President Joe Biden would do well to heed the word of two dozen Midwest lawmakers and sign off on $1 billion in needed infrastructure improvements at Chicago’s Union Station.
The Chicago Infrastructure Improvement Program aims for changes that would significantly benefit Amtrak and Metra travelers in and out of downtown — and across the country, given the city’s role as the nation’s rail hub.
CHIP’s hefty price tag brings a host of benefits, including the promise of faster travel into Chicago from Indianapolis, Michigan and southern states, plus improved Metra service into Union Station.
“We ask the Department of Transportation to meet this moment in history by investing in the success of [Union Station], which serves 3.3 million Amtrak riders annually, along 16 Amtrak intercity rail lines, and more than 30 million riders across all rail services,” the 29 lawmakers, led by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois), said in a letter last week. The letter was sent to Biden, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose.
Chicago would see long dreamt-of changes. For instance, St. Charles Air Line, an east-west rail link located at 16th Street, would be improved to allow Amtrak trains to turn directly north and head into Union Station.
Currently, trains using the line must head south then back into Union Station, a time-consuming maneuver.
In addition, unused Union Station platform space formerly used by the U.S. Postal Service would be converted to passenger use.
The station’s confusing and dated concourse and mezzanine could see a makeover under the plan. The platforms’ often faulty ventilation system would be improved as well.
And proposed track improvements that would let Amtrak trains from St. Louis and Texas travel into Chicago on the Metra Rock Island Line would also mean a faster commute from Chicago to Joliet in the route, the lawmakers said.
The state, Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and other agencies have contributed $218 million toward CHIP.
That’s a great start, but not enough. It’s time for the president — whose fondness for train travel earned him the nickname “Amtrak Joe” — to do his part and make sure CHIP has the funding it needs.
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