A Hyperloop to O’Hare?

Elon Musk is keen to build a Hyperloop connection from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to downtown. In a tweet earlier tonight Musk announced that The Boring Company will be one of the contenders for the project as the city opened the initial phase of the infrastructure project. Potential vendors must submit their qualifications by January 24, 2018; only those who pass muster will then be invited to formally bid to complete the project.

One unique aspect of this infrastructure project is that it must be built and operated 100% with private funds. The project spec’s as announced are clear that all construction and operating costs must be borne by the the winning party.

Service is expected to operate with a maximum of 15 minute headways for the majority of the day. That level of connectivity would match or exceed some of the best airport-city connections globally today. But that connectivity will come at a price to passengers. The RFQ notes an expected price range less than a taxi or ride-hailing service. That puts the fare cap somewhere in the $40 range.

A winning bid priced at the top of the permissible range would likely be a losing proposition, however. That price point is higher than nearly every other other express transit option in service today. Even the Heathrow Express train, generally the high-end barometer against which other such services are measured, is only £25 (~$33). Not only does a $40 car get a traveler directly to their end destination rather than to a train station but it also can carry more than one traveler.

The train will almost certainly be faster and time is valuable. But pricing at the top end of what consumers typically pay, particularly in a US market where rail services are not as well accepted, could prove a fatal decision for any such system. Then again, these things aren’t cheap to build.

The City identified three potential routes for the service to take – the MTA Blue Line, the Metra North Central Line or along freight rights-of-way. The system can operate on the surface or underground, depending on the winning bid.

With the construction costs almost certain to be ridiculously high it is also possible that the only viable option for this project is a company that can use the effort as an R&D investment and marketing towards similar future projects. Combine that with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s apparent love for the Hyperloop project and, well, it might actually happen.

At least this time we’re not hearing of “verbal govt approval” for a service that likely didn’t really happen.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I’ve had to position in Chicago via mdw to ord with uber a few times. It would be fantastic if this happened and ran to each airport.

    1. No details on a run to Midway yet. And I wouldn’t hold my breath. That’s a few billion more in investment that would also be hard to turn a profit on.

  2. It is CTA Blue Line. MTA is in New York. 🙂

    I don’t see any viable alternatives, really. Blue Line tracks aren’t rated for the speed they need – earlier plans for an express train proposed a 30 min ride at a cost of $2B+. Metra NCS already shares tracks with freight traffic; good luck trying to maintain operational reliability. Also, Metra station would need to be moved closer to terminals to be usable.

    Hyperloop seems like an overkill though. Why not have a regular monorail run inside a tunnel dug by the Boring Co.?

    1. MTA, CTA, pshaw…

      Agree that any dedicated right-of-way with nonstop service could meet the required time;.hyperloop isn’t a necessity. But dedicated track is key. But if you’re Musk and you’ve gone through all the trouble of digging a tunnel why wouldn’t you use the project for an R&D job to build and test operation of the new shiny toy in a commercial setting. Sure, it is a few billion dollars at risk, but he’s done that plenty of times already. And a few of them even seem to be working (though maybe not profitable).

  3. Without using an existing right of way/rail corridors, there is no financially viable way of building such a line, let alone operation costs. A hyperloop tunnel/tube would be even more expensive than running dedicated non-stop trains in an existing corridor given the cost of construction alone. As Toronto discovered with its rail link from/to YYZ, high fares scare off users. When the one-way fare was cut from $25 to $10 ridership surged from virtually nothing to often over crowded trains!

    1. Yup…agreed on all counts. But getting unrestricted access to the existing rail right-of-way is going to be a problem. Metra isn’t going to want to give that up. Neither will the freight folks. And the Blue Line from the CTA serves more than just the airport. Making this happen will take VERY deep pockets, particularly as it is being forced to a private company. I get it from a no taxes/de-risk to the public perspective, but this is a public infrastructure project and should be treated as such.

  4. What a waste. At least the city wouldn’t be paying for it, but unless you’re on an expense account, why pay 6x as much (CTA fare is $5) for something that will save maybe 15 minutes at most, possible less.

    1. The CTA blue line from ORD to Clark/Division is 45 minutes (without delays). So at a minimum, the hyperloop would save 30 mins.

      1. Except the hyperloop would leave much less frequently, maybe every 15 minutes. And it would probably only stop at the terminus, meaning most users would have to walk/take a cab to their final destination.

  5. It is less than 20 miles from downtown to ORD.
    At 90 mph that is less than 14 min
    180 mph is less than 7 min.
    Hyperloop speed is >700 mph which is a travel time of less than 2 min.

    If you could travel from downtown to ORD in ten min you would be very happy.
    A conventional fast train is all that is needed.
    How much extra could be charged to save 8 min?

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