Chicago to airport by rail in 20 minutes or less

City officials want to start meeting with developers as soon as January 2018; billionaire Elon Musk says he's interested in tunnels
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CHICAGO — Several world-class cities are connected to major international airports via high-speed rail lines. For years, Chicago has dreamed of being among them, without success.

A new effort has been launched with Chicago officials issuing a request for qualifications from private firms who are interested in submitting plans to design, build, finance, and operate the O’Hare Express System Project.

The project is a proposed express transportation service that will extend from downtown Chicago to O’Hare International Airport.
According to the 125-page request for qualifications, the O’Hare Express could run along existing freight rail corridors such as Canadian National and CSX Transportation rights-of-way; a Metra commuter rail line; the CTA’s Blue Line, or “an alternate surface or subsurface corridor.”

The city and its development agency, the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, are seeking one or more potential partners for the project by Jan. 24, 2018. The qualified entities would then submit proposals.

If there is only one respondent, the city said it may forego a request for proposals and proceed immediately to negotiations with that sole entity.

One prospective respondent was quick to come forward Thursday. Tesla and Space X entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted that his Boring Co. will compete for the job.
Aides to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel met earlier this year with Musk, who outlined a vision of underground tunnels providing high-speed public transportation.
According to the city, the current total daily number of air passengers traveling between O’Hare and the Chicago Central Business District is approximately 20,000 and is forecast to grow to at least 35,000 daily air passengers in 2045.

The project is intended to create better access between O’Hare and downtown Chicago and cut transit travel times by more than 50 percent.

“Ultimately, the project will act as a key economic driver, alleviate congestion, and provide reliable express service to and from the airport,” according to the proposal.

The project is to be funded solely by project-specific revenues, such as farebox revenue and advertising proceeds, and financed entirely by the concessionaire. The city says it will not provide any funding for the project.

Emanuel unveiled the request for qualifications Wednesday at a notoriously unfinished CTA station called Block 37 in downtown Chicago. The site was where former

Mayor Richard M. Daley had once hoped Chinese investors would build a high-speed rail system to O’Hare.

Officials said the goal would be to offer service from downtown Chicago to O’Hare in 20 minutes or less.

Public transit, on the CTA’s Blue Line, takes twice as long and is not express. The CTA ride now costs $2.25 and will soon rise to $2.50.

The city said it wants O’Hare Express to cost far less than the current taxi and Uber/Lyft fares, which range anywhere from $40 on up, depending on traffic. The 125-page request for proposals identified three potential routes, but opened the door for other options.

The three include the existing Blue Line, which runs in the Kennedy Expressway median; the Metra North Central Corridor, which terminates at Union Station and which
offers a station near remote parking lots at O’Hare; and using CSX and Canadian National rail rights-of-way.

Block 37 and Union Station are among four locations for a downtown terminal that the city’s notice has identified as potential sites, though others are possible.
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