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Mayor Emanuel is pushing for an express train to O'Hare

Zach Long
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Zach Long

The Loop to O'Hare in 20 minutes? Without some luck (and a reckless Uber driver) that's a nearly impossible feat. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the possibility of an O'Hare express train when he began his second term last spring—now it sounds like he's trying to make rapid travel to the city's busiest airport a reality.

Over the weekend, the Tribune reported that Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans is searching for a private company that would be willing to pay for the infrastructure and operate the express train. According to the report, new stations would be built at the airport and downtown to accommodate the new train, which would take advantage of "underutilized assets" to make its speedy journey. Past proposals have put forward the options of building a bypass track along the middle of the Kennedy Expressway or using existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks—Evans did not divulge Emanuel's preferred route to the Tribune.

There's no word yet on the cost of an O'Hare express train, but adding what would essentially be a brand new train line could cost billions of dollars. Evans told the Tribune that she is hoping to present investors with a route and station plans so that the express train project can be put out for bid in 2017. According to the report, "one-time tickets would likely cost about $30 or $35," a price that betrays the intentions of the service: Catering to tourists, business travelers and those well-off enough to afford a rather expensive train ticket.

Of course, this isn't the first time that the city has tried to make an O'Hare express train a reality. Former mayor Richard M. Daley poured more than $200 million into the construction of a "superstation" under Block 37, which was meant to provide a downtown hub for express trains that would take passengers directly to O'Hare and Midway. The station remains unused and Evans told the Tribune that it will remain that way due to "technical difficulties." Emanuel's proposal for an O'Hare express train will relocate the downtown station to another location near the Loop.

A 20 minute ride to O'Hare sounds convenient, but is it worth spending billions of dollars to provide a service that carries a luxury price tag? The city wants a private company to pay for the infrastructure (and operate the line once it's finished), but Chicago taxpayers will likely foot the bill for any new train stations that are built to accommodate the new line. Plus, if there's a private company at the reigns, it will be in control of the price being charged—express train tickets could conceivably be even more expensive than the projected $30 figure. Mayor Emanuel paints the O'Hare express train as a component of a "world-class city," but it sounds more like an exceedingly expensive boondoggle.

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