Union Station renovates to increase passenger capacity

By Mark Minton

Station since 1984 and has a sort of landlord-tenant relationship with Metra, the largest commuter train company in Chicago.

Amtrak has already relocated several of its offices to a newly renovated building attached to the station. It is working to market the available spaces surrounding the Great Hall, Union Station’s historic waiting room, and more of the unused office spaces in the adjacent eight-story building.

According to the Chicago Union Station Master Plan Study, the next stage will be converting the unused mail platform for commuter use, enhancing existing passenger station facilities to improve flow and rebuilding the Canal Street viaduct for better street access.

Amtrak’s renovations will be significant because Union Station, the third largest railroad terminal in the U.S., is part of an Amtrak railway region that encompasses 22 states, runs 300 trains each weekday and carries about 120,000 arriving and departing passengers, according to Amtrak spokesman, Mark Magliari.

However, the building’s space for passengers isn’t quite sufficient, Magliari said.

“We will greatly be able to increase the amount of coach waiting area that we have,” Magliari said. “Right now, the coach waiting area is badly undersized, and that has not been changed since 1991. And we’ve grown the business quite a bit since then.”

According to Magliari, there is a long-term plan to move part of the current Metra service from Union Station to LaSalle Street Station in an effort to decrease crowding.

“The major issue that Union Station is dealing with is capacity,” Sriver said. “Right now there is insufficient capacity to handle the [current] Amtrak services, the projected growth in the future [and] the Metra commuter services.”

Union Station’s ridership has risen by approximately 1.4 million passengers since 1985 and is expected to see another 40 percent increase by 2040, according to the master study.

The efforts at Union Station are being coordinated as part of the CREATE project, a partnership among freight and passenger railroad companies and state and city government to invest billions of dollars in critical improvements to streamline operations in Chicago, according to Guy Tridgell, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

“We are expanding service to incorporate 110 mph service between Chicago and St. Louis,” Tridgell said. “We believe the improvements that are being made to Union Station will certainly make train travel more attractive, and it will give visitors to Chicago a welcome befitting the land of Lincoln.”

According to Sriver, Union Station plays a pivotal role in rail transportation regionally and nationally.

“One of the reasons why Chicago is such an important job center is that Chicago has access to the entire region’s workforce, and that’s why you see companies moving back downtown and other companies growing downtown because they have access to everybody,” Sriver said. “No matter where you live, you can work downtown [because of Union Station]. That’s the big competitive advantage to Chicago, not only in the region but Chicago as it relates to other cities around the country and around the world.”