To the Editor:

Florence Hamlish Levinsohn’s identification of Milwaukee’s Mitchell International as Chicago’s third airport is correct [July 19], but her story didn’t go far enough. It should have pointed out that what Mitchell needs to succeed as part of Chicago’s intercity travel system is a high-speed (i.e. 150-mile-per-hour-plus) passenger-train connection to Chicago and its north suburbs.

In 1992 the Illinois (now Midwest) High Speed Rail Association performed a study for state senator John J. Cullerton, who then as now was concerned about the possible construction of an expensive third airport. A copy of the study is enclosed. May I call your attention to page 5, where MHSRA noted that TAMS Consultants, Inc., chose not to explore the potential of a high-speed rail link between Chicago and Mitchell in its third-airport feasibility study:

“Currently, Amtrak’s eight daily Chicago-Milwaukee trains pass about a mile west of (Mitchell) airport on the Soo Line Railroad’s double-tracked main line. If a platform were built and a shuttle bus established to meet all trains from Chicago, passengers originating their trips at Chicago Union Station could be inside the terminal at Mitchell in about an hour and 30 minutes. Passengers boarding at Amtrak’s popular Glenview stop could reach the check-in desk at Mitchell in about an hour and 10 minutes. Business travelers could spend the time en route working at their seats.

“This scenario assumes that no changes are made in the existing speeds or operating practices used on this line, which is signalled for a maximum passenger-train speed of 79 miles per hour.

“If the line were re-signalled for speeds of 90-100 miles per hour, the running time from Chicago Union Station to a Mitchell platform would drop to 60 minutes–the same schedule used by the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha passenger trains when they operated over the same route in 1939 behind steam locomotives. The bus shuttle into Mitchell would consume an additional 5-10 minutes.

“The bus shuttle could be eliminated if a bypass track were constructed so as to enable trains to leave the main line, enter the airport property and discharge their passengers inside the air terminal. This system of routing main-line intercity trains into hub airports is used successfully at Zurich, Geneva, Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf and Amsterdam. It will be inaugurated in 1994 at Paris and Lyon.

“Finally, if the existing Chicago-Milwaukee Amtrak route were reconstructed as a true high-speed passenger railroad of the European or Japanese type and equipped with currently available rolling stock capable of speeds above 150 miles per hour, Mitchell would be a 30-minute ride from downtown Chicago and a 15-minute ride from the northern suburbs, making it effectively ‘closer’ in time to most of its Chicago users than O’Hare is today.”

Mitchell does indeed have the capability to serve as Chicago’s third airport, provided only that Chicago-area travelers trying to reach Mitchell are not subjected to the growing rigors and expense of motoring.

And establishing a rail connection to Mitchell would give Chicago’s airport system an additional breather: Because the high-speed trains to Mitchell would continue on to Milwaukee proper, covering the 85 miles between downtown Chicago and downtown Milwaukee in about 45 minutes, they would eliminate some of the 36 daily flights to and from Milwaukee that now congest O’Hare’s gates and landing slots. Since the same trains would offer a Chicago-Minneapolis schedule of about three hours, they would also eliminate many of the 96 flights offered each business day between here and the Twin Cities, along with many of the 28 trips between Milwaukee and Minneapolis and the 44 daily flights between Chicago and Madison.

Just as wood warms you first when you chop it and later when you burn it, high-speed rail can speed you in either of two ways–when you ride it to an airport to catch your plane, or when you ride it all the way to your destination and bypass the airport entirely. If your trip is under 300-400 miles, the high-speed train will get you there in about the same elapsed time as an airline flight plus connecting travel on the ground. All this in total comfort, with a weatherproof on-time record of more than 99 per cent and a 30-year record of zero passenger fatalities.

F.K. Plous

Midwest High Speed Rail Association