1.6.11

GETTING THE PASSENGER FLOW RIGHT.  Last year, I offered a suggestion for making Chicago Union Station a proper hub for a passenger train network.
The current concourse building, which was designed with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, now has a health club upstairs. Perhaps now is the time to redevelop the concourse area, with the north and south tracks joined for the first time and the passenger facilities above the tracks, the way it's done at Philadelphia's Thirtieth Street Station.
I claim no credit for Chicago architect Martin Wolf's interview with WBBM's resident ferroequinologist.
Wolf said Union Station has never run at its passenger capacity. He said Burnham designed it for 400,000 passengers a day, and said at most it has hosted 100,000. That is one reason why the original concourse building was torn down in 1969 to make way for the office tower. Its supports now stand in the way of any attempt to connect the stub-end tracks to the station’s north and south.
The original concourse building, as rendered by Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, echoed features of the concourse building of New York's Pennsylvania Station, but the owner railroads saw no reason to construct a through station, with trains terminating from both coasts on each side of the station.  Thus the boarding gates are at track level.
Wolf said that his proposal would create six new through tracks for high-speed trains, while retaining ample space for Metra and existing Amtrak service.

He said he has not consulted either with Amtrak, which owns Union Station, or Metra, which is its biggest tenant. He estimates the cost of his proposal in the range of $700 million. But he said everyday service would be able to continue uninterrupted through the demolition and construction phases.

A new, semi-enclosed concourse area would take the office tower’s place, with escalators descending to track level. Clearance would be left to accommodate electrification of commuter and intercity trains.
If the office tower (or the health club) has to come down, why not take a page out of Graham, Anderson's sketchbook and do a concourse above the tracks, with room for catenary, the way the firm did it for The Pennsylvania Railroad at Philadelphia.  Whenever the Chicago real estate market heats up, proposals to add an office tower above the Great Room on the west side of the station arise.  Why not do something productive, and provide an office tower with a proper concourse above the tracks?  (Yes, that's a somewhat more challenging project, as none of the current north-end tracks line up with the corresponding south-end tracks.  Make no small plans.)

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