Chicago Union Station Master Plan Study Completed

May 23, 2012

Identifies Opportunities to Increase the Station’s Capacity and Quality of Service

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) today released the Chicago Union Station Master Plan Study, which identifies opportunities to increase the station’s capacity and quality of service. 

The study was produced in a collaborative effort with Amtrak (the station’s owner), Metra (the station’s primary tenant), and other participating organizations including the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Regional Transportation Authority, Illinois Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the City’s Department of Housing and Economic Development. 

In a meeting this morning at Union Station onboard an historic rail car owned by the BNSF Railway, staff from CDOT, Amtrak, Metra, and other study participants shared the contents of the study with a group of civic leaders organized by the MPC.  The complete study may be found on the project website,

“Union Station is one of the region’s key transportation facilities and economic drivers and is the third-busiest railroad terminal in the United States, serving about 120,000 arriving and departing passengers per weekday,” said CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. “This important study identifies many opportunities for future improvements to increase the station’s capacity and quality of service.”

Although most travelers at Union Station take Metra commuter trains, the Station is also the hub of Amtrak’s network of regional trains serving the Midwest as well as most of the nation’s overnight trains.  Most of the station’s passenger activity today takes place in the concourse area, between Canal Street and the Chicago River, which now operates at capacity during many hours of the day.  Continuing growth in both Metra commuter rail and Amtrak passenger rail service has compelled the City and railroads to consider options for expanding Union Station’s capacity.

The study identifies short-, medium-, and long-term opportunities to assist Amtrak, Metra, and connecting transportation providers such as the Chicago Transit Authority, coach bus operators, and taxicabs in preparing for future improvements to increase the station’s capacity and quality of service. 

Short-term Improvement Opportunities:

Several short-term station improvement projects currently have funding committed, or are in process for implementation during the next few years.  These include enhancements to the station’s entrances and expansion of waiting rooms by Amtrak, as well as two upcoming CDOT projects to improve bus lanes on Clinton and Canal Streets and create an off-street CTA bus terminal on Jackson Blvd, between Canal and Clinton.


The study also proposed several ideas for medium-term improvements to be implemented over a 5- to 10-year horizon.  These ideas include: reallocating the space currently occupied by some baggage platforms to allow the widening of commuter platforms; converting unused mail platforms to allow their use by intercity passenger trains; reorganizing existing passenger station facilities to improve capacity and flow; and rebuilding the Canal Street viaduct above parts of the station in a manner that improves street access to the station concourse below. 


The study’s long term/visionary ideas include concepts for further increasing passenger capacity and improving the traveler experience by significantly expanding or completely replacing the existing intercity and/or commuter station facilities in the 200 or 300 blocks of South Canal Street.  The study has also investigated the concept for adding additional track and platform capacity in one of two alternative underground alignments, Clinton Street or Canal Street.

The Union Station Master Plan Study stakeholders have worked closely with a Civic Advisory Committee established by the Metropolitan Planning Council to advance placemaking principles for the station’s redesign and  investigate possible innovative financing strategies for the overall redevelopment effort. 

"The Union Station Master Plan not only identifies how to create a more efficient rail hub that better serves a growing number of passengers, but also how to transform this imposing historic structure into a truly great place," said MPC Vice President Peter Skosey. "Union Station has great potential to be a major destination, generating economic and social benefits for the Loop neighborhood and the entire city."

A public meeting for the Union Station Master Plan Study was held on December 15, 2011 in Union Station.  Approximately 200 people attended the event, and additional comments were received by CDOT via the project website. Feedback from the meeting and website was incorporated into the study’s findings and recommendations.

The next stage of the CDOT-led Union Station Master Plan Study, involving simulation of train, station, and nearby street operations, is to begin later this year.  It will quantify the capacity impacts of each medium-term idea and determine how much growth the improvements are likely to accommodate.  This will also provide an estimate of when the long-term/visionary ideas for increasing capacity and improving the station’s functionality may ultimately be needed.



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