The proposal for the speedy, upscale service to be operated by Metra or Amtrak — or possibly under a public-private partnership — follows yearslong studies by the CTA and the city's transportation and aviation departments, as well as a separate state analysis that called on the expertise of the University of Illinois.It took a few years for London to see the wisdom of supplementing the Heathrow extension of the Piccadilly Line with a fifteen-minute train into Paddington Station. That new service is useful, particularly for the savvy traveller who books a hotel within walking distance of Paddington. (It's a longer schlep from the Heathrow station to check-in than it is from the hotel to the station.) Perhaps, though, Chicago wants to go the way of the Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof.
Those efforts went nowhere.
CrossRail Chicago envisions new electrified express trains connecting O'Hare to the Loop, McCormick Place and the University of Chicago campus, as well as cross-town commuter trains linking the south suburbs to the northwest suburbs, line extensions to Rockford and Champaign, and eventually a high-speed rail network, including trains operating at more than 200 mph.We've looked at CrossRail before. The problem with ambitious plans, though, is that as soon as government participates, paralysis by analysis sets in.
But the City Council resolution concentrates on giving business and leisure travelers a "world-class'' alternative to taking the all-stop O'Hare branch of the CTA Blue Line between downtown and O'Hare, and improving the transit options for conventioneers at McCormick Place.The Metra North Central service uses the old Soo Line to River Grove. The Soo at one time ran passenger trains into [Illinois] Central Station, which was near downtown and the museum campus.
In addition, the resolution states that the Chicago Department of Aviation should "strongly consider'' expanding the scope of an $800 million consolidated O'Hare rental car facility and public parking garage to include a new Metra train station. The new facility will be built starting next year at Zemke Boulevard and Mannheim Road, on the site of the existing economy parking lot F. The light rail People Mover also will be extended from its current terminus at economy parking lot E to the new facility.Put in some retail and you'd have a reasonable facsimile of the Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbahnhof. And the People Mover would save a lot of steps compared to Frankfurt.
But getting somebody to pay for it poses problems.
The resolution said that federal, state and "transit funds" should be sought to pay for the project. It also said the Emanuel administration's Infrastructure Trust should study possible creative financing options to pay for the premium express train service between O'Hare, Union Station and the McCormick convention center on the South Side lakefront. One of the benefits, the resolution said, would be direct South Side Metra service to O'Hare, using an elevated freight line along 16th Street from the lakefront to Halsted Street and connecting ramps.Keep in mind, also, that Metra Electric exists to bring commuters to downtown offices and diverting some of those trains to O'Hare ought not be done casually. On the other hand, as long as the aldermen are engaging in wishful thinking when it comes to financing, why not put back the fifth and sixth tracks on the old Illinois Central, and dedicate those to the airport trains and the future fast trains to Milwaukee or Rockford?
The Department of Aviation, meanwhile, should conduct a new round of solicitations requesting information from train operators around the world, as well as financiers, on the feasibility of establishing the express train service to McCormick Place, running along tracks owned by Metra and the Canadian National Railway, the resolution said.