Amtrak Gains Support For Union Station And Regional Rail Expansion From Across The Midwest

Interior image of Union Station renovation via Union Station

New details and support has been revealed for proposed upgrades to Union Station in West Loop Gate and regional rail infrastructure. The historic headhouse at 225 S Canal Street just west of the city’s financial district has seen extensive upgrades in the last few years, including having the glass roof of its grand hall restored and sealed. Now it will be the centerpiece of the Midwest’s future rail strategy which is seeking funds from the recently announced $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill, led by Amtrak and the City of Chicago.

Historical ad for Union Station via Union Station

In recent years, Amtrak has seen a resurgence in popularity as the national rail carrier, with millions across the nation demanding a state-of-the-art rail system up to par with that seen abroad. The demands also call for high-speed rail, with the closest currently being Amtrak’s Acela on the East Coast which reaches a max speed of 150 mph for small periods, compared to Europe where similar routes reach up to 198 mph for extended periods. While this is due to a variety of reasons including the amount of roads crossing tracks in the US, a large part also ties back to lack of funding and ridership.

Interior image of Union Station post renovation via Union Station

Current route map for Amtrak via Amtrak Guide

However Amtrak and regional supporters see a new era of intercity passenger train travel on the horizon with Chicago at its heart as it has been for decades as America’s rail capital. More tracks pass through the city than anywhere else in the nation with numbers predicting up to 40 percent of all rail cargo in the nation touching the greater area. This is coupled with access to global airports, recreation, and general tourism to create the regional document requesting $251 million from the grant to go towards an $850 million project that includes upgrades as far as Michigan.

Rendering of proposed southern entrance upgrades of Union Station via Union Station

Split into two phases, the first will utilize the full $251 million which will be supplemented by two equal payouts of $81.7 million from Amtrak and local governments, with the second phase requiring a similar amount. Although the station has seen platform upgrades, a new lounge, restoration of historical halls, and now an upcoming food hall, it still needs more to help relieve back-ups and delays. This will begin with a complete rebuild of the station’s outdated engineering system which is in dire need of a replacement and would ease the staff’s stress during daily operations.

2012 masterplan proposal for station improvements via Union Station

2012 masterplan proposal for track upgrades and proposed mail platform redevelopment via Union Station

Another $30 million would go to redesign the internal flow of the station which often misguides passengers between Metra and Amtrak trains with poor signage and tight corridors. Another major aspect will be the conversion of the old mail platforms into passenger platforms with sidings in order to accommodate four trains at a time and cut down arrival delays. Departing the station will be major rail re-alignments with new tracks and upgrades to the St.Charles Air Line Bridge in the South Loop, allowing for Metra to run southbound trains on using their own rails rather than the CN freight tracks.

Image of the St.Charles Air Line Bridge via Industrial History

Perhaps one of the main gains of the new tracks in all directions is that they will allow for direct service from O’Hare International Airport and McCormick Place via Union station, a key to the future of high-speed rail according to Crain’s. The first phase will also see engineering work start to doubletrack 11 miles of rails in southwest Michigan which are often congested, allowing for easier and faster travel to Detroit. Further information on the project’s second phase have not been revealed aside from the construction of the aforementioned tracks, but we can speculate it might skew more towards high-speed capabilities.

Interior image of Union Station post renovation via Union Station

While it’s not the first city project to apply for a piece of the federal pie, it is the most supported with a letter from Mayor Lori Lightfoot being sent to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg this week. The letter which talks about the upgrades allowing for better transportation across the Midwest was signed by 56 city chief executives from Madison, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, Minnesota to Topeka, Kansas and Lima, Ohio along with both Metra and Amtrak as well as regional high-speed rail organizations. No dates have been revealed of when the first round of winners will be announced, but it could be as early as end of the year.

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16 Comments on "Amtrak Gains Support For Union Station And Regional Rail Expansion From Across The Midwest"

  1. Why doesn’t Amtrak.go to Indianapolis, Indiana?

  2. Why doesn’t Amtrak have a direct route to Florida’s west coast from Chicago like they used to?

  3. When will Amtrak restore Jacksonville-New Orleans service.

    It’s scandalous to have to go to Washington in order to travel between Florida and Louisiana (New Orleans)!

  4. Gary Lee Koerner | November 28, 2022 at 2:59 am | Reply

    When will Amtrak go though Scranton PA?


    if they built one more through-running track alongside the river the postal platforms could be the new high speed rail station. We are so close! Chicago to Detroit, Indy, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Louisville, Madison, in under 3 hours, total game changer. Not to mention oh are to McCormick place in 20 min if they un kink the western junction.

  6. Someone please yell at the news networks that there is another form of transportation other than flying or driving. They cry about road conditions and flights being canceled but say NOTHING about Amtrak or rail transit 🚇 🤔 availableity. Weather rarely effects them and when you get to the ticket counter you won’t be told it’s canceled or “Oh,we can only take 2 of 3 in your family”
    And your ticket 🎟 is non refundable- to bad.
    Then there’s getting on a plane a sitting on the runway for 5 hours and being told we’re leaving soon, BS, I’LL be opening the door. At least everyone else will be getting off.

  7. Steve River North | November 28, 2022 at 10:39 am | Reply

    Getting passengers from OHare to city quicker is one major hurdle they need to clear. Second would be to get said passengers to local cities >75 miles fast. Talking Milwaukee, Detroit, St Louis, Indy, etc.

    Flying is great for long distances where the wait and boarding factors out due to flight time, but local travel (<500 miles) starts to butt up against this. Driving from downtown to say Milwaukee should not take the same amount of time, the train should be the car by a lot.

  8. OMG When will Amtrak go to Hawaii?

  9. Hoping that all of the infrastructure funding for Amtrak will also include restoration and reuse of the Art Deco/Art Moderne Union Station Powerhouse for reuse for maintenance and facilities operations. This amazing building, located on the South Branch of the Chicago River, near the Roosevelt Road Bridge is a significant structure and should be repurposed verses an expensive demolition. We at Preservation Chicago have over 32,000 signatures on a petition to save, restore and repurpose the building. Let’s use a fraction of this infrastructure money to save this building and encourage Amtrak to “do the right thing!” …So, “SAVE THE CHICAGO UNION STATION POWERHOUSE!”

    • anonymous coward | November 28, 2022 at 7:30 pm | Reply

      I support your cause, these places are gems indeed. However, I do not support the use of these infrastructure funds to be used for cultural preservation. The infrastructure funds should be focused to improve and enhance mass transit capabilities and capacity.

  10. Serina Mitchell | November 28, 2022 at 5:44 pm | Reply

    What they need to do is upgrade the trains(especially the sleeping cars and their customer service…took a vacation trip with them…it was the most horrible experience ever and the most expensive. Leaking trains where they connected, contaminated food and toilet closet they consider roomettes, up charging double or more with ridiculous layovers. Never saw the trains they advertised on the vacation site. Would never recommend it to anyone…even my worst enemy.

  11. Serina Mitchell | November 28, 2022 at 5:50 pm | Reply

    Wow, so you can’t criticize Amtrak Vacations or they won’t post….Ugghhh

  12. James C. Merriman | November 29, 2022 at 3:08 pm | Reply

    Plans are “on the shelf” ready to build! Madison to Milwaukee, double track high speed rail connecting to downtown Madison, Madison regional airport and Milwaukee Amtrack station and Billy Mitchell airports. Was ready for letting by WIDOT in 2010 approved by FRA. 1 mil proposed for upgrades to historic stations still remaining along the way. Build out was proposed within existing r/w. Love to see it built. Be sure to include regional bus connections/shuttle services.

  13. It looks they are rerouting Amtrak from CN to NS in the future.

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