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.
Everyone wishes getting to O'Hare was easier: bankers in downtown Chicago, students in Champaign, orthopedic device designers in Warsaw, Indiana. They’re all fed up with long drives, traffic jams, and cramped regional jets. They all want a fast, easy train ride to their plane.
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. CrossRail can make O’Hare globally competitive by offering this same easy access.
CrossRail 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.
There’s an immediate opportunity to build a better train station as part of the airport's new consolidated rental car facility. Metra's North Central Service already runs right past it, and the under-used O'Hare Transfer Station is just outside. A new station connected to the rental car facility would let travelers hop off a train and onto the airport transit system to go directly to their terminal.
As Chicago plans to rebuild and expand Terminal 2, it should include a station inside the terminal that allows trains to pass through. This would put travelers just steps away from their plane, whether they came from downtown, McCormick Place, or Minneapolis.
A good deal of the flights that make O’Hare one of the busiest airports in the world are short, regional flights in small jets. These “puddle-jumper” flights are incredibly inefficient for both passengers and airlines. Replacing these short flights with fast trains would open up capacity for O’Hare to focus on routes that make more sense to fly: cross-country and transoceanic trips. They would also offer travelers a more reliable and comfortable way to reach their main flight.
Imagine you’re in St. Louis and need to get to O’Hare for an international flight. A regional jet from St. Louis might only take an hour in the air, but once you figure in traveling to the airport, going through security, boarding the plane, taxiing, and all the other incidental parts of flying, a 2-hour train trip starts to sound pretty attractive. The flight has lots of “wasted” time where passengers are captive in their seats and unable to be productive, but the entire time on the train is yours to enjoy as you please. To the airline, this “extra time” is very costly for the fuel burned and crew time spent on it.
In marginal weather or light passenger loads, these regional flights are the first to be cancelled. It’s common for business travelers to rent or hire a car to get to O’Hare, instead of risking missing a connection because of a cancelled regional flight. Trains would be a much more cost-effective, comfortable and reliable way of getting to the airport