Chicago Union Station Master Plan

The City of Chicago’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) has been conducting this study, in a collaborative effort with extensive participation from Amtrak (the station’s owner), Metra (the station’s primary tenant), and other stakeholders. It has been in progress since December of 2010.

Chicago Union Station now often operates close to capacity.  Continuing growth in both commuter rail service and Amtrak long distance and intercity passenger rail service, combined with the potential for future growth in high-speed intercity passenger rail, has compelled the City of Chicago and affected railroads to consider future options for accommodating further growth in station traffic.

Chicago Union Station (CUS) is one of the region’s key transportation facilities and economic drivers.  It is the third-busiest railroad terminal in the United States, serving over 300 trains per weekday carrying about 120,000 arriving and departing passengers – a level of passenger traffic that would rank it among the ten busiest airports in the U.S.  Most travelers at CUS 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, which connect to the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts.  Today’s Station originally opened in 1925, and significant alterations were made to the Concourse level, located east of Canal Street, in 1970.  Most passenger station activities today take place in the Concourse.  Soon after Amtrak was established in 1971, it concentrated all intercity passenger train operations in Chicago at Union Station.  Amtrak gained ownership of Chicago Union Station in 1984 and completed a major re-modeling in 1992.  Amtrak is planning further improvements to both the Concourse and the headhouse in 2012 and beyond.  CDOT’s planning efforts will assist Amtrak in preparing for these improvements.

The Master Plan Study has identified potential ideas for adding tracks and platforms, as well as possible opportunities for improving passenger flows.  Short, medium, and long-term opportunities have been identified ranging from re-purposing platforms originally designed for handling mail, to better connections to other rail and transit services, to the construction of new multilevel subways.

The First Stage Final Report of the Study was issued in May, 2012 and is available for download at the link on the right side of this page and the “Reports” tab above.

The second stage of the Study started in December, 2012. This work includes three key components:

  1. A train operations simulation model of existing and possible future conditions at Chicago Union Station (CUS)
  2. A pedestrian flow model of existing and possible future conditions within CUS’s passenger areas
  3. A street traffic simulation model of existing and possible future conditions on 40 blocks surrounding CUS

The goal of this second stage of the Study is to establish a robust technical case for implementing the Stage 1 Study’s “medium term” recommendations as soon as possible, and it will determine just how much capacity (i.e., how many years of growth) these improvements are likely to accommodate.

The simulation modeling is proceeding and the project is on track for completion in mid-2014. The Second Stage Technical Memorandum No. 1, which expands on the planning for improvements to the station based on some of the early output from the pedestrian model, and includes some new renderings. 

Other work updates and reports will be posted to the website as they are approved.