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Airport 2050 - Part 4: Where is Terminal 4?

Meeting Details:

Next meeting: Feb 21st: 8:00pm, Zoom:


Question of the Week:

1) What would make the freight railroads support Build Back Better & High Speed Rail?

2) Where is terminal 4 at O'Hare?



  • Blue Skies Competition/White Paper

  • Plan for Engineering Expo

  • Faster Headlines

  • Coal & Rail

  • O'Hare High Speed Rail Station


Faster Headlines

Wheels on Steel:


Railway Age


Youtube | CNBC

In the Tube:

The Texan

Up in the Air:

Simple Flying

Youtube | B1M


Freight Rail & Lack of Support for The Build Back Better Plan

Once upon time, rail was the preeminent form of transport in the US. This lasted till about the 1950s, when passenger transport moved to automobiles and airplanes. However, the freight rail system in the United States still evolved to become one of the most efficient freight transport systems in the world. As the early 2022 port backups demonstrated, it is easy to get goods on ships to the US. However, it is the rail system that efficiently moves those good throughout the country (the major port bottleneck being the delayed transfer of goods to rail). The railroad industry is freight…and specifically the efficient movement of bulk cargo throughout the nation.

Which brings us to commodities. Yes, the railroad industry does efficiently ship manufactured and agricultural goods. However, the base of everything the freight rail industry moves is coal. According to the AAR circular: What Railroads Haul, coal represents 14% of all revenue railroads and 25% of the tonnage carried.

The reason coal is so important to the railroad industry is coal mining originates in just 5 states, but is used by 90% of power generation in the US. So the freight rail industry is the distribution system throughout the US. However, coal production is down. The all time high of production was in 2008 when 1.17 billion tons were moved, but coal production is down 54% in in 2020 to only 477 million tons.

So ironically, when it comes to sustainability the freight rail industry has a problem. Yes, it has made great strides in more efficient train operations, and a train does pollute less than moving the same tonnage over trucks. However, the freight rail industry is still dependent on dirty forms of energy for revenue. This puts the rail industry in a quagmire.

This is likley why NSF donated to Senator Joe Manchin’s Country Roads PAC in January following the senators announcement that he will not support the Build Back Better bill. This also makes it unlikely that the Senator will change his position on the bill, since it really is not about the child credits. Again, it is this is the problem of changing American's economic base as it pursues alternative green energy; with coal at the center.


The Airport of 2050:

Part 4, O'Hare's New Terminal 4

Where is terminal 4 at Chicago O’Hare? United has terminal 1, terminal 2 is Delta/United, terminal 3 is American/Spirit, and 5 is the international terminal. But where is terminal 4?

Until the early 1990s there actually was a terminal 4, but it was on the ground floor of the parking garage, behind the Hilton Hotel. The parking garage terminal 4 came about because from the 1950s until the 1970s, terminal 1 was the international terminal. This terminal was not the architectural wonder that is today’s United terminal. This terminal was a dark and cold basic terminal used for international flights. United was in terminal 2 at that time but was quickly out growing that terminal. So, Chicago aviation authority decided it was going to hardstand all international planes and built a check-in lobby on the bottom floor of the new parking garage. Passengers would then clear security in the parking garage and board a bus which transported them to their planes parked out on the tarmac. This was to be terminal 4.

In 1987 United’s terminal 1 opened, and construction began on the new international terminal. But terminal 4 was still open during the transition. To avoid confusion the new international terminal would be named…. Terminal 5. Eventually all international flights would be moved from the parking garage terminal 4 to the international terminal 5 and the old terminal in the parking garage would be repurposed for coach buses and shuttles.

A New Terminal 4?

Terminal 4 was to be reborn in the 2008 O’Hare Modernization Plan as a terminal on the far western side of the airport. The new Elgin-O’Hare Expressway would provide a western access to this new terminal very similar to how in London Heathrow Terminal 5 was built for British Airways on the west side of the airport separate from the other terminals.

However, United and American didn’t want the vast new terminal (because Delta, or Southwest could build a hub). So instead, the O’Hare Modernization plan was updated with a new terminal 4, but this time it was to be a multi-model parking garage for airport workers. So once again, while big plans were made for a terminal 4, it just ended up as a parking garage-again.

What if instead of a parking garage for employees, terminal 4 could be a regional high speed rail terminal?

The reason this is possible is because as anyone who has driven on Elmhurst Road knows, Union Pacific has double tracks and a rail yard on the western edge of the airport. Next to (or over) the Union Pacific tracks could be built dedicated high speed rail infrastructure. Employee parking could still be there but imagine a Hongqiao or Orlando International Airport setup where an underground people moved connecting passengers from the new terminal 2 transfers passengers to high-speed trains spreading out to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Detroit, or St. Louis.

On the lowest level of Terminal 4 would be an extension of the CTA's Blue Line and the inter terminal tram. Mid-level would be up to 10 clean and gleaming loading platforms for high-speed trains leaving in every direction along with Metra trains rerouted from the Milwaukee West Line linking O’Hare with Schaumburg, and Elgin.The upper level would then be a bright open concourse for passengers to wait for their trains.To the east would be parking spaces for additional backup aircraft parking and to the west would be the Elgin O’Hare Expressway as well as new hotels and office buildings.The result would not only be a new terminal complex for O’Hare that could replace all those gates used for short regional flights at the current terminals.


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