Airports and public transit access: O'Hare Airport and the proposed fast connection from Downtown Chicago
I'm wrong. There is a Metra Station serving O'Hare, called O'Hare Transfer, on the North Central Line. The issue isn't so much the time it takes to get from Downtown -- 32 minutes. It's that the service is infrequent--two trains in the morning, three trains in the afternoon, five in the evening--and not convenient for early or late flights. While the airport ground transportation system does provide service to this station, I don't know how long it takes to get to the airport from the station by shuttle. When you factor that time in (plus it costs more than the subway), the subway makes more sense.
Midway is in striking distance from the Heritage Corridor Metra line, but not super close, a few miles from the Summit Station. The line has limited service, unlike the rapid transit line.
O'Hare Airport serving the Chicago Metropolitan Area is one of the world's busiest.
Rapid transit serves the O'Hare Airport--the Blue Line--along with various bus services, including regional bus from distant locations. While Chicago has a rich system of regional railroad passenger service including the nation's only still existing interurban railway, the South Shore Line (serving Chicago from Northern Indiana) neither O'Hare nor Midway Airports are served by trains that is, the Metra system of regional passenger railroad services). Midway too has rapid transit ("L" or "El") service, although the last time I was there, the station was a long walk with heavy baggage to the airport.
The Airports are owned by the City of Chicago, which put out a tender for creating a high(er) speed rail connection from Downtown (the Loop) to O'Hare Airport. According to Progressive Railroading ("Four teams vie to build Chicago O'Hare express rail line"), four companies have responded.
Airport service through a set of regional rail services? In January, there was an interesting op-ed, "The limited thinking behind the O'Hare-Loop high-speed rail idea," in the Chicago Tribune making the point that (1) there isn't good recent data on how many people go to the airport from the Loop, (2) but that the most recent study (from 1988) found that it was about 20%, and (3) that it makes more sense to not just focus on adding a rail connection from Downtown but from other locations in the region as well.
-- proposal for express service to O'Hare, Midwest High Speed Rail Association
Rail service and National and BWI Airports. That dovetails with discussion in this blog about railroad passenger access to National Airport in Northern Virginia. It's limited, but does exist via VRE, which provides limited mostly one direction service (from Virginia in the morning and to Virginia in the evening) so that the station isn't a particularly convenient way to get to the airport.
-- "A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service," 12/16
-- "Revisiting stories: ground transportation at airports (DCA/Logan)," 11/17
By contrast, the BWI Airport in Maryland is served bi-directionally by both the regional passenger service MARC and Amtrak. A few years ago, MARC added weekend service on the Penn Line serving BWI, so that it is reasonably cheap to get to and from there by train ($7 one-way) every day of the week.
Were the MARC Penn Line and VRE Fredericksburg Line to be merged as I have suggested ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines"), this would provide service to National Airport, Union Station, and BWI Airport on the same line.
Toronto and London. WRT the desire for higher speed train service to the airport, Pearson Airport in Toronto developed such a service, separate from the existing GO passenger rail system, and it hadn't been particularly successful, although ridership has increased reasonably significantly since the premium pricing was replaced with cheaper fares ("Union Pearson Express fare slashed from $27.50 to $12, CBC; "Ridership Has Tripled on Toronto’s Union Pearson Express," Torontoist).
Heathrow Express peak fares increase by almost nine per cent," London Evening Standard) and successful, but London is a huge metropolis and an international center.
Next year, the new London Crossrail project will bring additional passenger rail service to the Airport ("Heathrow Express braces for Crossrail to end airport monopoly," Bloomberg).
Chicago and Toronto are similarly sized. It's arguable that there is enough demand for a premium priced train service to O'Hare Airport from Downtown. But as the Toronto experience proves there is demand for a faster and more direct service, even if people aren't willing to pay a premium price.
Regional transportation planning often overlooks (or under-studies) airports. The Downtown-centric project initiated by Mayor Emanuel does indicate that likely it's better to have a comprehensive transportation planning program for airports, led by the area metropolitan planning organization, so that broader questions can be asked and answered.
I haven't found many examples of such plans, but the Puget Sound region is one of them.
-- Regional Airport Ground Access Plan, Puget Sound Regional Council (note that the plan is out of date, and no longer on the PSRC website)
Utilizing demand for airport travel as a way to bring about better regional passenger train service to the airport and other destinations as suggested in the op-ed would achieve higher quality outcomes than the current project's strict focus on travel between Downtown Chicago and the O'Hare Airport.
One example of this is the proposed improvements at O'Hare for access from Chicago's western suburbs ("Chicago to deliver on western access facility for passengers at O'Hare, officials say," Northwest Suburbs Daily Herald).
Lessons for the proposed national infrastructure initiative. While it's less that likely that President Trump's interest (even if significantly flawed) in spurring infrastructure development will have legs, it and the O'Hare project are illustrations that focusing on specific projects as one-off initiatives not part of larger thinking and well thought out plans means that it's easy to get a lot less return on investment from such projects than is anticipated.