Union Station master plan public meeting is Thursday


Photo of Amtrak and Metra trains at Union Station by Eric Pancer. 

Read the event review for this meeting.

Come to the Great Hall at Union Station on Thursday, December 15, 2011, from 4 to 7 PM, for a presentation and open house on the Union Station Master Plan. The Great Hall is in the original Union Station building, at 210 S Canal Street – the meeting will be in the southwest corner.

The meeting will be an open house, with experts and visuals explaining ideas to increase capacity for more trains, people, and traffic on nearby streets. A narrated presentation will be made at 4:30 p.m. and again at 6 p.m., allowing commuters to attend before boarding trains home. The study, which has been in progress for about one year, has been a collaborative effort led by the City of Chicago’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) with extensive participation from Amtrak (the station’s owner), Metra (the station’s primary tenant), and other stakeholders.

Why is Union Station being looked at for renovation? There are a couple reasons, which I’m sure many of our Metra- and Amtrak-riding readers experience:

  • Two through tracks limits train capacity and operational flexibility. Passengers traveling through Chicago must change trains. With a through track, it would be possible to have a single train that travels from Champaign-Urbana to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  • More people board trains at Union Station than airplanes at Midway Airport (1) – it can be crowded, with thousands of passengers carrying luggage and boarding trains to the suburbs and other cities. The current configuration limits expanding train and passenger capacity.
  • The Metropolitan Planning Council has written more on the station’s shortcomings and ideas for improvement.


From CDOT’s February 2010 application for funding to the United States Department of Transportation.

One question I have is how this master plan, still in development, and its proposed bus intermodal center (2), will impact Megabus passengers and operations. People who ride Megabus to or from Chicago are picked up and dropped off on the sidewalk at Canal and Jackson. The lack of a shelter or station reduces Megabus operations cost (leading to very low fares) but is uncomfortable – paramedics responded to waiting Megabus passengers with heat-related illness in summer 2010.  I’ll be attending this meeting to learn more.


1. From the Midwest High Speed Rail Association’s website: DowntownAirport.com.

2. An intermodal center is a place designed to facilitate a transit passenger’s quick and comfortable change in modes. The Chicago Department of Transportation completed this year an intermodal center at the LaSalle Street Station: see photos.

8 thoughts on “Union Station master plan public meeting is Thursday”

    1. You’re right: I misunderstood what I was reading. The station indeed has two through tracks. What people have written, including the MHSRA on its Downtown Airport website, and the Metropolitan Planning Council, is that having only two through tracks is a limiting factor in the station’s capacity and operational flexibility. I’ve corrected the line. 

      1. It’s not just your article though, I’m reading that all over the place, so I’m assuming it’s in the materials they’re handing out.

  1. I like the idea of having an intermodal center there.  The current situation is just a huge mess and it doesn’t work well for anyone.  I hope that a redesign will clean up traffic flow and make the area safer and more comfortable for passengers (and people just trying to pass through).

    Inside the station, it’s been such a rat maze since the food court was shoehorned in there.  Signage and ped traffic flow are poor at busy times.  If one is not a regular user of the station with solid navigational knowledge, it’s a good idea to allow at least 5 minutes extra for wrong turns, or risk missing the train.  If they can come up with a more efficient design, I’d be very happy.  Part of the signage issue is visual clutter.  The food court hasn’t helped with that.  When I was house hunting, I was grateful NOT to end up in a neighborhood served by a train out of Union Station so that I wouldn’t have to deal with this dysfunctional station on a regular basis.

    I’ve really been appreciating the intermodal center at LaSalle St. station since it opened – whether or not I’m connecting to CTA there.  It has improved connection times and reduced the ped traffic exiting to Van Buren and LaSalle.  I often take my bike on the Rock Island.  When I leave the station downtown, reaching destinations to the south, east or west used to be much more difficult, requiring a long walk in pedestrian traffic up to Van Buren.

    Now I can exit the station at Congress and Financial Pl., go south on Financial Pl. to Harrison, then use Harrison to travel east or west, or continue south on Financial Pl.  My only frustration with this is the fact that Financial Pl. is designated one way here, with no provision for bike traffic.  The western lane (with a few marked parking spaces) has been blocked off with cones for months.  How about a contraflow lane for bikes here? 

    I’ll be curious to see how a Union Station redesign accommodates bike access to trains.

  2. What I am worried about is the “improved bus priority lanes”.
    Both Canal and Clinton are incredibly busy with all modes of traffic already. I
    worry about the impact of these bus priority lanes on other mode shares.
    “Hell hath no fury like a commuter trying to makes his evening train.” 😉

    See here for the proposed bus priority lanes:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *