New York and Chicago Railroad
July 19, 2012
Charles (312) 714-7790
Mike Lehman
City Plans Instead a Parking Garage Operated by Robots

High Speed Rail Advocates Want
Old Post Office Turned into a Train Station

Enterprising Chicago high speed rail advocates are concerned that the Chicago Plan Commission has endorsed rehabilitation of the city’s old central post office into more rental and retail space, and has disregarded other plans to utilize the facility as a transportation terminal, and high speed rail station, which would benefit potentially thouisands of passengers.  Their aim is to build a New York and Chicago Railroad, which would need a suitable passenger facility in this city.

Charles Paidock said:  “Union Station is now the only intercity rail terminal in Chicago, 3rd busiest in the United States, handling approximately 120,000 passengers on an average weekday, arriving and departing on over 300 trains (all Amtrak trains, as well as 6 Metra commuter lines).  It simply isn’t suitable.  Today, the concourse, where people buy tickets and make their way to the trains, is overcrowded, uncomfortable, and hard to navigate,  There is no more room to add even much needed commuter trains, such as during the rush hours.

We’re working to add a high speed line from Chicago to New York, connecting the two regions, but we need a terminal here that can accommodate added passengers, perhaps as many as 600 per train.  Instead we’re getting an ‘automated’ parking garage, as part of the announced plans for the Old Post Office, in which you go to an elevator, push a button, and a robot will go and get your car.” 

Another organizer, Mike Lehman added that:  “One would hope in this day and age of fuel-oil crisis, congestions, oil pollutions, etc., that ample provisions would have been made by urban planners for the conversion of the very centrally located main Chicago post office for smart future transportation alternatives.

That post office is extremely well placed between 4 major rail terminals, 4 interstate highways and several heavy rail CTA lines.  Though bullet trains are at a political impasse now again (in the USA but not elsewhere), there has been much progress in that very technology worldwide, so that it should not be ignored when envisioning future uses of the old main Chicago post office."

The train station advocates suggest taking another look at the plans of Chicago architect Helmut Jahn, issued in 2010 for a high-speed rail station in Chicago, which they maintain will address both immediate and long-term transportation needs of thousands of passengers coming into or going out of Chicago.


Idea for new high-speed rail hub on right track
Helmut Jahn plan would create new station along river near Old Post Office

February 25, 2010Chicago Tribune

Chicago architect Helmut Jahn has a promising but imperfect plan for a high-speed rail station in Chicago. It's not much more than a sketch, certainly not a finished blueprint. Yet it deserves to be taken seriously, if only because it should kick-start a much-needed debate over the right place for the hub of the Midwest's just-funded high-speed rail network.

Jahn, who has long excelled at transportation facilities, has prepared the plan for Reuben Hedlund, a civic-minded zoning lawyer who headed the Chicago Plan Commission from 1991 to 1997. Hedlund does not appear to be in a position to profit from the project, which he calls the Daniel Burnham Central Station in honor of the great turn-of-the-century Chicago planner. So the proposal can be considered clean, even if it would likely send the values of nearby properties skyrocketing.

The plan calls for the demolition of a brick U.S. Postal Service building in the 300 block of West Harrison Street, which stands just southeast of the old Chicago Main Post Office astride the Eisenhower Expressway, and is mainly used by carriers who deliver mail to the South and West Loop. In its place would rise a riverfront office or condo tower and a low-slung train concourse with a swooping roof that would reach out like a tail, sheltering tracks and train platforms below street level.

Let's set aside the biggest practical hurdle to this vision — whether the Postal Service would sell the building or join private developers in a partnership to rebuild the site.

Advocates expect high-speed rail to make its debut in Chicago by 2014, in the wake of President Barack Obama's decision to award $8 billion to the concept nationwide. That means Chicago and Mayor Richard Daley have a choice: Are they going to get on board and create a railroad gateway worthy of the city — or are they going to let a golden opportunity pass, cramming new passengers into an already-jammed Union Station?

The stakes are enormous, and not just because high-speed rail is the signature public works initiative of Obama's controversial economic stimulus package. The location and architectural character of the station will invariably influence whether people switch from planes, as well as energy-hogging vehicles, to this greener form of getting around. The station also could propel a new wave of downtown development once the recession ends. Yet there has been precious little leadership on this issue from City Hall.

Whatever explains the city's recalcitrance, this much is clear: Union Station is a poor candidate to serve as a high-speed rail hub.

Despite the soaring image of its barrel-vaulted Great Hall, the passenger concourse east of the hall is confusing and confining, a warren trapped within the structural columns that hold up the office building above it. Going forward, Union Station lacks adequate space to marshal more passengers and handle more trains. Nor does it connect to the Chicago Transit Authority's proposed express service to O'Hare. Its fundamental problem, though, is that it isn't really a station. It's a terminal.

Almost all of Union Station's tracks, whether northbound or southbound, stop at the station instead of running straight through. That's no good if you're a high-speed rail passenger traveling, say, from Milwaukee to Cincinnati. You'd have to change trains in Chicago. Who has time for that? You'd fly instead.

In contrast, Hedlund is touting his site as the best of both worlds: It offers access to the train tracks that emerge from Union Station's south end without the station's claustrophobic structural web.

In Jahn's sketches, a glassy street-level pavilion advertises the romance of travel and offers a view out to the skyline and the Chicago River — a far more enticing prospect than the dungeon-like confines of Union Station's concourse. Passengers would walk or take escalators down to new platforms and new tracks, built beneath the old Main Post Office, that would funnel into Union Station's now little-used through-tracks along the Chicago River.

With new passenger tracks and platforms, high-speed trains could run more frequently. And trains could flow straight through the new station. "This is the only station that makes sense for increased passenger rail service," Hedlund said.

But there are some very big hurdles, and they go beyond assent from the Postal Service, permission from Amtrak to use Union Station's tracks, or the invariable (and still unanswered) questions about cost and timing.

Jahn's design does not solve the crucial problem of how pedestrians coming from the Loop would get to the new station, which would be brutally separated from the Loop by the Eisenhower Expressway. His plan is disappointingly oriented to the car, with a big drop-off circle running north to the train pavilion from Harrison Street. Until the pedestrian access problem is corrected — perhaps with a passageway leading through the old Main Post Office, now owned by mysterious British investor Bill Davies — this plan will remain deeply flawed.

Even so, Hedlund and Jahn deserve credit for giving the debate about Chicago's high-speed rail station a significant shove forward.

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