Mayor Daley Goes To China For His O’Hare Express Train

The mayor heads to China (again) to pitch investors on his Block 37-airport express train (again). Could Chicago get its own version of London’s Heathrow Express?

heathrow express mind the gap

Yesterday Mayor Daley surprised some people with the the Vacant Building TIF Purchase and Rehabilitation Ordinance, including me. Today it’s less of a surprise: Clout Street reports that he’s off to China, seeking private investment for his express train to O’Hare (which will continue its expansion, after some wheeling and dealing reminiscent of his father’s work getting the airport built*).

John Byrne writes that “the train would get passengers from the airport to downtown much faster than CTA Blue Line trains.” It sort of depends on what you mean by “much.” Here’s Daley, quoted by Fran Spielman from the same press conference:

“You arrive at the airport and come downtown in 20 minutes. Same thing with tourists. Instead of taking two hours, three hours to get out to the airport sometimes, you’re out in 20 minutes.”

I didn’t know the horse-drawn carriages went all the way out to O’Hare. Anyway, the CTA’s official line is that the Blue Line takes 40-45 minutes, which seems about right from my personal experience. So if Daley’s right, it cuts the trip in half; Rosemary Andolino has a more optimistic estimate of 15 minutes.

To a cheapskate like me, it doesn’t sound like a lot. But Spielman makes a brief mention of the Heathrow Express, and it’s actually a pretty good comparison: it’s run by a private foreign company, takes about 20 minutes, costs about $25, and there’s a cheaper, slower alternative in the Heathrow Connect. According to Rail Professional, the Heathrow Express’s biggest clientele is businessmen, and as of 2008 it was turning a profit; it averages 16,000 passengers a day. Which makes it sound less preposterous than I’d previously assumed–Heathrow and O’Hare have comparable passenger volumes, though I can’t help but wonder if the destinations for business travelers going into Heathrow are more densely centered around downtown than O’Hare, around which sprang up plenty of office complexes and hotels after it was built.

* Here’s Dan Rostenkowski talking about the elder Daley and O’Hare, courtesy of MediaBurn’s YouTube archive:


Photograph: Endlisnis (CC by 2.0)



3 years ago
Posted by chuckles

i couldn't agree more with the assessment of the clientele. business travelers will pay more for this every time.

as for time, it has taken me 2 hours to get to the airport before. I'd pay up to $40 to take that express train - it's the same price as a cab from downtown but less time and more consistent.

also, the CTA estimate of 45 minutes is a little low. that's no delays or no slow zones. i'd put the trip at an hour.

3 years ago
Posted by jayburd2020

You have to wonder about Daley on this one. What is a lame-duck mayor doing traveling to China pitching this project when he'll be out of office on May 16 with no authority to get it approved? Is this going to be his lucrative new post-mayoral paid consulting gig? Will he tap his White House Chief of Staff brother to leverage federal dollars for the private developers? Will this be another example of Daley privatizing even more public assets in the form of the CTA's public rail right of ways? I'd like to see more details, but could you imagine all of the construction delays on the Kennedy Expressway needed to add a for-profit private rail lines in the Kennedy's median to serve businessmen. Also, if this would go below ground at any points using subway tunnels, will this construction work cause delays for CTA commuters. Like most things in Chicago, these ideas get floated without much inquiry into the real details that would effect real Chicagoans. Can't wait to hear those details, and hopefully not after its all a done deal, like the parking meters, TIFs, etc.

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