On Thursday, July 8, Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined federal elected officials Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (IL-4) alongside state transportation officials to call for federal funds to improving Chicago Union Station and nearby tracks that would make the station a more comfortable and spacious place for passengers and reduce delays on some Amtrak runs.
Union Station in Chicago’s West Loop is a local, regional and national transportation hub. Six of Metra’s 11 lines start at the station, Amtrak trains with destinations inside and outside Illinois start at Union Station, and intercity bus operators like Peoria Charter Bus and Flixbus have routes stopping there. Lightfoot, Durbin and Garcia argued for upgrades totaling $418 million, described in the Chicago Union Station Access Project plan submitted to the Federal Department of Transportation in May.
Lightfoot, Durbin and Garcia were joined by Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner, IDOT Secretary Omer Osman, Metra CEO Jim Derwinski and Cook County DOT Superintendent Sis Killen. Representatives from the Regional Transit Authority, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicago Department of Transportation, Chicago Federation of Labor, Environmental Law and Policy Center and Commercial Club of Chicago were also on hand to show their support. .
If funding is approved, transportation officials from Amtrak, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), the City of Chicago, Metra, Cook County and the Michigan Department of Transportation will need to work together to donate life to their common vision. Senator Dick Durbin provided some context for the interim upgrades: “Chicago Union Station has long been the hub of our passenger rail network in Illinois and the Midwest. Durbin continued, “But it’s time for a new, transformational vision that will improve and grow passenger rail. The $418 million Chicago Union Station Access Project will significantly improve the passenger rail experience to and from Chicago and deliver a range of improvements to passenger rail service in Illinois and throughout our region. I am pleased to join Mayor Lightfoot and regional leaders in pushing this vital project to the finish line.
Now let’s see the proposed improvements:
- Shift Amtrak southbound passenger service from Canadian National tracks between Chicago and Joliet, which should improve on-time performance
- Improve passenger experience by upgrading concourses and platforms to improve passenger flow and provide cleaner air by updating the station’s ventilation system, where currently diesel fumes are emitted by locomotives directly into the platforms where it takes a long time to evacuate the air.
- Increased capacity that will enable new routes and increased frequencies that Amtrak has planned for the Midwest through its “Amtrak Connects Us” initiative. (For example, Amtrak and IDOT offered a route between Chicago and Rockford.)
- Create a new way for passenger trains to access Union Station from the south, which will significantly improve on-time performance for Amtrak and Metra trains. This new path would lead from the St. Charles Air Line at 16th Street directly to the station.
- Improvements that provide direct rail service between O’Hare and McCormick Place via Union Station. This would happen by routing trains from Union Station to the new St. Charles Overhead Line connection, which leads to the Lakeside Railroad that passes under McCormick Place.
A Block Club Chicago Report on the proposed upgrades, declares that Amtrak will cover 20% of the cost and Illinois will cover an additional 20%. A press release from Senator Dick Durbin’s office says that project partners recently requested federal funding of $251 million from the bipartisan government Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act new Mega Grant program, which provides federal funding for major projects “likely to generate national or regional economic, mobility, or security benefits.”
In reviewing statements from local and regional transportation leaders, the comments from IDOT leaders and Environmental Law & Policy Center staff stood out to me. Illinois Secretary of Transportation Omer Osman said, Improvements to Union Station will build on investments made in passenger rail across the state through the historic capital program. and Governor Pritzker’s bipartisan Rebuild Illinois. By working together, as local, state and federal partners, we strengthen our status as a transportation hub in North America.
The Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Howard Learner, shared his thoughts: “Investments in Union Station benefit riders across the region, leverage our investments in high-speed rail, and reduce our carbon footprint when more people take the train and leave their cars at home. It’s good for Chicago, good for the Midwest, and good for the planet.
The Chicago-based High Speed Rail Alliance also supports Amtrak’s goals in the Midwest, centered on Union Station, particularly as they relate to and support better rail connections between O’Hare and destinations beyond. beyond the city.
I wholeheartedly agree with Howard and hope that federal funding will be approved so that needed upgrades come to our city, state, and region.