Chicago Looking to Build High Spreed Rail to O'Hare

November 29, 2017

According to a statement issued Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Infrastructure Trust have issued a request for qualifications (RQF) for groups who want to take on the job of designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining an express train to O’Hare as a public–private partnership.

Emanuel wants a firm that will slash travel times to "20 minutes or less," with a train leaving at least once every quarter of an hour. Estimated cost is between $1 billion and $3 billion.

Currently, travelers have a choice between road travel and the Regional Transit Authority. The RTA choice takes about 40 minutes to reach O'Hare, while the choice of car, taxi, bus, or Uber can take 45 minutes or more. If the mayor gets his wish, the new line would cut times on the Chicago Transit Authority's Blue Line to O'Hare by more than half, and likely be a third or less of what it takes in a cab to get to the airport during business hours.

The city is looking at three potential routes based on a feasibility study done by WSP Parson Brinckerhoff, but Deputy Mayor Bob Rivkin said bidders are free to propose their own routes. Sites in mind so far include the CTA Blue Line that runs along the Kennedy Expressway; the Metra North Central railroad line that already runs from the city to O'Hare neighbor Shiller Park; and a freight railroad line that runs from downtown, then turns north near Forest Park to reach O'Hare.

Chicago is familiar with both above and below ground transportation and at one time spoke with Elon Musk about a possible hyperloop system.

Rivkin spoke with CBS2 about the qualifications the city wants to see from bidders. “We will be evaluating the experience, the financing availability, the ability to design and operate such a system. It could be a train, it could be a tunnel, it could be something along the surface, new technologies that are just emerging. We think it is going to be very exciting to see the interest that we already know is there.”

Funding will not be left to Chicago taxpayers, according to the City.

Interested parties have two months to prepare and present their qualifications and vision of the long-wished for link to the airport.