High speed rail to O'Hare a waste of money, says transit expert

Building the Daley-proposed high speed rail between downtown and O’Hare Airport is a waste of money that would be better spent expanding CTA service, such as the Red Line to 131st Street. That’s the opinion of Chris Robling, a longtime transit analyst, as quoted in Medill Reports.

Robling predicts that due to high construction costs, the per-ride cost will be at least $19 — which is halfway to a full cab ride. He adds that most people will have to take a cab to get to the rail station, adding to the cost.

Robling said the city needs to look at the needs of the community instead of building projects that get little use.  Money for the downtown station and suggested high-speed train would be better spent somewhere else, Robling said. 

“This is what happens when the region is not involved in major
capital decisions,” he said. “You spend $300 million in a basement at
State and Washington with nothing to show for it.  And the folks in Roseland are still waiting for a train.”

(Hat tip to Chris M.)


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  • Robling isn't close to describing the problems.

    Stuff like the $19 fare and putting the Block 37 station to work were contemplated in the original consultant's report, which proposed using existing L cars or the last option for 84 of the 706 5000s. The consultant also said that it would take over $1.5 billion to make it express, in the sense of either condemning land in Bucktown for bypass tracks, or building a new L over the UP NW right of way. Furthermore, the consultant said that 4 tracks would be needed in the Kennedy west of Jefferson Park, but the median wasn't that wide. The budget for that was written off with the comment to the effect that "the state will have to reconstruct the Kennedy like it [did] the Dan Ryan."

    Now, maglev has to be constructed on its own elevated right of way. There is no way those trains (running at 200 mph) could coexist with Ls running at 55, 15, or 0, not to mention that the surface over which it glides would have to have electromagnets in it. Unless they could deck over the Kennedy Expressway or UP NW, they would have to condemn huge tracts of land in Avondale, Bucktown, etc., something on the scale of Black removal from the Dan Ryan corridor, but extremely more expensive. Then, somehow, they would have to get it downtown. I figure no closer that Ogilvie Station. Those kind of passengers want to get to Michigan Avenue, anyway.

    Add to that, there is no Olympics as a justification for this, and no way that the federal government would contribute if, as Robling notes, the Red Line is a bigger priority, and Schlickman says that the state has not identified a source of matching funds for that.

    Maybe Daley thought that the Chinese or Koreans would invest in that boondoggle, but I think that was just an excuse for a "going away" vacation. I don't think that the Chinese or Koreans are that willing to blow their own money, even if they think they can get a contract for the trainset.

    There was a reason why Carole Brown wouldn't get on this train, even though she worked for Daley. Now we are starting to see why, even though she wouldn't say.

  • I seriously think the media needs to step back and stop writing nonsensical articles about things that either a. flat out aren't going to happen or b. might happen but not WELL into the future if ever.

  • In reply to sarahjane0804:

    You may have a point, but I believe that the media has a responsibility to expose politicians' delusions (and as mentioned on Chicago Tonight last night, all have them). However, the real problem is that most of the media join the politicians in cheerleading for this sort of nonsense.

    Let's remember that the only thing Kruesi succeeded in doing was rip up Meigs Field, and there certainly wasn't years of prepress on that, for reasons later stated by Daley when he was omnipotent.

  • In reply to jack:

    It's my understanding -- mostly from posts and comments here -- that many of the initiatives Huberman gets credit for, such as the Brown Line modernization and the Bus Tracker, began during Kreusi's days. Were those posts and comments wrong? I need a history lesson here.

  • In reply to BobS:

    The concepts might have started under Kruesi, but the implementation wasn't his. For instance, one bus route under BusTracker (Madison) does not a system make. Similarly, the Brown Line under Kruesi was basically a series of "we underbudgeted, so we have to cut features."

    On the other hand, Kruesi accomplished the disabling of Meigs overnight.

  • In reply to jack:

    Your Bus Tracker observations are a little disingenuous, don't you think? (This is rhetorical. God forbid you consider that.) One bus route does not a system make, but one bus route does a pilot program make, no? This is a matter of timing. There's a stage between "concepts" and "implementation" that largely came under FK, if I recall.

    Was the demolition of Meigs Kreusi's idea? This is the first I've heard of that.

  • In reply to BobS:

    No, it was Daley's but Frank accomplished that.

    And a pilot program does not a project make. Are you satisfied that the ongoing (and apparently behind schedule) testing of the 5000s means that the 2200s and 2400s are all retired?

  • In reply to jack:

    No, but I don't conflate testing and implementing as you do.

  • In reply to jack:

    Chris Robling: a transit "expert" and "analyst"? Isn't this the guy who was the PR guy for the RTA a few years back? I mean, does that make you an "expert?" I'm not going to say he doesn't know transit issues, since to be a PR guy you need to know the business of who you work for, but an "expert?" Seriously. And for this guy to then go off on express service to O'Hare when he was shilling for the RTA (or was it Raytheon) for their way-crazy PRT project back in the 90's. geez.

    Mr. O'Neill, I know you fancy yourself as "media" these days but you need to do some searching on who the "experts" are.

    In fact, your post about the Red Line extension was funny, because the webpage is actually from the folks who are against the Red Line extension. And I don't recall you making any recent references to Steve Schlickman's recent letter to the Trib discussing the lack of funding for the Red Line extension. Now Schlickman, whatever you think of him, is actually considered to be an "expert," yet his important public statements get not post from the Tattler? And Chris Robbling does?

    I'm not a huge fan of the express to O'Hare but it seems to be very clear to me that the intent these days is to not fund it through the typical transit funding sources and so if Robling was such an "expert" he'd realize there is NO connection or competition between the possible investment in an express service to O'Hare and the possible investment for transit serving Roseland (i.e., the Red Line extension). Furthermore, his basic starting point ($19 is to halfway to a cab fare) does nothing to prove his point, in fact, it actually helps prove that an airport express service might actually be viable, I mean, who wouldn't want to save half on their cab fare?

    I can't believe the Tattler's quoting old RTA hacks from the do-nothing 1990's.

  • In reply to BobS:

    We also have to consider that the Brown Line project was delayed because it had to be rebid in sections for the reason stated above. For that matter, you aren't riding production series 5000s now because that had to be rebid because CTA first used ancient specifications for DC traction, on which the carbuilders would not bid. Hence, any credit to Kruesi is outweighed by those minuses. Implementation counts, as the criticism of this maglev plan establishes.

  • In reply to sarahjane0804:

    I agree with both comments above. This isn't going to happen and - more importantly - it's a huge waste to think about right now.

    There are much higher priorities for the CTA and our region, and that's where the transit funds should be focused. I think that's why this proposal isn't coming from the CTA (which is concentrating on the Red Line extension), but the mayor's office.

    The media - including you, Kevin - has to let this one go. It's a pipe dream and doesn't deserve a tenth of the hype it's getting.

    Let's focus on building the Red Line extension, repairing the current infrastructure, remaking the Red/Purple line into a true express/local service, and building infill stations to better serve residents (e.g., 18th St. & Western stops on the Green Line, Division stop on the Brown Line, etc.).

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    I don't agree that the media "has to let this one go." When the mayor of Chicago talks about a project like this, it's news - whether it's a pipedream or not. However, I think it's just as important for us media to report that it is a pipedream, which is what I'm doing here.

  • In reply to aaronjbrown:

    You have it backwards.
    First you have to rebuild the current system, starting with all the crumbling bridges on the North Side Mainline north of Lawrence, all the way into Evanston.
    Then you can add stations to the current system, but the CTA needs to learn how to design them first. That means center island platforms, even if it costs more to move one track over to create the space for it. That way the station will be less expensive to operate over its 75-100 year lifespan. Spend some capital money to save operating money. Much of the capital comes from sources other than fares, which allows the fares to be spent running the system.
    An 18th St. stop makes no sense, what's needed is to reroute the line to McCormick Place by buying the St. Charles Airline & using that to run the line on the abandoned portions of the IC Mainline. Loop to McCormick shuttle trains would be incredibly popular!
    Before building another station on the Brown Line, straighten out the triple turn & get rid of the church turn. Either buy the church through eminent domain or move it across the street!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I agree with your first point - I wasn't ranking things in order, just as they came to me.

    But I totally disagree with your last point. An 18th St. station seems more sensible than McCormick Place, especially with the re-route you describe. 18th St. is in the heart of the South Loop and would provide a transit connection that's sorely missing.

    By re-routing the track, you would move it away from a fairly well-populated area (that's been growing substantially over the past decade) and make the line much less accessible for local riders. Yes, your route might make it easier for convention-goers to use the CTA, but it would make it much harder for residents to use. If you want a well-functioning (and well-utilized) rapid transit system, it needs to go where people live.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Isn't there a Metra station somewhere close to O'Hare? Wouldn't it make more sense to invest money in getting people to that Metra station and then from there to the airport?

    I mean, if getting people to the airport quickly is an actual priority. I don't happen to think it is. I prefer fixing what we have now and adding rail service to the far south side.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Yes, on the vary underused North Central Service, which connects with the O'Hare People Mover.

  • In reply to jack:

    The North Central Service's O'Hare station is next to Parking Lot F. There is no people mover/ATS service there. There is only a plan for extending the ATS to "a remote parking garage to be built somewhere in the vicinity of Parking Lot F". Currently, there is a free parking lot shuttle F bus to connect between the Metra Station and the O'Hare ATS. Currently, it takes 15-20 minutes to get from the Metra station to Terminal 1-3, a little less for Terminal 5.

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