To create the first link in the Midwest high-speed rail network, we need to include CrossRail Chicago in the region's next major plan, ON TO 2050. Contact the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to tell them to include CrossRail in ON TO 2050.

Building a high-capacity rail line through Chicago would be an enormous undertaking. Luckily, most of it already exists.

Chicago is the hub of the Midwest. Despite having a massive rail infrastructure woven deeply into its fabric and extending in every direction, Chicago can barely handle the current load of Amtrak intercity and Metra commuter trains. We need a high-capacity passenger line, free of interference from freight trains and highway crossings, to provide the frequency and reliability required for high-speed rail.

This would be a tremendous undertaking if built from scratch, but fortunately, most of it already exists under public ownership. Metra has two key lines that could be linked together and modernized to create such a trunk line: CrossRail Chicago.

This passenger rail corridor would provide effortless travel, serving both high-speed intercity trains and frequent, all-day regional commuter trains. It would allow direct access to O'Hare, not only from downtown, but from the entire Midwest. It would become the core of metropolitan Chicago's transit system and the heart of a re-energized Midwest passenger rail network.

CrossRail Chicago would be the highest impact transportation project in the Midwest, providing more passenger capacity than any other single piece of transportation infrastructure. It must be a priority for the Chicago region, and should be included in the region's ON TO 2050 plan.

Contact CMAP to ask them to make CrossRail Chicago a priority in ON TO 2050.

We can build the core of our high-speed network from infrastructure that already exists.
Linking existing assets to meet many needs
CrossRail Chicago connects the Metra Electric and the south side to Union Station, O'Hare and the northwest side. Click for larger.

CrossRail creates an amazing opportunity to build a strong coalition for railroad funding by uniting multiple constituencies around a single program.

At the same time that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel advocates an express train from the Loop to O’Hare, a coalition is pushing for better transit on the city’s south side, and communities in northwest Indiana want new and expanded service. This could result in multiple multi-billion dollar ventures that compete for funds and fail to serve the region as a whole.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association proposes a unified, cross-jurisdictional planning effort that would unite these constituencies into a strong coalition that is capable of securing the necessary funds. The result would be a rail line allowing higher speeds and much more frequent service for a variety of trains. It would lower overall cost, yet have a greater benefit for the Chicago region and the Midwest.

CrossRail Chicago would link together the Metra Electric Line and Metra’s Milwaukee District West and North Central Line. The program would consist of four major initiatives that eliminate bottlenecks and upgrade the entire route to modern standards with overhead electrification. It would separate passenger rail traffic from freight traffic, providing fast, seamless travel on clean, quiet electric trains.

Looking for a PDF to print or share? Download our 16-page CrossRail Chicago booklet.

One route, many trains

Photo by Mike Goss

CrossRail Chicago is a modern, electric railroad that can serve many types of trains and every type of traveler, from everyday commuter to business and leisure travelers.

Regional commuter trains (Metra)

The tracks that form CrossRail already serve a number of Metra commuter train routes. CrossRail would allow for faster, more frequent service on these routes. Modern, electric commuter trains accelerate and stop faster, are less expensive to operate, and are cleaner and quieter than the heavy diesel trains Metra uses today.

CrossRail would make O’Hare an easy stop for commuter trains from around the region. Some Metra trains already pass by (and even stop) at O’Hare, and the new connections created by CrossRail would allow trains from all parts of the region to pass through downtown then continue on to O’Hare.

CrossRail is the best way to bring express trains to O'Hare

O’Hare International Airport is the Midwest’s connection to the world. It’s one of the world’s busiest airports, but not because it's one of the easiest to get to.

CrossRail Chicago is a fast and cost-effective way to bring express trains to O'Hare because it takes advantage of existing infrastructure. Rather than being a single-purpose project, the upgrades necessary to create airport express service would also allow for improved Amtrak and Metra service throughout the region.

O’Hare’s global peers boast train stations that serve all types of trains: not just local transit or subway trains, but also regional commuters and intercity expresses. Learn more about how CrossRail can make O’Hare globally competitive by offering this same easy access.

 

Intercity trains (Amtrak)

Amtrak trains already connect more than 50 Midwest cities to Chicago Union Station. CrossRail would let these trains continue on to O’Hare, or be an easy cross-platform transfer away from an Airport Express train. This would immediately provide better travel options to hundreds of thousands of people. Most Midwest cities served by Amtrak have no air service at all. In others, Amtrak is more frequent than existing feeder flights.

Beyond creating connections to O’Hare, CrossRail would improve the speed and reliability of Amtrak trains by moving them from slow, congested track shared with freight to a dedicated, high-speed passenger line.

High-speed trains

CrossRail is the critical link that lets high-speed trains access the Chicago region, the hub of the Midwest network. New, dedicated high-speed lines will let trains travel across the Midwest landscape at 200 mph. These new high-speed lines then connect to existing, upgraded tracks—CrossRail—to finish their journey to downtown Chicago, O’Hare, or other points in the region.

A new route from existing tracks

CrossRail would link existing rail lines with strategic upgrades. Click for full diagram.

CrossRail Chicago would link together the Metra Electric Line and Metra’s Milwaukee District West and North Central Line. The program would consist of four major initiatives that eliminate bottlenecks and upgrade the entire route to modern standards with overhead electrification. It would separate passenger rail traffic from freight traffic, providing fast, seamless travel on clean, quiet electric trains.

Metra Electric

The Metra Electric District is a wide, elevated rail corridor extending 30 miles from the southern boundary of Cook County into Millennium Park Station east of the Loop. It is already electrified and completely separate from the freight network. When the line was built nearly 100 years ago by the Illinois Central Railroad, it was designed to host many types of trains, from all-stop commuter trains to non-stop express runs.

Rebuilding this line to modern standards as part of Metra’s state of good repair mandate would create the capacity for the initial phase of high-speed rail while creating a new transit service for the city’s South Side. There is room for additional track as passenger volume grows.

The Milwaukee District and North Central Service

The Milwaukee District West Line runs northwest through the city starting from Union Station west of the Loop. Metra’s North Central trains branch off the West Line in Franklin Park. Dedicated passenger tracks could be built in the existing rights-of-way to create a high-volume link between downtown and O’Hare. In the process, several dangerous highway crossings would be separated. Rail flyovers at two key junctions would allow uninterrupted passenger operations.

16th Street Connector
The 16th Street Connector uses existing rail lines to join the Metra Electric to Union Station.

CrossRail’s biggest challenge is that Millennium Station, the end of the Metra Electric, and Union Station, the end of the Milwaukee West/North Central line, are one mile apart from each other across the Loop, the densest part of the city.

Luckily, these two railroads can be joined via the St. Charles Air Line, an elevated rail right-of-way that provides the only east-west rail connection in downtown Chicago. The line spans about a mile of the South Loop parallel to 16th Street, connecting the south side of Union Station near the Chicago River to the Metra Electric along Lake Shore Drive.

Rebuilding the St. Charles Air Line as the 16th Street Connector, with two or three electrified tracks and direct access to Union Station, would provide the essential link between north and south. It would not only link O’Hare with Union Station and McCormick Place, but connect the city’s south and north sides and allow service from Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio to continue through to Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Trains through Union Station

Chicago Union Station is the center of both the Midwest's rail network, and CrossRail Chicago's improvements.

Today, Union Station is overcrowded and operating beyond its capacity. The station’s current stub-end design means all trains terminate there, but CrossRail relies on trains being able to continue through Union Station.

Abandoned mail platforms under the old post office, immediately south of Union Station, can be converted into passenger platforms. These platforms are connected to the only tracks that pass through the station, next to the Chicago River.

Learn more about what needs to happen at Chicago Union Station.

Join the growing coalition

To create the first link in the Midwest high-speed rail network, we need to include CrossRail Chicago in the region's next major plan, ON TO 2050. Contact the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to tell them to include CrossRail in ON TO 2050.

By sending a message, you're joining a large and crowing coalition of organizations and individuals that want to see CrossRail be a regional priority. CrossRail supporters include:

  • Cook County Board of Commissioners (Resolution 14-5202)
  • Illinois House of Representatives (HR 1044)
  • Illinois Senate (SR 639)
  • South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (Resolution 04-14)
  • Southwest Conference of Mayors (Resolution 2014-06)
  • Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association
  • Illinois Restaurant Association

Join the coalition! Contact CMAP to ask them to make CrossRail Chicago a priority in ON TO 2050.