Daley dusts off plan for upscale rail service to O’Hare
Mayor sees private investors as ticket to build express line
August 18, 2010|By Jon Hilkevitch, CHICAGO TRIBUNE REPORTER
It has been several years since the CTA scrapped a project to introduce premium express trains outfitted with airline-style seats to Chicago’s airports. But Mayor Richard Daley said Wednesday that the idea is not entirely dead.
Daley disclosed that the city is repackaging a stalled proposal to entice private investors to build and operate first-class express train service between downtown and O’Hare International Airport.
The mayor said no city money would be used, and he isn’t sure the plan is feasible. But he announced the formation of a 17-member exploratory committee, headed by businessman Lester Crown, to study the concept and report back to Daley at an unspecified date.
“This is all about creating jobs and looking to the future,” Daley said at a City Hall news conference. “You have to rebuild America.”
Potential investors from China, Japan and the Middle East have contacted city officials about the project, Daley said. “They’re already interested,” he said.
The O’Hare express service would serve conventioneers and boost tourism, Daley added. He compared it to higher-speed airport rail services operating in London, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
The goal of offering world-class airport express service could lead to the completion of a costly hole in the ground below Block 37 in the heart of the downtown. That’s where the city and the CTA have sunk more than $250 million to construct the initial phase of a subway “super station” that was to have served as the hub for nonstop rail service to O’Hare and Midway Airport.
City Hall and the transit agency mothballed the superstation project in 2008 after cost-overruns and the prospect of spending at least another $100 million to complete the subterranean station and a connector tunnel linking the State Street and Dearborn Street subways.
Before halting the work, the CTA hired consultants to come up with ideas. Two main plans were offered — “direct service” on revamped rail coaches that would follow CTA Blue Line trains on the current route, and express trains that would go around the slower CTA trains at certain points. But the projected time savings was only about 10 to 15 minutes on the express trains compared with regular Blue Line service.
Projected fares would have been as high as about $15 to $20 each way — cheaper than a taxicab but much more expensive than CTA fares.
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