The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is working with local officials to create the first link in the Midwest high-speed rail network by rethinking how we use infrastructure we already own.
Chicago is the hub of the Midwest. Despite having a massive rail infrastructure woven deeply into its fabric and extending in every direction, Chicago can barely handle the current load of Amtrak intercity and Metra commuter trains. We need a high-capacity passenger line, free of interference from freight trains and highway crossings, to provide the frequency and reliability required for high-speed rail.
This passenger rail corridor would serve a wide variety of travelers coming from and going to from many places, all following the same uninterrupted path through the city. It would provide effortless rail travel, from high-speed trains from across the Midwest to frequent, all-day commuter trains to points around the region. It would allow express trains to O'Hare from downtown and McCormick Place. It would become the core of the Chicago region's transit system and the heart of a re-energized Midwest passenger rail network.
This would be a tremendous undertaking if built from scratch, but fortunately, most of it already exists under public ownership. Metra has two key lines that could be linked together and modernized to create such a trunk line: CrossRail Chicago.
CrossRail Chicago would be the highest impact transportation project in the Midwest, providing more passenger capacity than any other single piece of transportation infrastructure.
CrossRail creates an amazing opportunity to build a strong coalition for railroad funding by uniting multiple constituencies around a single program.
At the same time that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel advocates an express train from the Loop to O’Hare, a coalition is pushing for better transit on the city’s south side, and communities in northwest Indiana are pushing for new and expanded service. This could result in multiple multi-billion dollar ventures that compete for funds and fail to serve the region as a whole.
The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is working on a unified, cross-jurisdictional planning effort that would unite these dispersed constituencies into a strong coalition that is capable of securing the necessary funds. The result would be a rail line allowing higher speeds and much more frequent service for a variety of trains. It would lower overall cost, yet have a greater benefit for the Chicago region and the Midwest.
CrossRail Chicago would be achieved by linking together the Metra Electric Line and Metra’s Milwaukee District West Line. The program would consist of 4 major initiatives eliminating bottlenecks into, out of, and through Chicago, completely separating passenger rail traffic from freight traffic, and providing seamless travel on fast electric trains.
The entire CrossRail route would be upgraded to modern standards with electric catenary for shared use by local, commuter, airport express, and intercity high-speed trains. Learn more about the existing assets and necessary upgrades on our CrossRail Chicago site.
The Metra Electric
The Metra Electric Line is a wide, elevated rail corridor extending 30 miles from the southern boundary of Cook County into Millennium Park Station east of the Loop. It is already electrified and completely separate from the freight network. When the line was built nearly 100 years ago by the Illinois Central Railroad, it was designed to host many types of trains, from all-stop commuter trains to non-stop express runs.
Rebuilding this line to modern standards as part of Metra’s state of good repair mandate would create the capacity for the initial phase of high-speed rail while creating a new transit service for the city’s South Side. There is room for additional track as passenger volume grows.
The Milwaukee District West Line runs northwest through the city starting from Union Station west of the Loop. Metra’s North Central trains branch off the West Line in Franklin Park. Dedicated passenger tracks could be built in the existing rights-of-way to create a high-volume link between downtown and O’Hare. In the process, several dangerous highway crossings would be separated. Rail flyovers at two key junctions would allow uninterrupted passenger operations.
CrossRail would need a station at O’Hare Airport for easy transfer from trains to planes. The Chicago Department of Aviation is building a new parking garage, consolidated rental car facility and bus station near O’Hare Transfer station on Metra’s North Central route. It will host regional buses, hotel shuttle vans and Pace buses. Adding a larger railroad station to the complex would allow trains from all directions to serve the airport. Ultimately, the airport express trains should serve the terminals directly.
CrossRail’s biggest challenge is that Millennium Station, the end of the Metra Electric, and Union Station, the end of the Milwaukee West/North Central line, are one mile apart from each other across the Loop, the densest part of the city.
Luckily, these two railroads can be joined via the St. Charles Air Line, an elevated rail right-of-way that provides the only east-west rail connection in downtown Chicago. The line spans about a mile of the South Loop parallel to 16th Street, connecting the south side of Union Station near the Chicago River to the Metra Electric along Lake Shore Drive.
Rebuilding the St. Charles Air Line as the 16th Street Connector, with two or three electrified tracks and direct access to Union Station, would provide the essential link between north and south. It would not only link O’Hare with Union Station and McCormick Place, but connect the city’s south and north sides and allow service from Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio to continue through to Wisconsin and Minnesota.