Crosstown Connector

A single mile of track through the heart of Chicago is key to a Midwest high-speed rail network

The St. Charles Air Line is a little known but critical factor for the future of passenger rail in the Midwest. This century-old, elevated rail corridor runs east/west just a few blocks from Lake Shore Drive to the Chicago River between 15th and 16th Streets.

There are other routes into and out of Chicago. But they are slow and congested with freight traffic. The St. Charles Air Line provides an essential link between the best passenger routes south and east of Chicago and the best routes north and west.

St. Charles Air Line: Existing Track Layout

The best passenger route options do not connect well – or connect at all – with Chicago Union Station.

An upgraded St. Charles Air Line could fix that with connections to Metra’s Rock Island Line and CN’s Lakefront Line – both of which offer better potential paths into Chicago from the south and east.

Amtrak does currently use the St. Charles Air Line to access Union Station, but the trip involves a slow and tedious back-up move that adds a lot of extra time to train schedules.


St. Charles Air Line: Proposed Track Layout

Amtrak has proposed the following group of projects to create a new Crosstown Connector:

  • A new ramp up to the St. Charles Air Line to eliminate the back-up move
  • Upgrading the St. Charles Air Line, including restoring an out-of-service bridge
  • A faster connection to the Rock Island line, combined with a new platform at Joliet
  • Upgrading the CN-owned Lakefront Line to Kensington, in the Pullman neighborhood
A map showing a new double-track connection to an upgraded St. Charles Airleine.

Potential Benefits

These initial investments are the first steps toward a modernization of services across the Midwest. Further investments—such as CrossRail Chicago, which includes the Crosstown Connector but goes far beyond it—could create significant time savings, reductions in delays, more reliable schedules, and entirely new services.

Crosstown Metra

A one-seat ride from the O’Hare Transfer station to McCormick Place would be feasible.

More importantly, through trains—between any station on the Rock Island and Metra Electric routes, to any station on the Milwaukee District routes—would be possible via the Crosstown Connector.

One exciting possibility is a Metra Crosstown Express network as illustrated here.

Unlocking the Rock

Lincoln Service:
Bloomington/Normal – Springfield – St. Louis, etc.

The current route to Joliet has four delay points, where trains can stall for 15 minutes or more.

The Connector would allow Amtrak trains to use the Rock Island District, which is owned by Metra and has few freight movements. This would make Lincoln Service trains more reliable and set the stage for filling gaps in the existing schedule.

Rock Island Route:
La Salle-Peru, Peoria, Moline, Iowa City, etc.

The City of Peoria is leading a coalition to establish new service to towns along the Illinois Valley. The Connector would allow those trains to access Union Station instead of La Salle St. Station.

The improvements for Peoria could also set the stage for increasing daily departures on the Moline route beyond the initial two daily roundtrips currently under development.

The Power of the Lakefront Line

Illinois Central:
Champaign/Urbana – Carbondale – Memphis, etc.

The Connector would save 15 minutes or more from the existing, tortuous routing.

The East:
Cleveland – Columbus – Detroit – Indianapolis and many more

The greatest impacts to intercity service would be for trains headed east, to hundreds of stations including Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis and New York.

Today, eastern trains use a very busy Norfolk Southern mainline to leave Chicago and get around Lake Michigan. Initially, the Connector will allow Amtrak to bypass three delay points within the City of Chicago, and it will open up the option of using the South Shore Line across northern Indiana.

Ultimately, gaining high-quality service to eastern cities will require the South-of-the-Lake Reroute—a double-track mainline dedicated to passenger trains (SOTL).

The Connector would provide access to two potential rights-of-way for the SOTL.

The Capitol Building in Springfield, IL

Get Involved

The Illinois General Assembly is debating the future transit and regional rail right now.  The package should include a State Railway Program to invest in bridges, trainsets, and better track.

Learn how you can get involved