Mayor Rahm Emanuel is talking to entrepreneur Elon Musk about the possibility of the technology investor and SpaceX founder using a high-tech digger to bore out an underground high-speed rail line connecting downtown to O’Hare International Airport.
On Monday, Emanuel described the discussions as preliminary, but said he plans to have Musk’s team here to see if digging a rail line makes more sense than other possibilities like using an existing railroad right-of-way or double-decking the CTA Blue Line to speed travelers to and from the airport.
The mayor resurrected the long-discussed high-speed train in early 2016, a dream predecessor Richard M. Daley had talked about off and on since the early 1990s. Emanuel sees it as a way to improve Chicago’s profile with business travelers who don’t mind spending $20 or more for a quick trip downtown from the airport on a European-style fast train, as well as continue his own efforts to build a legacy as a transportation infrastructure leader.
Emanuel has given scant details on the funding for such a huge transportation endeavor, though his administration said in February that it had hired former federal transportation official Bob Rivkin to “provide legal expertise in identifying a clear path forward and working with potential partners” with the goal of starting the project within the next three years. Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans has said the administration would like to go out for bids by the end of this year.
It’s unclear how soon Musk’s futuristic digging company could get to work, but an underground rail line would likely take many years to construct, at great cost.
Speaking to reporters Monday after an event with police recruits, Emanuel confirmed there had been talks with Musk about the project.
“The other day, because of contact I’ve had with Elon Musk and his operation for a kind of a tunnel project rather than an existing rail project to be taken over, I sent a team out to look at his tunnel digger as part of this project,” Emanuel said.
“He has expressed an interest in what Chicago’s doing. And I think that it would be a tremendous investment and job creator, an economic engine for the city that will pay dividends for decades ahead,” Emanuel added. “They have shown interest, and now I’ve asked them to come to the city of Chicago, after I sent my team out to California, Southern California to explore it and explore their interest. They are very interested, and we’re going to have them now out to the city to explore further what we are doing and planning, and too see if the tunnel approach is an alternative to the ones we’ve been discussing.”