Through-Route Chicago

Paris RER ridership courtesy of “Transport Politic Databook” fourth graph down. Metra data per its ridership reports.

Problem Recall. Chicago’s recent station and route modernization failed. We need a Plan B.

Drawing of key Through-Station and above caption courtesy of Crossrail Chicago.

Problem >>>> Solution Summary: Before trains can expand as a serious alternative to the single occupant car, we must through-run Ogilvie and Chicago Union Station (CUS) where eight lines terminate. This through-station makes possible a higher capacity through-network to serve much of Chicagoland. Also key to this network’s growth is the 16th Street Flyover (green) that connects with four south suburban lines terminating at Millenium and Lasalle stations. Equally important, the proposed through-authority works with developers to minimize today’s inchoate proposals and, instead, coordinate more sustainable and equitable transit-oriented redevelopment. The Solution outlined below has two Parts: Benefits; and Strategy.

Part A) Benefits Through-Route Chicago can produce. The proposed independent, federally-funded study should detail an Ogilvie/CUS through-station and project how it triggers these three benefits: sufficient capital for a through-network; mobility multipliers; and train ETOD.

1: Illinois and Chicago will be relieved of this financial burden that neither can carry.  With U.S. funding currently in retreat, Illinois’ future share for train upgrades could rise to an impossibly high 50%. Chicago has talked about a West Loop multi-modal hub for two decades… but only built its least expensive component, an open-air bus station. The study projects how Illinois’ match can come from federal loans using Amtrak air rights as collateral.

2: A through-network will reduce transportation stress and multiply mobility four ways. First, the peak hour CTA “L” will need relief after the pandemic passes. Second, recent and future urban redevelopments need high capacity mobility options and they are stimulated best by trains. Third, reducing road congestion will be possible after decades of failed promises. Finally, the proposed pilot will show how to share train infrastructure to reduce stress between Chicago and its suburbs.

3: Maximize how Chicago redevelops around train stations. While City TOD ordinances have helped redevelop well around many neighborhood “L” stops, train ETOD requires other options that include redeveloping around other stops of the line other than above the railyard.

Drawing also courtesy of Crossrail Chicago.

Part B) Strategy so Through-Route Chicago delivers. Synergize 2 “Systems” (MR and SER). To be funded in the 2021 rendition of The INVEST Act, the proposed study is “independent” of state and local agencies. The study’s goal is to explore how federal authority, assets (Amtrak’s railyard air rights) and increased USDOT grants and loans can stimulate Chicago’s next generation of train service and re-development.

The first “System” converts commuter rail to prepare for Metropolitan Rail (MR). This study will revive three moribund initiatives by tying them together in a cross-city through-route. Packaged to work through today’s political difficulties, we call the proposal: the Bi-Partisan 3 Os (Ogilvie & CUS, O’Hare express, Obama Center.)

The first “O”, The 2012 CUS Master Plan, has lost its champion and needs to re-envision a West Loop through-station that connects efficiently through the Ogilvie Transportation Center.

The second initiative, The O’Hare Express (two blue lines above), needs only three connections to make a prototype through-network: at Ogilvie & CUS; the cross-downtown 16th Street Flyover, and the south “downtown” transfer hub at McCormick Place for the three southern lines to connect to the eight western and northern lines.

Third, the frequent Metra Electric service to the southside (brown line to Hyde Park) needs to be a fiscally sustainable service that is more frequent and requires redeveloping much more than merely starting The Obama Center!

Metropolitan Rail’s growth multiplier emerges even within the City as these three lapsed initiatives get synergistically combined if we through-run CUS and convert Amtrak’s railyard into a new urban center whose value capture also contributes to paying back the federal loans. The maximization of ETOD comes from redeveloping around other stops moving southward.

This study also proposes how to manage developing this public asset; starting with the 20 mile cross-city corridor from O’Hare to McCormick Place. As the basis for 19th Century real estate development and rail, corridors still may be our best bet to maximize redevelopment. Instead of hoping to get lucky with insolvent and county-based bodies like Metra, consider the corridor of Through-Route Chicago as a public-private hybrid to redevelop while waiting for Illinois to approve how to redesign metropolitan transportation governance.

The second “System” prototypes housing and train policies for Sustainable and Equitable Redevelopment (SER). Particularly important since growth is sputtering after three decades of progress, Chicago’s diffuse redevelopment proposals need the synergy of a through-network. Trains are probably the metro’s chief public asset to boost strategic, sustainable redevelopment. Our goal needs to be to organize this Three Os corridor, however temporarily, to connect the six Chicago assets listed below and create a multiplier.

Referring to the two diagrams above, Through-Route Chicago connects six seriously disjointed redevelopment touch-points that prevent trains from serving Chicago and, by extension, Chicagoland. None of the six disjoints below have a mechanism that will advance SER. If we can connect these six disjoints, the multiplier is its added value is the capital that leads to SER.

a) The proposed Ashland stop (just before the Ogilvie/Union Station through-station) brings two lines to the Fulton Market extension of downtown; currently not connected to the metropolis.

b) The Ogilvie Transportation Center (honoring its champion and Republican Governor shortly after the public takeover of commuter rails) sits only one block from Union Station. Both have air rights that can be developed.

c) The light blue line (above) that goes through the Amtrak railyard is the next downtown extension once it gets transit.

d) Across the river from Amtrak’s railyard is a former railyard vacant for 40 years, now called the “78.” It is still struggling with getting transit options and might help build an ETOD industry.

e) Both The 78 and Amtrak’s yards will get redeveloped faster with the second vital train connection, the 16th Street Flyover (promised a decade ago, but still without funding.)

f) At the joint of the 16th Street Flyover and the south suburban lines is the most recent disjoint; the state-approved development adjacent to Soldier Field whose initial approval was made without municipal input. Governance needs re-organization. 

SER starts when railyard air rights are leveraged to make financial and social capital. The proposed temporary, Corridor authority can develop an enhanced through-network that brings together all the public and private pieces needed for Sustainable and more Equitable Redevelopment. For example, The INVEST Act (Section 2701-03) also should offer federal Technical Assistance for participating civic and nonprofit groups to explore synergies. With this TA and/or also possibly from the USDOT’s BUILD program, the Corridor of this Through-Route can pilot for the next through-route and, eventually, how the metro re-governs its transportation.

Through-Route Chicago is the pilot project of the U.S. Campaign to INVEST in Metropolitan Rail.

Again, we ask that The Through-Route Chicago study be written into the 2021 rendition of The INVEST Act as part of an enhanced Commuter Rail Title. If INVEST continues not to have appropriations, we propose that they study be funded as a loan with the rail yard as collateral.

A Phase 2, Through-Route Chicagoland, will include participating municipalities in Cook County to extend this line and/or explore other through-routes. A Phase 3 will include participating municipalities in the metro’s collar counties who want to redevelop as Chicagoland’s sub-centers.

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“Through-Route Chicago” was last updated on 12/26/20.

Background for concept progression:

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