Spring 2018 — Workshop #6: The Future of Chicago Union Station
City Open Workshop was able to welcome Erik Cempel, the Lead Infrastructure Planning Manager for the Union Station Redevelopment. Union Station is currently a maze of transportation corridors and waiting areas, with the historic Head House, the majestic waiting room that is barely used.
Erik is helping to coordinate and project manage all of the changes needed to the transportation infrastructure and spaces controlled by Amtrak to make sure the buildings transition smoothly and train services can continue. There is also a planned hotel to be developed above the Head House by another real estate developer.
Erik was a consultant for Cambridge Systematics for 14 years and helped states and regions navigate federal regulation for freight and passenger rail projects in the US and worldwide. He left the consulting world about 10 months ago because he wanted to shift from planning to implementation.
There are significant challenges at Union Station that Erik has to think about. It's handling more people than it was originally designed to; about 150,000 people per day, 90% of whom are Metra passengers. A lot of his work is around capacity improvements to handle all of the passengers, especially in the lower concourse area.
There are also numerous projects that are rail-focused. The platforms are very narrow and end up having trains that dump 1,300 passengers each, and sometimes there are two trains using the same platform, so all at once there are 2,600 people walking on the narrow platforms. There's an accessibility problem. It also means that, since it takes so long for people to get off the train and onto the platform, the trains have to wait on the platform longer when they could be leaving and going back into service on the route.
Aside from making transportation changes, much of the work that will be done to Union Station invokes re-envisioning the use of the property and the surrounding land for different uses. Amtrak has a "Master Development Program" in several of its station where it partners with real estate developers on properties. Amtrak is in negotiation with Riverside Development (the master developer) right now to extract the value of the stations for property development -- and would like to strengthen CUS an anchor in the West Loop by providing more amenities.
It's not easy working with a large organization like Amtrak! In thinking about planning overall, Erik acknowledges that one difficulty is making changes or trying new strategies with a group that requires multiple of levels of approval. Much of the Union Station concept planning has taken years and years, and hopefully we will all experience a new station experience and community asset in the near future.
Workshop agenda + notes here.