Gretchen Wieners tried in Mean Girls, and every person, city, and state has something that is their “fetch.” In DeKalb county, it’s a train.
Last month DeKalb citizens’ social media buzzed with excitement over a change.org petition which requested Metra Rail’s Union Pacific West Line to extend to the DeKalb/NIU area.
This is not, by any means, a new proposition. Dave Hedin of DeKalb commented on the petition: “The current Metra train stops 18 miles short of the largest city in the area that also includes a large university, which has never made sense to me.”
Hedin isn’t wrong. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense for the UP West Line to stop in Elburn instead of DeKalb. Many students at Northern Illinois University commute from the Chicagoland area and the surrounding suburbs. The NIU Huskie Bus only travels to the Elburn trains station twice a week, and a Greyhound bus line makes a stop to the station only once a day. For anyone to make a regular back-and-forth commute, this requires owning a car, bumming rides off of friends, or working a schedule around the bus.
No one can argue that a train station in DeKalb would be a welcome addition to the town. The change.org petition has already garnered 1,237 supporters. And it doesn’t matter at all.
Why? $400 million.
That’s what it would take to extend the UP West Line to DeKalb. We can stop trying to make “fetch” happen. It’s not going to happen.
The Metra Board responded to the petition and said it wasn’t going to happen. They’re already “$11 billion in the hole for railroad maintenance on existing tracks,” according to Mark Pietrowski, the DeKalb County Board Chairman. Pietrowski made clear that this idea has been a local consideration for years and has never made it past the petition stage.
Even DeKalb citizens question whether they should keep pushing for it to happen. Many are on board with the train expansion in theory, but their tune changes when taxes are discussed. DeKalb County would need to join the Regional Transportation Authority and DeKalb residents would pay RTA taxes. Due to outstanding debts and repairs on existing tracks taking priority, there are communities which have been paying into the RTA for years that still don’t have a track.
Local businesses certainly don’t want to make it happen. 10 months of the year, NIU students are the primary customer base downtown DeKalb storefronts. If students hop on the train and leave every night and/or weekend, that’s income flying out the window.
At this point, circulating a petition on social media and acting like this is the NEXT BIG THING for DeKalb is just silly. Illinois and NIU already have enormous financial problems. We don’t need to spend millions of dollars to prove we’re relevant. We’re never going to be as cool as Regina George. We’re DeKalb.