Today, Brightline launched passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando, the fastest passenger rail service in the U.S. outside of the Northeast. Brightline will offer 16 round trips a day on the 235-mile corridor, with the trip taking about 3 1/2 hours, and...
Building Easy Access to a Global Gateway
Want a fast, reliable, and eco-friendly way to get to O’Hare? So do we. It’s not an impossible dream.
Fast, frequent, and affordable trains are the answer.
Most cities have convenient rail links to their airports. Photo: Boarding an airport train in Milan, Rick Harnish.
An Economic Engine
O’Hare is a critical component of the nation’s aviation network. Its the second busiest in the world in operations.
Over 42 million passengers boarded a flight there in 2019.
So, its not surprising that the City of Chicago and the US Department of Transportation just committed to a $7.1 billion terminal expansion to complement a recently completed, multi-billion runway expansion project.
The Challenge: O’Hare Is Hard To Get To
It is surprising that so little thought has been given to how people get to it.
Pick your poison: traffic jams or unreliable feeder flights, getting to O’Hare can be the worst part of the trip.
Chicago should protect its investment by adding a railroad station to its expansion plans.
Unfortunately, a new railroad station was NOT included in the O’Hare AIR21 modernization plan.
Who Would Benefit?
Business travelers get most of the attention when trains to O’Hare are promoted.
In truth, they are just one segment of many that need good access to O’Hare.
The good news is that when done correctly, good trains serve many markets at once—including O’Hare’s many airport workers.
With the right infrastructure, airport trains could serve a mix of stations around Chicago like Barrington, Blue Island, Hyde Park, Pullman, and Antioch.
Amtrak connections could serve many cities like Bloomington, Champaign, Grand Rapids, Madison, and Indianapolis.
Getting to and from the airport would become easier, more affordable and more reliable.
O’Hare does long-haul domestic and international flights really well.
So it’s odd that much of its capacity is devoted to small feeder planes that shuttle people to O’Hare from around the Midwest.
Replacing feeder flights with trains will open capacity for big planes and long-haul domestic and international flights.
Because O’Hare earns more landing fees for big planes, the airport will bring in more money.
Since longer flights are more profitable than puddle jumpers, more of them means more revenue for the airlines, too.
Three Steps: Station, Tracks, Trains
1. A Train Station at the Airport
A recently opened parking garage is part of the ongoing O’Hare expansion.
It is also the home of rental cars, hotel shuttles, and regional buses. It connects to the terminals by the airport transit system.
It also happens to be right next to the tracks that host Metra’s North Central service.
Building a new train station into the garage to replace the existing Metra O’Hare Transfer station would be the most expedient way to get trains to O’Hare. Trains from all over the Chicago region and around the Midwest could stop here.
Suburban residents could park here to catch a regional train too.
A New Station Under the Field is Also Needed
Ultimately, a new tunnel should be dug under the airport so that high-speed trains from around the Midwest can serve the airport directly.
2. Track Upgrades
By adding track to existing Metra lines, trains from around the Chicago region—and the entire Midwest—can stop at O’Hare.
Coming from Barrington? Easy. Blue Island? No sweat. McCormick Place, Hyde Park, the south suburbs? It’ll be a one-seat ride to O’Hare with our CrossRail Chicago proposal.
And what about those puddle-jumper flights? Trains from Champaign, Bloomington, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, or South Bend could extend their trip past downtown Chicago and take you directly to O’Hare.
With the later addition of new high-speed track, these trains from around the Midwest can even be faster than flying. Until then, trains will definitely be easier, more comfortable, cheaper, and greener than short connecting flights.
3. New Trains
Once the station and tracks are in place, the trick is to run the right kind of trains.
The aging cars that Metra and Amtrak use today require you to climb stairs, which is difficult when you’re carrying luggage.
Modern train equipment has bigger doors with fewer or no steps to climb. New trains have luggage racks near the doors and wide aisles that make it easy to get on and off. They also have spaces for bikes and are easier for people who use wheelchairs or crutches.
With modern locomotives, trains are quieter, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient. Or, the trains can have the engines distributed throughout, so a separate locomotive isn’t needed. Either way, modern train designs start and stop faster, and they’re safer, too.
High-Speed Rail is a Game Changer
A midwest high-speed rail network would put 45 million people within a 3-hour train ride of O’Hare.
Most trips will take much less than that, of course. Instead of idling in traffic jams or sitting in the airport and on runways, travelers can work on the train—or just relax.
And, because O’Hare charges more in landing fees for big planes than small ones, Chicago will also bring in more money. That’ll help pay for the airport’s ongoing expansion project, while allowing O’Hare to do what it does best: focus on long-haul flights. Since longer flights are more profitable than puddle jumpers, more of them means more revenue for the airlines, too.
The infrastructure that makes this possible also means better trains between O’Hare and the rest of Chicagoland.
You Can Help
Our immediate goal is to get trains from around the Chicago region and the Midwest running to and from O’Hare.
The ultimate goal is to create a regional high-speed network with the airport at its heart.
Ready to take the train to your plane? Send a message today. We’ve made it easy to tell your elected officials in Washington, D.C. (and Springfield, Illinois) that O’Hare needs trains!
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