CrossRail would unify and strengthen regional priority projects

April 19, 2018

Last week, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) shared a working draft of the transportation chapter of its upcoming long-range plan, ON TO 2050. The draft sets out a vision for a “modern, multimodal system that adapts to changing demand,” which includes making transit more competitive. The plan emphasizes “state of good repair” maintenance and upgrading existing transportation assets, rather than building new ones.

As the hub of a Midwest high-speed rail network, what happens in the Chicago region is important for the entire Midwest. CrossRail Chicago is a key link in that network, and working with CMAP to make CrossRail a part of the Chicago region’s plan is a priority for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

Beyond forming the heart of a Midwest-wide network, CrossRail would meet the City of Chicago’s near-term goal of creating express rail service to O’Hare, something the local business community very much supports. Doing O’Hare Express via CrossRail would not only create direct access from downtown Chicago to the airport, it would allow trains from all around the Midwest to serve O’Hare.

CMAP’s working draft includes a list of priority projects, several of which are components of CrossRail. These include:

  • Metra Milwaukee District West Improvements. This project includes upgrading track and signals, including restoring a fourth track between downtown and Tower A-5, where the Milwaukee District North line joins. This route covers most of the distance between downtown Chicago and O’Hare, so this upgrade would be critical for airport express service.
  • Metra A-2 Crossing. This complex interlocking (pictured here) controls the crossing of the Milwaukee District West/North lines and Union Pacific West line near Western Ave. in Chicago. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association recommends a flyover be added to bypass the crossing and allow more frequent trains on both lines. This would also be an important part of airport express service.
  • Union Station Phase I improvements. This includes creating new passenger platforms from the old mail platforms, which can serve trains that continue through Union Station instead of terminating. This lets trains from downstate Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and around the Midwest continue to O’Hare.

Completing any of these projects creates immediate benefits for the Metra and Amtrak services that already use them. The unique element of CrossRail is that it takes these benefits and combines them to create new route possibilities, like O’Hare to Union Station, McCormick Place and Pullman. That makes investing in each of these projects worth much more, and should make it easier to fund and complete them. This would truly reflect “adopting to changing demand,” as the draft plan encourages. It also represents an alignment of City of Chicago and regional priorities.

We will continue to work with CMAP and the other public agencies to explore how CrossRail can make investments like these worth more than the sum of their parts.

Ask Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to include a train station in O'Hare redevelopment plans to serve trains from around the Midwest.

Photo by railsr4me (flickr CC).

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