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