Regional Leaders Show United Support for Investment in Rail Hub

Amtrak’s application for improvements in and around Chicago Union Station got a strong, united show of support from local, state, and national leaders on September 19.

During a visit to Chicago by Shailen Bhatt, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, leaders in many agencies and entities all spoke in support of Amtrak’s CHIP application. These included the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, Cook County, the High Speed Rail Alliance, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois Railroad Administration, Metra, Norfolk Southern, the Transportation Communications Union/IAM, and others.

CHIP, which stands for Chicago Hub Improvement Program, would upgrade Chicago Union Station and create better routes through Chicago into the station. Alongside investments that are already underway through the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program, CHIP promises shorter trip times for trains that travel throughout the region and across the nation, greater capacity for both passenger and freight trains, and improved accessibility, safety, and comfort for travelers.

The High Speed Rail Alliance’s deputy director, Chris Ott, spoke to share a letter of support for CHIP that the Alliance has coordinated. To date, 71 mayors who lead cities on rail lines served by Chicago have signed the letter in favor of CHIP.

From his role at the Federal Highway Administration, Administrator Bhatt gave an encouraging window on the Administration’s thinking about transportation. Even though Bhatt leads the agency that oversees the nation’s highways, he stressed the need to think intermodally. Bhatt said the Biden administration is “all in” on a more comprehensive rail system.

Other speakers stressed the economic value of investments such as CREATE and CHIP. Rail carries more than a quarter of American freight, and a quarter of this freight passes through the metropolitan Chicago area. Speaking for the interests of freight railroads, Tim Butler, president of the Illinois Railroad Association, pointed out that Illinois is the only state in which all six of the nation’s largest “Class 1” railroads operate. Butler said his organization wants efforts to renew and expand Chicago’s rail capacity to succeed.

Representatives from Amtrak and Metra reported that ridership has nearly returned to pre-Covid levels. Jim Derwinski, CEO of Metra, says that Chicago Union Station typically serves more than 100,000 passengers each day.

Suzanne Mosher oversees Amtrak’s capital improvement program at Union Station. Mosher said the station, which opened in 1925, was never designed for the volume of travelers it sees today. Mosher detailed the CHIP vision to use space and tracks beneath the nearby Old Post Office building to the south, to expand Chicago Union Station’s capacity. This area, formerly used for mail platforms, is four blocks long. Other proposed improvements at Chicago Union Station include level boarding for greater accessibility, mechanical ventilation of diesel exhaust, wider platforms, and opening the architecture to allow daylight to reach the concourses.

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