O’Hare Express should improve a wide network of services

November 30, 2017

This week, the City of Chicago issued a request for qualifications for a private entity to fund, build and operate express service between downtown and O’Hare.

The City’s request specifies three possible routes. One follows the Midwest High Speed Rail Association’s CrossRail proposal. Another follows a nearby route along existing railroad tracks, and the third follows the CTA Blue Line (although the O’Hare Express service could not use any of the existing Blue Line infrastructure).

The request does not specify what technology the service should use, and allows for the possibility of surface, elevated or underground routing.

Any new or improved infrastructure for O’Hare Express should benefit more than just service between downtown and the airport. It should enable service to O’Hare from around the city and region. It could allow travelers from further destinations, like downstate Illinois or Wisconsin, to easily reach their flights. Upgrading an existing Metra line would enable faster or more frequent service around the region, whether the airport is part of the trip or not.

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk announced his intention to compete for the contract with a new tunneling technology he is promoting. While there are many uncertainties about Musk’s proposal, one thing is clear: it’s a small tunnel and would require a new, special kind of vehicle, making it incompatible with any of our existing service. It would be an isolated, single-purpose system.

There are serious questions about Musk’s proposal. Do these small, individual vehicles have enough capacity to meet demand? Are they easy to get in and out of, especially with luggage? Will travelers tolerate being in a confined, windowless space? How will the system be evacuated in an emergency? Which agency will enforce safety and other regulations?

It’s good to see Mayor Emanuel looking for innovative ways to make it easier to get to the airport, but the City should ensure this investment is about more than simply creating another link between downtown and O’Hare. It should take the greatest advantage possible of existing infrastructure and upgrade mobility around the region, not just between two points.

This week at Midwest High Speed Rail Association

Executive Director Rick Harnish is in Washington, D.C. attending a series of American Public Transit Association and Federal Railroad Administration meetings to keep up-to-date on legislative issues and project progress.

Articles we enjoyed

City of Chicago seeks partner firms for high-speed O’Hare express train

Yonah Freemark on Getting Transit Right (Conference presentation with accompanying series on Streetsblog)

Can Germans fast track California's delayed high-speed rail project?

Nashville Mayor Barry expands light-rail plans

Even after Bush and Scott, high-speed rail almost here in Florida (We must point out that although Brightline is shaping up to be really nice, it is not truly high-speed.)