Dusseldorf: A Model for O’Hare and the Midwest

An overhead photo os the mainline railroad station at Dusseldorf Airport.
Few Midwesterners know they can take Metra to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

And if they did, they’d find a tiny station, a bus shuttle ride away from the airport’s people mover, which then connects to the terminals.

This long journey, available only to those who brave Metra’s infrequent schedule, has led to a forgotten station at O’Hare. All of this could change once the airport finishes a planned extension of the people-mover to a spot next to the station. With the train station soon to be minutes from the airport, it is time for Chicago to see the potential of this underrated asset.

For inspiration, let’s turn to Dusseldorf.

Like O’Hare, Germany’s third largest airport boasts two train stations. A local train station next to the terminals offers service to downtown, comparable to the CTA Blue Line. Similarly, Dusseldorf also has a train station capable of handling many types of service, connected to the terminals and a parking garage with a people-mover.

Dusseldorf’s second station is a busy transportation hub – and a model for O’Hare’s transfer station.

To start, the station features a commuter train, which connects directly to Dusseldorf and other major German cities like Essen, Duisburg and Bochum. This service runs at frequent intervals, and could be a model for a future Metra line ferrying millions of annual riders from the South Side and the Loop to O’Hare and the surrounding job-rich suburbs.

Dusseldorf’s Airport station also supports conventional and high-speed trains from across Northern Europe. Directly from the Airport, a passenger can step on a Thalys high-speed train, and arrive in central Brussels two hours later. The German ICE and Benelux Thalys services also share the station with conventional inter-city trains (like Amtrak) from destinations across Germany.

Beyond serving the airport, the Dusseldorf station allows for quick transfers between the different train services, increasing connectivity for the entire region. In this way, the Dusseldorf area uses the critical mass of airport passengers to build something much bigger – and more useful.

At O’Hare a similar arrangement is possible. In the near future, Amtrak trains from destinations like St. Louis, Milwaukee and Detroit could stop at O’Hare – providing a much-needed service to communities across the region. In the future, high-speed trains could stop at the station, replacing wasteful, inconvenient connecting flights.

Like Dusseldorf, Chicago can enjoy the convenience of facilitating smooth connections through the entire transportation network.

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