$12 million in fixes for Union Station; another step in major renovation

(CHICAGO) Amtrak will announce Thursday a $12 million renovation project at Union Station that will include rehab of the marble stairway made famous in the movie “The Untouchables” as well as plans to commission a redesign of the often-congested concourse area where commuters board and de-board trains, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Improvements will also be made to the station’s facade and updates will be made to the sprinkler and temperature control systems.

More than 120,000 people make their way through the 90-year-old station every day, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

The improvements are part of a multi-billion dollar master plan that is a collaboration by Amtrak, Metra and the Illinois and City Departments of Transportation.

“Amtrak and Metra ridership has grown significantly since the 1991 reconfiguration of the concourse level,” Magliari said. “We’ve outgrown that design.”

New doors will be added to help control the building’s heat and prevent bursting pipes, which occurred twice this month to the sprinkler system.

Amtrak is seeking permission from the city’s landmark commission to rehab the iconic steps leading from the Great Hall to Canal Street that were famously used by actors Kevin Costner and Andy Garcia to stage a Prohibition-era shootout in the movie “The Untouchables.”

“We’re going to maintain the look of the steps,” Magliari said. “But you can definitely see where all those feet have fallen over 90 years.”

Visitors take pictures on the steps daily, Magliari said.

“We want to make sure we do everything we can maintain the integrity of the building as the landlord and owner,” Magliari said.

The cramped, overcrowded concourses at the station prompted Metra officials late last year to unveil plans to better handle the crush of commuters that can occur during service disruptions.

That included posting maps and distributing fliers to explain those contingency plans to riders.

More details will be announced Thursday, according to a news release issued by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. That news release also noted that Emanuel “is actively working with Amtrak, the state and Metra to secure the additional funds necessary to support this modernization. Bringing Union Station into the 21st century will bring economic opportunities to residents throughout the City.”

Amtrak has been pondering major work on the station for some time.

In September, officials had outlined plans to improve the station by widening commuter platforms, providing CTA buses off-street parking and potentially using old underground tunnels to open up space that could eventually lead to direct-to-airport rail routes.

The Metropolitan Planning Council had invited people to submit other ideas, and the winners included reinventing the Great Hall by putting down artificial turf and installing a hammock, space for tetherball and an area for yoga and aerobics classes.

Another idea floated at that time was to use the Canal Street viaduct area for a steakhouse, and to open shops and restaurants in the station so people would want to stroll around or have business lunches there, said Kara Riggio, a planning council associate.

At that September briefing, Jeffrey Sriver, director of transportation planning and programming for the Chicago Department of Transportation, outlined several plans:

Installing enhanced bus lanes and larger bus stations starting up Canal Street and going east on Washington, then west on Madison and south on Clinton. The new bus lanes and bicycle lanes would take up two of the four lanes that now exist on Washington and Madison streets. The project would be part of what is called the “Central Area Bus Rapid Transit” system, providing faster bus travel to the Loop and Millennium Park; construction on the $32 million project is expected to start this year.

Creating a surface parking lot just south of the station for CTA buses — the city is now in the process of buying the property — to give more space to cars, cabs and pedestrians. That project also would include a canopied exit and an underground pathway directly into Union Station, so bus riders wouldn’t have to cross Jackson Boulevard or go outdoors. The bus terminal is part of the $32 million Central Area Bus Rapid Transit project.

Widening commuter platforms to 22 feet wide from their current 12 feet, and “squeezing in a few” more stairways and an escalator and elevator straight up to Jackson or Van Buren exits and entrances. No date is set for this project, but it is estimated to cost $50 million to $100 million, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council’s master plan.

Using what Sriver described as “a hidden trove of space” — unused former mail service areas located South and East of passenger tracks alongside the Chicago River — as a new underground passageway that would open into a giant basement underneath the train platforms. No date has been set for the project. Its estimated cost is $50 million to $100 million, the master plan shows.

Besides the fact that Union Station is overcrowded, a state transportation official described how new high-speed-rail service will bring even more traffic into the site.

Joe Shacter, director of public and intermodal transportation for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said also said last year that IDOT was working with the city, Metra, Amtrak and others to expand passenger waiting areas so people can sit down while waiting for trains, and to improve Union Station’s design so the trains run on schedule and riders can find their trains more easily.


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