Friday, June 15, 2018

Zeppelins, monorails and, now, Rahm’s rich folks underground railroad

Elon Musk, left, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel discuss their big train plans beneath Block 37 on Thursday.

     The problem with Chicago is ...
     Nope, that's not right. "The problem" suggests there's just one, when of course there are many.
     Many, many problems.
     Start again.
     Among the problems facing Chicago...
     How you finish that sentence depends on who you are.
     I'm tempted to say that, among all our pressing problems, from schools to cops to pensions to crime to infrastructure, "You just can't get to O'Hare fast enough" qualifies for the list only if followed by "said no one ever."
     I go to O'Hare often, for work or pleasure. Usually, I admit, leaving early from the leafy suburban paradise, which means American Taxi does the deed for $31 plus tip.
     But if I'm downtown, catching an afternoon flight, I jump on the Blue line, pay $2.50. It lets me off inside O'Hare. Can't do better than that.
     Yes, it takes 40 minutes of my super-valuable time. Yet never did I — or, I would wager, anybody — ever think: "If only some South African billionaire would show up and offer to dig an underground tunnel to speed me to the airport at 100 miles per hour. That would shave half an hour off the trip."  

     No matter. Elon Musk has a new company — The Boring Company, a delightful name. And, out of the goodness of his heart, Musk is offering to spend $1 billion of his own money — well, of somebody's money — to put in the system, which will charge between $20 and $25 for the silent trip in a jumbo subterranean Tesla.
     Split the difference and say $22.50, or $20 more than the "L." Doing the math — which Tesla's investors have been doing more vigorously lately, now that the blush is going off the plans of the visionary businessman — those heading to the airport on the "L" instead of Musk's system would effectively be paid $40 an hour to check their iPhone on a train as opposed to doing so while sitting at Terminal 3. A pretty good deal for most people.
     In my 30 years at the Sun-Times I've seen my share of lofty schemes: circulator trams and monorails and floating island airports. They never happen for the simple reason that announcing grand plans is easy while achieving them is hard.
     And nothing makes my hand shoot to my wallet faster than the phrase "at no cost to taxpayers."
     Which is not what Rahm said regarding his new Busy Rich Folks Underground Express to O'Hare. His phrase was "zero dollars from the public." "At no cost to taxpayers" was Rich Daley talking about Millennium Park, which ended up setting back taxpayers about $100 million.
     Not that I'm complaining. Gotta love that Bean. But still. How stupid does Rahm think we are?
     Don't answer that.

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  1. You hit the nail on the head here.

  2. The problem is that the City's problems, school, cops, pensions, infrastructure, are insoluble...for all practical purposes. There certainly are solutions: mostly more money from the taxpayers, but that ain't happening. While this O'Hare extravaganza cost absolutely nothing, well almost nothing -- I'm sure we'll pay something somehow to get this done, if it ever even gets started. But it looks good. We may be down at the heels, but we're wearing the very latest fashions, thank you.


  3. I think it is a last ditch effort to impress the Bezos gang that we are still the city that works!

  4. Personally, I'd be happier if they did something to improve public transportation between the Metra stations and downtown. I vaguely remember someone looking into some sort of express bus service, but that got dropped because--I dunno, they discovered they couldn't move back all the buildings to create an extra traffic lane, or something.

  5. Something about this reminds me of the much ballyhooed Lucas museum.

  6. That Trib headline reminded me of the extremely unsuccessful Chicago, St. Charles & Mississippi Airline.
    What we ended up with, is the St. Charles Airline Railroad tracks, all less than a mile around 16th St. as that's all that was built before they went bankrupt.

    1. Look up "Chicago-New York Electric Air Line Railroad" at Wikipedia. That's what I first thought the Tribune headline was about, but that happened in 1906, not 1923. A 750-mile straightaway, with electric railcars running at up to 100 mph, was envisioned. Chicago to New York in ten hours! That was half the time the steam railroads took to make the trip.

      All that was ever built were a few stretches in northern Indiana, some consisting of huge embankments up to two miles long, and several deep cuts through hilly areas. Those elaborate construction projects, costing millions in 1906 dollars, plus the recession of 1907, helped kill the Air Line.

      A few ornate wooden electric cars ran on a few dozen miles of track and overhead catenary. That's all that ever got completed. The cars had destination signs that said "New York" at one end and "Chicago" at the other end. That was as close as they ever got to either place.

  7. Doing it with a tunnel seems fanciful, but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the objective. In London the Heathrow Express, which cut the tedious trek into the city to 20 minutes was transformative.


  8. You would have to get downtown to ride this thing so how much time does it really save for most commuters? Better to submerge the Blue Line to O'Hare and widen the Kennedy. Three lanes from the second busiest airport to the second largest inner city is a laughable situation. Not a Green idea? We need those extra lanes now and can always convert them to dedicated bus lanes later.


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