Building easy access to the Midwest’s global gateway
O’Hare was the world’s “most connected” airport in 2022, meaning it has the most options for connecting between flights.
But getting to O’Hare from Chicago, the suburbs, and nearby cities can be a nightmare. Driving means navigating congestion and high parking fees. Feeder flights are infrequent, unreliable, and inefficient.
Millions of people need a better way to get to O’Hare: executives in downtown Chicago, students in Champaign, orthopedic device designers in Warsaw, Indiana, and many others. We all want a fast, reliable, and low-stress way to catch a flight.
Dusseldorf Airport is connected to much of Germany by high-speed and regional trains.
The solution: trains to the planes
Most globally focused airports have robust train connections. Making it easier for people to get to the airport means it’s easier to attract more of the long-haul flights that drive an airport’s success.
Making this work in Chicago will require coordination between city, state, and federal agencies, and it is urgent that we get started now.
Two steps to get started
1) Mayor Brandon Johnson can direct the Department of Aviation to design a station at the multi-modal facility.
2) Gov. J.B. Pritzker can direct the Illinois Department of Transportation to design a statewide high-speed and regional rail network making O’Hare a prime destination.
To be accurate
Metra does have a station at O’Hare, but the trains are scheduled to take suburbanites downtown in the morning and home at night. To make it worse, the walk to the people mover is long and requires crossing a dangerous road. So, few people use it.
A new station with bigger platforms and an indoor connection to the people mover are needed. New tracks are needed to allow trains every 10 – 15 minutes in each direction.
Metra’s O’Hare station is tucked behind the Multi-Modal Facility.
Who will benefit?
A thriving O’Hare means a thriving city and region. An integrated train station will benefit multiple stakeholders simultaneously.
Both economy and business class passengers would be able to skip traffic and enjoyed reduced costs.
Airline workers would gain an easier, and more affordable, way to get to work.
Hundreds of cities could gain easier access to the airport, if connected to a regional rail network.
Chicago is a magnet for Fortune 500 companies—the second-largest number in the U.S.—because of O’Hare. Trains will increase the city’s connectivity and competitiveness by opening up runway space for more long-haul flights, especially international flights.
Airlines could focus more energy on profitable long-distance flights and reduce cross-subsidies to short feeder flights.
A fully occupied 777-300 generates about 10 times the revenue from facilities charges as a short-haul feeder plane. Trains at the airport will mean more big planes and more long-haul flights at O’Hare—and thus more revenue for the city.
A train station at the Multi-Modal Facility is needed first.
Where should the station(s) go?
A station at O’Hare faces the challenge of serving three terminal complexes and multiple markets—including commuters, airport workers, people catching a flight, and people connecting to a bus or train—in one location.
In the near term, the best site for a station is the existing multi-modal facility, which is already a connecting point for buses, rental cars, and rideshare services.
The city should also design tunnels and a station under Terminal 2, to prepare for high-speed trains.
What trains could serve the station?
City and Suburban “Regional Rail”
Metra needs to convert to a “regional rail” model, and O’Hare is a great place to start. Trains should depart to key connecting stations every 15 or 30 minutes.
Metra’s North Central route should be expanded to hourly departures or better.
Downstate and Multi-State “Regional Rail”
A train every hour or two to nearby cities like Madison, Springfield, Champaign, and Indianapolis would be a great place to start. Passengers to destinations not served directly could connect at Chicago Union Station or a suburban station.
Phase 1 connections should focus on routes with little freight.
The Multi-Modal Facility at O’Hare offers a great connection between local and regional buses, in addition to rental cars and parking. Metra’s existing station is behind the garage.
A catalyst for better transit
More passengers using the Multi-Modal Facility means that more people will be connecting to local and regional buses, meaning that those services can expand.
Suburbanites can access trains to smaller midwestern cities by using the buses or parking at the garage,
Building a new station is not enough, which means the City can’t do it on its own. Multiple agencies must cooperate to build new tracks, and new trains are needed.
The Illinois Legislature needs to fund modern trains with bigger doors, luggage racks, and fewer steps to climb.
The Illinois Department of Transportation, the Canadian National, and Metra need to team up to design new tracks from Union Station to Des Plaines.
Better Tollway Access
A new exit from eastbound I-90 at Lee road is needed so that buses can avoid a circuitous routing on congested freeways.
Who can make it happen?
A train station at O’Hare is a powerful tool for achieving Mayor Brandon Johnson’s vision of building “a more just and vibrant city for all.”
He can get this project off the ground by directing the Department of Aviation to begin planning stations at the multi-modal facility and Terminal 2. At the same time, he can work with Gov. J.B. Pritzker to ensure that planning for a statewide railroad network moves forward—and includes an O’Hare train station.
A new train could be built into the east side of the multi-modal center.
A robust network of high-speed trains, regional trains, and buses would make our communities more competitive.
Air-rail integration at Frankfurt’s airport is an example of some best practices we’d like to see implemented at major airports across the country.
Like O’Hare should, Germany’s third largest airport boasts two train stations.