City Makes Another Attempt at Express Trains to O’Hare

Mayor Rahm Emanuel tasks Chicago's new aviation chief with exploring all options to make long-desired express trains a reality

Years after abandoning the idea of express rail service to O’Hare and Midway, the City of Chicago is about to take another stab at it.

Last time out, it didn’t go so well. Taxpayers are still footing the bill for the abandoned hulk of a CTA superstation beneath the Loop. After spending $250 million on the station, the CTA scrapped the project as too costly and possibly unfeasible. The bonds are still being paid off at the rate of $2 million a year. By the time the books are finally closed on the project, Chicagoans will have spent an estimated $400 million.

But now Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to try again, and he wants new aviation chief Ginger Evans to study all options.

"I’ve given her the task of modernizing the way to get from where we are, to our airports," Emanuel said Thursday. "I believe it’s time, for Chicago, now, to build high speed rail to O’Hare."

Mayor Richard Daley thought so too. He was so certain of the project that the city began construction of the so-called superstation beneath Block 37 in the Loop with no definite idea of how the actual train service would work.

A 2006 CTA feasibility study obtained by NBC 5 Investigates explored two scenarios: building bypass tracks along the existing Blue Line to O’Hare, and new rail service paralleling the Union Pacific service which parallels the Kennedy Expressway. The latter was the preferred method but the cost was estimated at $1.5 billion. Property acquisition alone was estimated at $151 million. A new train station for Midway was priced at $109 million, with another $122 million for a new station at O’Hare.

It was estimated the fares for an express trip to O’Hare would have run between $12 and $17.

But the whole idea was scrapped, and the unfinished superstation was locked and forgotten. Mayor Daley appointed a blue ribbon commission to study privatizing rail service to O’Hare, but chairman Lester Crown says the committee never even met.

Now Evans, who has been on the job for just three weeks, has been tasked with bringing the idea back to life.

“I have basically gathered all the studies that have been done,” she said. “I’m in the process of evaluating those studies.”

Evans says she is even exploring the idea of double-decking the existing Blue Line to O’Hare. A CTA source told NBC5 Investigates that scenario has never been studied or engineered.

“There’s some key customer survey data being done this summer that will give us a better idea of the affordability of various options,” Evans said. “We’re evaluating basically all the options that have been put on the table.”

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