefits don’t outweigh the negatives.”

Mirjam Melin even took the time to come down from Clinton, WI, to speak of her displeasure on the subject.

While the project may look good to some, it will affect many others if it goes through.



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