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Daley pushes plan for high-speed train to O’Hare

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Chicago is taking the first concrete step toward realizing Mayor Daley’s dream of building a fast train from downtown to O’Hare Airport — privately financed and operated and priced at a premium.

Seven months after appointing a heavyweight panel of business and labor leaders to study the idea, City Hall plans to issue a “request for information” from “technology companies, manufacturers, designers, contractors and financiers.”

The solicitation will be issued after Daley and a delegation of civic and business leaders return March 30 from a 12-day trip to China to market Chicago as a destination for Chinese tourists and business investment.

But Daley plans to use the trip to five Chinese cities, including Hong Kong and Beijing, to pitch a project he hopes will someday be his transportation legacy to Chicago.

“The high-speed train from O’Hare to downtown Chicago would be the first of its kind in America. That’s to rebuild our commercial and residential market downtown,” the mayor said.

“You arrive at the airport and come downtown in 20 minutes. Same thing with tourists. Instead of taking two hours, three hours to get out to the airport sometimes, you’re out in 20 minutes.”

Daley said the 17-member committee chaired by industrialist Lester Crown has “interviewed many sovereign funds” and is “moving very rapidly” to line up financing “alternatives.”

“In America, infrastructure can only be built by government [and] government doesn’t have the money. You can’t tax people anymore. So you get sovereign funds and private funds to be able to invest in infrastructure projects that have national consequences,” the mayor said.

“We should not be worried about foreign investments. They are investing in our country. They are investing in business. They are investing in our work force. They are not buying our country. America has invested in the rest of the world. They were welcome investments. And we have to welcome investments from China.”

Citing interest already expressed by investors from China, Japan and the Middle East, Daley gave Crown a mandate that “no city money’’ be used to build or operate the “separate private system.’’

Asked Thursday if that would be possible, Crown said, “We’re gonna find out when these different proposals come in. A lot of them have shown a lot of interest. But until it becomes specific, it’s all speculation. When they come in, we’ll see what the story is on the operational side and the financial side.’’

Is the mayor now convinced that the project will actually be built?

“Am I confident? No one’s 100 percent confident. Then, you say the mayor is arrogant. You cannot have that headline, please. [But] I firmly believe that there’s a willingness . . . all over the world to invest in infrastructure, since America doesn’t have enough tax money. It’s a necessity. We have to have this. We can’t print more money. We need foreign investment. And if it comes from China, yes, I’m gonna welcome that.”

In London, air travelers pay $25 for the Heathrow Express.

Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino refused to speculate on the possible cost of a Chicago fare.

She simply called it a “better service” targeting business travelers.

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