Vision for a North-South Connector in Chicago

August 7, 2013 at 3:05 am

Yesterday I wrote about my 3 wishes for the RTA if it were to begin acting like a true regional transportation authority. One of those wishes was a reliable, fast north-south connection throughout Chicago.

I enjoy making maps of conceptual transportation systems (here’s my US high-speed rail map) and I thought I’d share one that embodies the north-south connection concept. It is inspired slightly by systems like the RER in Paris and future Crossrail in London that traverse cities in an express fashion that compliments existing public transportation. It may run alongside existing service and connects with stub-end stations that serve commuter rail (like Paris St-Lazare or London Paddington).

Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

Please note that the service and stops are by no means analyzed for population density or need, other than my knowledge that most of the lakeside neighborhoods in Chicago are very heavily populated and that fast north-south service is lacking. I have not put a lot of time into analyzing the feasibility of a line like this.

The northern portion of the service, Davis St to Clybourn, runs on existing right-of-way (paralleling the Metra UP-N service). The underground portion from Clybourn to McCormick Place is new tunnel (yes, it’s expensive) and connects the un-connected Union and Ogilvie stations. The southern portion, from McCormick Place to Blue Island, runs along existing Metra Electric right-of-way.

For service such as this to be fast and reliable, electrification is necessary. The southern portion (Metra Electric) is already electrified. The trains would likely be some sort of hybrid between CTA’s rail cars and Metra trains: able to hold many passengers like Metra, but runs and looks like a CTA car. The absence of tight curves found in the Loop mean the cars can be articulated (joined), enabling passengers to move about the train, and the doors could be wider and more numerous, speeding boarding and reducing delay.

A shorter Bombardier Electric Multiple Unit train in use in Switzerland, potentially what a Connector service train could look like – if the FRA’s safety standards would ever get out of the way.

The line is designed to move passengers quickly from Evanston, the north side, to downtown and the south side (and vice versa). I will admit that it does not do a good job serving Chicago’s existing transit-lacking neighborhoods. It doesn’t connect with either airport or many tourist destinations. The idea is feasibility through use of existing right-of-way.

Too often in American cities now, with budget crises and limited means, transportation agencies are reluctant to build any new heavy rail, opting instead to speed up bus service by creating bus rapid transit or light rail. However, both options only marginally improve speed in the grand scheme of things – there are still many other people to move throughout the city.

Please leave comments and criticism below. What’s your idea for moving lots of people quickly throughout Chicago and beyond?

Update: Read my follow-up addressing the need and scope of a project like this.