What do Elon Musk's high-speed train plans mean for Chicago neighborhoods?

Right now, it takes about a 40-minute ride on the CTA Blue Line to travel from the Loop to O’Hare Airport. Last year, Chicago asked for proposals for a new express train that would cut that transit time down to 20 minutes or less. The city received four proposals and has officially selected the bid from Elon Musk’s The Boring Co., according to the Chicago Tribune.

CTA Blue Line O'Hare station photo by Shutterstock

Where will the train route run?

When Chicago first started accepting bids, three potential routes were put on the table: the CTA Blue Line, the Metra North Central line, and the freight railroads that run to Forest Park and then the airport.

No official route has been announced for the high-speed train tunnels, but Boring could be aiming to build a route that would follow Randolph Street; go under the Kennedy Expressway, Milwaukee Avenue, Elston Avenue, and the Kennedy again; and then track toward O’Hare, according to the Tribune report.

If this route moves forward, the train tunnels—made using Musk’s tunneling technology—could run under several neighborhoods like the Loop, River West, and Pulaski Park

Just how much construction will affect the neighborhoods has yet to be seen. Musk seems confident his technology will be hardly noticeable. "If someone can even detect that we're digging beneath them, we want to buy the technology they invented," he said, according to CBS News.

In addition to the tunnels, Boring will also build a new station at O’Hare and the Block 37 development in the Loop, according to the Tribune report. 

How much will the project cost?

Boring is shouldering the cost of the entire project, which is expected to fall beneath the $1 billion mark, according to the Tribune report. Musk’s company will keep any revenue generated by the high-speed train system.

Once the trains are up and running, passengers can expect to pay $20 to $25 to catch a ride on the transit system that will run 30 to 60 feet beneath the surface of the city, according to the CBS News report.

When will the train begin operating?

Boring and the city are still ironing out a number of details—including safety and environmental impact questions—so a firm timeline for completion has yet to be determined, according to the Tribune report. But, if Musk gets his way, the trains will be ferrying people—up to 2,000 per hour—to and from the airport within three years, according to the CBS News report. On this timeline, Boring could begin digging the tunnels this year.

Could areas outside the city benefit?

Obviously, people living in the Loop and nearby neighborhoods will see less travel time—whether for business or pleasure—to and from the airport. But, the city’s suburbs could also benefit from the new transit system. DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman predicts Des Plaines and Rosemont will have plenty to gain from Musk’s plan. “This system will be a big win for Des Plaines and Rosemont, which will gain an ultrafast link to downtown from a station only a few minutes away,” he told the Daily Herald. Plus, the major project will likely mean new jobs for people living in the city and its suburbs.

Will the plan come to fruition?

Musk’s plan is certainly ambitious and futuristic. “Skates”—battery-operated electric vehicles—will speed down the underground tunnels at 125 to 150 miles per hour, according to the Daily Herald report. Yet, there are no guarantees the project will see the light of day, figuratively speaking. 

Chicago has had a number of other ambitious transit projects that have failed to make it past the early stages. The STAR Line was going to create a loop connecting O’Hare, Hoffman Estates, and Joliet. The plan fizzled out several years ago. The Prairie Parkway was another such lapsed project. This transit plan would have connected I-88 near Elburn to I-80 near Minooka.

This may not be the fate of this new project, but Musk didn’t shy away from the possibility. "If we fail, well, I guess me and others will lose a bunch of money,” he said, according to the CBS News report.

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