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Faster Trains? We'll Believe It When We See It

By Scott Smith in News on Oct 4, 2006 3:17PM

Yesterday, Crain’s published an editorial begging Mayor Daley to replace CTA President Frank Kruesi and laying the blame for the agency’s numerous problems at his feet, including spending “hundreds of millions on an ill-conceived ‘super station’ at Block 37.” Today, Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch reveals a new scheme for a private firm to develop express train service to the airports from the “super station” (or, as we like to call it, “Kruesi’s Kastle”) 2006_10_kruesikastle.jpgin “an acknowledgment by the Daley administration that the city cannot entrust such a major transportation improvement to the Chicago Transit Authority alone.”

Essentially, the service would be offered in two phases:
Phase 1: Non-stop, non-express trains using existing CTA tracks. Train cars would have more room for passengers and their bags, rides would cost $10, and ride time would stay the same.
Phase 2: If enough of a need is demonstrated for the service, express tracks would be built for the same roomier cars. Rides would cost “$9 to $13 for Midway and $12 to $17 for O'Hare,” according to the Trib. Time to O’Hare would be about 20 minutes, but not have much of an effect of the trip time to Midway, according to this Trib graphic using data from the CTA.

The service itself is certainly attractive for tourists and business travelers who have no problem charging the company expense account for more comfort. Though we always feel a bit sheepish when we block the aisles with our bags, we could come up with other pipe dreams (train platform heaters that actually keep you warm?) that would improve the transit system for Chicagoans. But we think the CTA ought to work on services people actually need.

Prior to the announcement of this plan, we hadn’t heard of anybody putting “getting to the airport faster” at the top of their wish list for CTA capital improvements. Even now, if you ask most people if they’d like to get out to the airport 15 minutes faster, you’ll probably get a shrug and a reluctant “I guess.” This isn’t just anecdotal musings on our part as Hilkevitch notes the “uncertainty about the size of the airport transit market.”

What about extending the Red Line past 95th Street, a project for which there IS a market? Or improving service out on the west side? Or eliminating the numerous slow zones in the system? It’s fine to try and make Chicago seem like a city with a world-class transportation system, but this seems like another case of the CTA thinking globally before acting locally.