Chicago Union Station
Chicago Union Station is a major railroad station that opened in 1925 in Chicago, Illinois, replacing an earlier station built in 1881. It is the only remaining intercity rail terminal in Chicago, as well as being the city's primary terminal for commuter trains. The station stands on the west side of the Chicago River between West Adams Street and West Jackson Boulevard, just outside the Chicago Loop. Including approach and storage tracks, it is about nine and a half city blocks in size. Its facilities are mostly underground, buried beneath streets and skyscrapers.
Chicago Union Station is the third-busiest rail terminal in the United States, after Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in New York City. It is Amtrak's overall fourth-busiest station. It handles approximately 120,000 passengers on an average weekday and is one of Chicago’s most iconic structures, reflecting the city’s strong architectural heritage and historic achievements. Its combination of Bedford limestone Beaux-Arts facades, massive Corinthian columns, sparkling marble floors, and magnificent Great Hall, all highlighted by brass lamps, create an environment that captures the imagination of passengers and visitors who enter its premises. In addition to standing out architecturally, Union Station has features that reflect its commitment to sustainability. In 2011, its lighting system was replaced with more energy-efficient light bulbs and motion sensors, reducing the station’s carbon footprint by 4 million tons annually.
Chicago Union Station was designated as one of America’s “Great Places” in 2012 by the American Planning Association (APA). The “Great Places” program by APA highlights places streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces around America that exhibit “exemplary character, quality, and planning.” These places are unique in their cultural and historical significance, sense of community, and vision. Other criteria include “architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement.” Chicago Union Station is considered a “Great Public Space” by APA, for promoting social activity and community cohesiveness. These spaces are safe and inviting, well-maintained, and attractive, both visually and in functionality. In addition, local culture and history are reflected within the space.
- 1 Layout
- 2 History
- 3 Historical services
- 4 Connections
- 5 Future plans
- 6 Trails & Rails and APRHF Rail Rangers program
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Platforms and tracks
Union Station is laid out with a double stub-end configuration, with 10 tracks coming into the station from the north and 14 from the south. Because passenger trains do not pass through Union Station, all passengers traveling through Chicago must change trains to reach their final destination. There are 2 through tracks to allow out-of-service equipment moves between the north and south side, including one with a platform to allow extra long trains to board. Between the north and south sides of the station is a passenger concourse. Passengers can walk through the concourse to get from any platform to any other without stairs or elevators. Odd-numbered platforms (1–19) are on the north half of the station, and even-numbered platforms (2–30) on the south half. The north tracks are used by Amtrak for the Hiawatha Service and the Empire Builder, and by Metra for the Milwaukee District West, Milwaukee District North, and North Central Service routes. The south tracks are used for all of the other Amtrak and Metra services. Two station management structures (known as glasshouses), one on each side of the terminal, monitor train-to-track assignments and the flow of traffic in and out of the station. Actual oversight and control of switching and signalling is accomplished by two "train director" positions, one for each side of the station, located in the Amtrak control center in the headhouse of the station.
Inside the concourse are ticket counters for both Metra and Amtrak services, as well as three waiting rooms and a baggage claim for Amtrak passengers, a set of restrooms, and offices for Metra and Amtrak. The concourse also has a mezzanine level between platform and street level, containing a food court featuring local vendors as well as national chains.
Located west of Canal Street, Union Station's headhouse occupies an entire city block. At its center is the Great Hall, a 110-foot (34 m)-high atrium capped by a large barrel-vaulted skylight. Arrayed around the Great Hall are numerous smaller spaces containing restaurants and services, and a wide passageway leading to the concourse. Above the headhouse are several floors of office space, currently used by Amtrak. Original plans called for many more floors of offices, forming a skyscraper above the Great Hall. This was never completed, although the plan has been revived in recent years.
Numerous entrances provide access to Union Station's underground platform level. The main entrance is on Canal Street opposite the headhouse, but passengers can also reach the platforms directly from the headhouse via an underground passageway. Two secondary entrances are located in Riverside Plaza near the Jackson Boulevard and Adams Street bridges. On Madison Street, directly across from Ogilvie Transportation Center, are a set of entrances to the north platforms.
The current Union Station is the second by that name built in Chicago, and possibly the third rail station to occupy the site. The need for a single, centralized station was an important political topic in 19th and 20th-century Chicago, as various competing railroads had built a series of terminal stations. The numerous stations and associated railyards and tracks surrounded the city's central business district, the Loop, and threatened its expansion. The various stations also made travel difficult for through-travelers, many of whom had to make inconvenient, long, and unpleasant transfers from one station to another through the Loop.
On December 25, 1858 the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad opened as far as Van Buren Street in Chicago. It built the first station at what would eventually become today's Union Station on the west bank of the Chicago River.
On April 7, 1874 five railroads agreed to build and share a union station just north of the original Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago Railroad station site at Van Buren Street. These railroads were:
- Pennsylvania Company (a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad)
- Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad
- Michigan Central Railroad
- Chicago and Alton Railroad
- Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway (The Milwaukee Road)
The Michigan Central, which had previously been using the Illinois Central Railroad's Great Central Station, soon decided to back out of the agreement, and continued to use the Illinois Central Depot. The Chicago and North Western Railway, not part of the original agreement, considered switching to the new station from its Wells Street Station but deferred instead. In 1911 it built the Chicago and North Western Passenger Terminal for its operations.
The remaining four original companies used the station when it opened in 1881. The headhouse of the Union Depot, a narrow building, fronted onto Canal Street and stretched from Madison Street to Adams Street. Tracks led into the station from the south, and platforms occupied a strip of land between the back of the headhouse and the bank of the Chicago River. South of the station, Adams, Jackson, and Van Buren Streets rose over the tracks and the river on bridges.
Planning and construction
Growth in passenger traffic, as well as a civic push to consolidate numerous railroad terminals, led to a proposal for an enlarged Union Station on the same site. The second Union Station would be built by the Chicago Union Station Company. This was a new company formed by all the railroads that had used the first station, save for the Chicago and Alton, which became a tenant in the new station.
The architect was Daniel Burnham of Chicago, who died before its completion. The firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White completed the work to Burnham's designs. Work began on the massive project in 1913, and the station finally opened twelve years later on May 16, 1925; some viaduct work continued into 1927. The construction cost was projected to be $65,000,000. Construction was delayed several times by World War I, labor shortages and strikes. The construction of the station also involved the demolition and relocation of some previously existing buildings such as the Butler Brother's Warehouse along the Chicago River. It is one of about a dozen monumental Beaux-Arts railroad stations that were among the most complicated architectural programs of the era called the "American Renaissance", combining traditional architecture with engineering technology, circulation patterning and urban planning.
Union Station was hailed as an outstanding achievement in railroad facility planning. The station's ornate Beaux-Arts main waiting room, the "Great Hall", is one of the great interior public spaces in the United States. It has vaulted skylight, statuary, and connecting lobbies, staircases, and balconies. Enormous wooden benches were arranged in the room for travelers to wait for connections, and two specially-designed underground taxicab drives were built to protect travelers from the weather. The station featured a large, open concourse along the river, with massive steel arches holding up the roof, and several stairways leading passengers down to the platform.
The large amount of land above the tracks and platforms has tempted property owners and developers. Possibly inspired by the "Terminal City" built atop New York's Grand Central Terminal, Chicago moved to develop the air rights above Union Station's tracks. The first building to be built was that of the Chicago Daily News in 1929. Designed in the Art Deco style, it was the first structure to add a public promenade along the river, which would be named "Riverside Plaza". Soon after, in 1932, the new Chicago Main Post Office opened. Also in the Art Deco style, it was a gigantic structure that occupied two full city blocks.
The Great Depression and subsequent World War II halted development, but in the 1960s, work began on Gateway Center, a Modernist complex of five buildings. Only the first four were built, and construction lasted into the 1980s through several economic cycles.
In 1990 the Morton International Building opened. Now named for Boeing, it is the tallest building yet to be constructed over the tracks. It received awards for its innovative engineering. With the construction of River Point beginning in 2013 and 150 North Riverside  beginning in 2014, the entire length of the tracks from Union Station north to Fulton Street and south to Polk Street has now been enclosed by overhead development.
Wartime, decline, and resurgence
During World War II, Union Station was at its busiest, handling as many as 300 trains and 100,000 passengers daily, many of them soldiers. After the war, however, traffic both at Union Station and on the American passenger rail system declined severely with the growth of highway construction and private ownership of automobiles. In 1969 the expansive Beaux-Arts concourse at Union Station was demolished to make way for a modern office tower. A new, modernized (but smaller) concourse was constructed beneath the tower. In 1970, Amtrak was formed, it bought out the last partner railroad of the Chicago Union Station Company in 1984.
In 1991, this concourse was renovated by Lucien Lagrange Associates. Included was a renovation of the Great Hall, and the restoration of the skylight, which had been blacked-out during the war and not restored. Restoration of Union Station continues. Numerous spaces within the station have yet to be renovated, and many sit unused, especially within the headhouse.
Due to security concerns following the September 11 attacks, the pair of taxicab drives was closed by Amtrak. Passenger traffic has increased and is exceeding the capacity allowed by the 1991 renovation. Numerous improvements have been planned to accommodate the expected growth in passengers from the planned high-speed trains of the proposed Chicago Hub Network.
In 2010, Amtrak (the current owners of the Chicago Union Station Company) announced that the Great Hall would become air-conditioned for the first time since the 1960s. That year a Chicago Tribune investigation revealed high levels of diesel soot on the underground platforms of Union Station. Metra established an "Emissions Task Force" to study this problem and recommend solutions to improve air quality in the underground areas.
Union Station remains a busy place: as of 2007[update], approximately 54,000 people use the station on a daily basis, including 6,000 Amtrak passengers. Union Station currently serves all Amtrak intercity trains to Chicago, as well as Metra commuter rail lines – the North Central Service, Milwaukee District/North Line, Milwaukee District/West Line, BNSF Railway Line, Heritage Corridor and SouthWest Service.
In June 2015, it was announced that Amtrak would be renovating the station, including opening up previously-closed spaces and replacing the worn staircases, with marble from the original quarry near Rome.
Union Station served as a terminal for the following lines and intercity trains:
- Chicago and Alton Railroad – only a tenant, later part of the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad
- Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (Burlington Route)
- Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) – The station housed its corporate offices
- Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway (PRR)
- Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Panhandle) (moved to use the PFW&C approach after April 23, 1917)
- Penn Central Transportation Company (former services of the New York Central Railroad and Michigan Central Railroad) (moved from LaSalle Street Station October 27, 1968)
- Amtrak (began May 1, 1971, moved from Dearborn Station May 2, 1971 and Central Station March 6, 1972 (Floridian moved January 23, 1972); Amtrak's Calumet and Indiana Connection commuter trains also ran into Union Station
Pre-Amtrak major trains
- California Zephyr
- Denver Zephyr
- Twin Cities Zephyrs
- Kansas City Zephyr
- Empire Builder
- North Coast Limited
- Western Star
Chicago and Alton/Gulf, Mobile and Ohio
- Twin Cities Hiawatha
- Midwest Hiawatha
- Pioneer Limited
- Olympian Hiawatha
- City of San Francisco
- City of Los Angeles
- City of Portland
- The Arrow
- The Admiral
- Broadway Limited
- The General
- Cincinnati Daylight Express
- The Fort Pitt
- Pennsylvania Limited
- Manhattan Limited
- South Wind
- Gotham Limited
The name Ann Rutledge was used by Amtrak as a Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City route until a name and service consolidation in 2009. There is also a Lincoln Service that operates in Illinois. See also: Ann Rutledge; Illinois Service; Missouri Service.
|Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad|
|Minneapolis – St. Paul Line|
|Chicago – Columbus||
|Chicago – Cincinnati||
|Chicago – Louisville||
Unlike other major American intercity/commuter rail hubs, such as Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in New York, 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, South Station in Boston, and Union Station in Los Angeles, Union Station does not have any direct connection to local rapid transit service. However, there are several rapid transit stations within walking distance of Union Station, and numerous bus lines that stop directly at Union Station.
- Quincy (3 Blocks east of Station)
- 1 Bronzeville/Union Station
- 7 Harrison
- J14 Jeffery Jump (Madison Entrance)
- 19 United Center Express (Madison Entrance)
- 28 Stony Island
- 56 Milwaukee
- 60 Blue Island/26th (Owl Service)
- 120 Ogilvie/Streeterville Express (Madison Entrance)
- 121 Union/Streeterville Express
- 124 Navy Pier
- 125 Water Tower Express
- 126 Jackson
- 128 Soldier Field Express (Game Day Only)
- 130 Museum Campus (Summer Service Only)
- 151 Sheridan
- 156 LaSalle
- 157 Streeterville/Taylor
- 192 University of Chicago Hospitals Express
- 755 Plainfield/IMD/West Loop Express
A public meeting was held in December 2011 to discuss the future goals and designs of Union Station, with ideas being exchanged on how the station can accommodate the expected 40 percent growth in passengers by 2040. The results of this dialogue were incorporated into the May 2012 Chicago Union Station Master Plan Study. The study, led by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), in collaboration of Amtrak (station owner), Metra (station’s primary tenant), and other local and federal organizations, calls for increasing the station’s capacity and quality of service. According to the City of Chicago’s website on the study, short-term improvements call for improving station entrances and expanding waiting rooms, as well as enhancing bus lanes on Clinton and Canal Streets and creating a bus terminal on Jackson Boulevard between Canal and Clinton. For the medium-term (5- to 10-year horizon), ideas include widening commuter platforms, using unutilized mail platforms for intercity passenger trains, reorganizing facilities for better capacity and flow, and improving street access to and from the station. Long-term, proposals include increasing capacity and improving the ambiance of the station by significantly expanding or replacing station facilities in the 200 or 300 blocks of South Canal Street. Adding track and platform capacity along Clinton Street or Canal Street are also analyzed.
CTA Transit Center
In September 2016, a CTA bus transit center opened adjacent to the Union Station parking garage, and boardered by Canal to the east, Clinton to the west, and Jackson to the south. . The new off-street bus transit center, serves CTA buses. The center is on land that had been occupied by a surface parking lot. It features an elevator and stairway to the Amtrak underground pedestrian tunnel, allowing commuters to pass between Union Station and the bus staging area without crossing at street level.
Trails & Rails and APRHF Rail Rangers program
On certain days of the week, volunteers with the National Park Service's Trails & Rails program provide commentary for Amtrak passengers traveling out of Chicago Union Station. One program operates on select Wolverine and Blue Water trains to New Buffalo, Michigan; it is sponsored by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and has been in operation since May 2011. Volunteers talk about the urban history of Chicago and the sand dunes along the southern part of Lake Michigan. A second program operates on select Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains to Springfield, Illinois; it is sponsored by the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. Volunteers cover such topics as the I&M Canal and Abraham Lincoln. A third Trails & Rails program also operated out of Chicago on the Southwest Chief to La Plata, Missouri between May 18, 2013 and July 19, 2015. This program was sponsored by Texas A&M University and the non-profit American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) in La Plata. Volunteers provided two round-trip programs per week and covered such topics as the "breadbasket" of Illinois, the Mississippi River, and the rolling hills of Northeast Missouri. Despite volunteers no longer being on the train, the reference manual used by Trails & Rails volunteers is still available for passengers at Outside The Rails. After the National Park Service ended its partnership with the APRHF in July 2015, the APRHF launched its Rail Rangers program, which continues to provide a similar service on private railroad car excursions out of Chicago.