Tipping Point: Chicago's Union Station in need of an update - New York News

Tipping Point: Chicago's Union Station in need of an update

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

FOX 32's recent Tipping Point special report on transportation showed how crucial it is to map out the city's highway to the future. At the hub of that future is Chicago's Union Station, a longtime symbol of transit glory, now in line for a facelift.

"Chicago is served by about 40 railroads, making it the largest transportation center in the world," said a narrator in a YouTube documentary.

Those were the glory days of railroad travel, but in 1945, World War II had just ended and Chicago's Union Station was in the dark.

When asked why Union Station blacked out the skylight, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari responded, "Because they did not want the bombers from Germany, Italy or Japan to make their way to Chicago and take out the station."

Letting the sunshine through the roof again in 1990 is just one sign that train travel had made a comeback, and Magliari said the railroad is working to keep up.

"We've done some things that are more energy sensitive, and to take some of the cost out simultaneously, which is a win-win," added Magliari. "There was no air conditioning in this room from about 1960 until about 2012, because the folks who owned it decided they didn't want to maintain the system anymore. The system was becoming obsolete, so they just turned it off."

Currently, the Great Hall is a cool place to rent during the summer social season, attracting weddings and galas looking for modern convenience and old world elegance.

However, as a train station, this place is bursting at the seams. As home to Amtrak and Metra commuter lines, 120,000 passengers ride 300 trains in and out of Union Station every day.

Critics said, though, it's missing the mark.

"This magnificent Union Station, you know, one of the most important hubs in America, and you can't get off the train here and say OK, where's the El?," said Joseph Schwieterman, DePaul University Transit expert.

One of the big ideas unveiled in a master plan two years ago was expanding pedways, so riders can walk to city trains without going outside. It also suggested easing congestion by using the abandoned tracks under the old post office next door.

"The tracks are there, but the platforms aren't the right height, and they were built for rolling skids of mail off and on a boxcar," said Magliari.

It would cost a fortune to raise the tracks or lower the platforms for passenger use, but the time may be right to invest in a mode of transportation written off just a few decades ago.

When congress created Amtrak in the 1970's to buy out, and bail out, the nation's private railroads, they were on the skids. Travelers had taken their money to highways and skyways. Train travel was so last century, until commuters discovered it could be time well spent.

"If you would've told me 15 years ago that people would be sorting their photo albums and emailing recipes on their commute, I'd say you're crazy, but that's exactly the kind of work they do. They transform that space into their own private little universe. And that's been a big plus for Amtrak & Metra," added Schwieterman.

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