While visiting China and South Korea earlier this month, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley talked up his plan for a so-called express train service between O'Hare Airport and the Loop. Express train service deserves the "so-called" modifier because unless the rail and engineering specs have changed dramatically since the CTA released a 2006 study (PDF) about the project, the assumption is that express service trains would zip between O'Hare and its terminus in the Loop in 30 minutes under one scenario or 25 minutes under another.
That means a 15-to-20-minute time savings for travelers versus the 45-minute Blue Line trip between O'Hare and downtown assumed by the '06 study. But to be fair to current Blue Line service, the CTA says that you can board a train at O'Hare on a weekday at 2:00 p.m. and arrive at the Clark and Lake station downtown 39 minutes later. So for some trips, express train service would save as little as nine minutes, based on the CTA's '06 analysis. Shockingly, an informal survey around the Progress Illinois office suggested that staffers would prefer paying the regular CTA rate for a maximum 45-minute Blue Line train trip to O'Hare versus the assumed $17 rate for a 30-minute trip on Daley's hoped-for express service.
Though the mayor says private investors want to design, build, operate and maintain an express train service here, taxpayers won't be off the hook. More than $172 million in public money has already been committed to just building an express service superstation at Block 37. A more recent planning document, the transportation section (PDF) in 2009's Central Area Action Plan, lists express rail service for O'Hare and Midway as costing $1.5 billion. Federal and state dollars are listed as potential funding sources for construction of such service.
But federal and state capital dollars are limited. The CTA has other important projects it is seeking to fund through the next federal transportation bill -- like the long-awaited Red Line extension to the Far South Side, for example. Such proposals should be at the front of the line for public funds versus those that would save travelers a few minutes here and there. So unless Daley's private investors are ready to pony up for the entirety of this project, maybe it's time to scrap the Zombie O'Hare Express Train altogether. It's yet another call the next mayor will have to make.