Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Union Station’

One Morning at Chicago Union Station

June 29, 2021

It is Sept. 9. 1995, on the north side of Chicago Union Station. A Hiawatha Service train sits adjacent to the equipment to be used later today for the outbound Empire Builder.

At the time, Hiawatha Service trains were using former Metroliner cab cars. This equipment also was common at the time on the Chicago-Detroit route.

Note the mismatching liveries on the Superliner equipment on the Empire Builder. Amtrak was moving into a new look for its rolling stock and the old and new continued to mix for a while.

Amtrak, Metra Trade Barbs in Latest STB Filings in CUS Case

February 23, 2021

Recent filings by Amtrak and Chicago commuter carrier Metra with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board show that the two sides remain are fighting  over which party will control the station.

Amtrak owns the facility but claims in its filings that Metra is trying to wrest away control of the station.

The two have long been at odds over a new Metra lease and Metra has raised questions about Amtrak’s ownership of the building.

Metra contends Amtrak unlawfully merged long-time station owner Chicago Union Station Company into Amtrak.

The ownership issue had arisen in 2018 but at the time the STB said it would be premature for it to rule on that matter, indicating it would issue a ruling at an unspecified future date.

Metra contends that Amtrak “bias” stemming its ownership of the station is the basis for many of the ongoing issues separating the two sides.

The commuter rail agency argues that if the STB agrees that the parties would be better served by “balancing public interests” then there would be no basis for imposing Amtrak-requested terms that derive from an entirely different perspective.

Amtrak said in its filing that it must have the ability to manage, oversee, and coordinate service and operations at its station.

Therefore Amtrak said it is seeking clear rights and responsibilities to be delineated in a future access agreement.

The intercity passenger carrier called “not feasible” Metra’s demand that any reduction of the number of Metra trains or revision of peak periods must have its consent.

Metra wants to be able to increase its train movements at Union Station by 5 percent.

Amtrak said as owner it must have the ability to control and coordinate train schedules.

This includes dwell times for Metra trains. Amtrak wants to decree that Metra trains have as little as 10 minutes of dwell time during peak periods, some thing Metra has called “wasteful, unnecessary and arbitrary” because Amtrak has not presented any evidence that the limits are based on operating experience or need.

Amtrak also expressed concern about a Metra proposal that it be allowed to store some trains in the station overnight.

Amtrak, Metra Remain Far Apart Over CUS Lease

February 18, 2021

Amtrak and Chicago commuter carrier Metra remain far apart in their dispute over a new lease for the latter to use Chicago Union Station.

Documents filed with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board verge on contempt for some positions taken by the other party.

A Metra attorney wrote to the board on Feb. 8 seeking to strike a Jan. 29 letter from Amtrak, calling the letter an impermissible, “abusive” and “highly prejudicial” response to an earlier filing in which the sides jointly offered an update on results of their mediation efforts.

Amtrak countered by telling the STB that its letter was substantive changes to a Metra correction of earlier errors, and says it feels “compelled to address the faux outrage contained in Metra’s letter.”

Amtrak said its letter was providing context for those corrections that Metra “should have provided . . . but did not.”

The intercity passenger carrier argued that its Jan. 29 filing was proper, but it will not object if Metra wishes file a full response.

Both sides face a Feb. 19 deadline to file responses to each other’s earlier filing on remaining disagreements.

STB Filings Show Areas of Dispute Over CUS

January 27, 2021

In documents filed with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad Metra have listed areas of disagreement in a dispute over Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak owns the station and has been at loggerheads with Metra over various issues.

The intercity passenger carriers wants the STB to help settle the unresolved 16 issues.

Metra has countered that all of the issues can still be resolved through negotiation.

Among the unresolved issues are dwell time for Metra equipment, for boarding disembarking, and turnaround service.

Amtrak wants those to be limited to 10 minutes during peak period, one hour during weekday off-peak periods, and five hours on weekends and holidays.

Metra has described this as an attempt by Amtrak to “impose arbitrary and unnecessary time restrictions on Metra equipment layovers untethered to a demonstrable Amtrak need.”

The commuter railroad would rather that Metra equipment remain at the station as long as circumstances warrant so long as it does not interfere with Amtrak operations.

In its filing, Amtrak said 10 of the 16 remaining issues should be addressed by the Board.

Metra countered that it is willing to accept Amtrak’s most recent proposed terms in two areas with five areas being addressed by the board.

Both parties want the STB to settle procedures governing Metra schedule changes and increases in service.

Amtrak has said it is willing to cooperate with Metra, “but ultimately, a single party must have final scheduling” authority.

Metra is seeking what it termed “protection from arbitrary changes” and opposes Amtrak serving as the sole arbiter of whether a refusal to accommodate additional Metra trains is reasonable.

Amtrak, Metra Lists Areas of Agreement in CUS Dispute

January 25, 2021

Chicago commuter rail operator Metra and Amtrak have filed documents with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board showing areas of agreement in a dispute over Chicago Union Station.

The terminal, which Amtrak owns and at which Metra is a tenant, has been the subject of a long-running dispute.

The joint filing said they’ve reached agreement on such issues as Metra’s right to change schedules and operate special or test trains; Amtrak’s right to review the interoperability of new or overhauled Metra equipment to be used at Union Station; and notification procedures by Amtrak when an event causes disruption or annulment of Metra service.

The document also stipulates that Amtrak will continue to dispatch Metra trains at the station and there will be monthly meetings to review on-time and dispatching performance, as well as service disruptions.

The two sides describe in the document a complex formula for future recalculations of Metra’s rent based on costs including maintenance of way, dispatching, station operations and policing

However, the document indicates that the initial rent figure is among the 16 issues that remain undecided.

The dispute over Union Station has been ongoing for more than two years with some issues having been resolved through mediation.

Amtrak at one point demanded that Metra pay more than $17 million in annual rent.

Metra has been paying substantially less than that, including $9.66 million in 2018.

Amtrak, Metra Want Mediation Over CUS Lease Extended

November 7, 2020

Amtrak and Metra have asked federal regulators for more time in mediation to resolve a dispute over the commuter railroad’s lease at Chicago Union Station.

The two sides told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that they have made progress in their talks.

The STB is helping to mediate the dispute, which has been ongoing for several years.

The STB’s mediation was to have ended on Oct. 30, but an attorney involved in the process told the agency that the sides want to extend the mediation to Dec. 4.

The letter said “further mediation would benefit them and the Board by facilitating further agreement. … Mediation has already resolved certain issues, and may yet resolve all others.”

Any unresolved issues will be brought to the STB on or after Dec. 4.

Amtrak Takes CUS Dispute to STB (Again)

May 29, 2020

For the third time a dispute between Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad operator Metra has landed before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Amtrak has asked the agency to settle a dispute between the two over terms and compensation for Metra’s use of Chicago Union Station, which Amtrak owns.

The STB in 2018 turned aside a request from Metra to settle dispute, calling Metra’s request premature.

The agency has yet to act on a 2019 request by Amtrak to help settle the dispute.

Amtrak’s latest STB petition is seeking more than $17 million annually from Metra and includes a list of 17 terms that the intercity passenger carrier wants to impose on Metra in a contract that would last 10 years.

A Metra spokesman said his agency will have a response to the Amtrak petition by late June and that discussions between the two sides are ongoing.

Amtrak contends that Metra should be paying $15.3 million under its allocation formula for operating costs, including maintenance of way, dispatching, station operation and maintenance, and policing.

Another $1.7 million would be Metra’s fee for “tier 1” capital expenditures with an amount to be determined for “tier 2” expenditures.

Amtrak has long argued that Metra is “drastically under contributing” to the station complex’s capital costs.

Although Amtrak provided an exact dollar figures of how much it argues that Metra should be paying, it along with other information was redacted from the petition.

As recently as 2018, Metra paid Amtrak $9.66 million to use CUS.

Among the terms that Amtrak wants the STB to impose upon Metra are providing a written request to increase or modify service levels.

Currently Metra can add service at its discretion but Amtrak wants the two sides to evaluate the station’s ability to accommodate service changes before they are made.

Other conditions sought by Amtrak include basing Metra’s annual fee on the operation of 111,497 trains annually with with additional fees for each additional train, including specials and test trains.

Amtrak is seeking the right to remove from service any Metra equipment “that does not meet Amtrak’s written safety or operation standards, or legal or regulatory requirements.”

The copy of the petition available to the public redacted such information as the percentage of trains using the station by each carrier.

It is widely believed that Metra accounts for 90 percent of that total.

Also redacted is the percentage of passengers for each carrier who use the station, the portion of the station’s 489,555 square feet used by each carrier and the number of Amtrak police offices assigned to CUS.

Firm to Help Amtrak Find CUS Food Hall Operator

December 16, 2019

Amtrak has hired a real estate firm to find an operator for a food hall that it is creating at Chicago Union Station.

The firm of Cushman & Wakefield will market the food hall, which will be located in 21,000 square feet of space that largely has been closed since a fire in 1980.

Greg Kirsch, the Midwest regional lead for the retail firm, said that the food hall will offer a curated selection of vendors, which is unlike how other retail space in the station is leased.

As part of the creation of the food hall, Amtrak will restore windows that overlook Clinton Street and the station’s Great Hall.

In the past the space to be used by the food hall was used by a Fred Harvey Lunch Room.

Kirsch said the food hall will be designed to encourage people to linger.

It will be leased to a single operator who will expected to license space to 10 to 15 vendors chosen for their quality and variety of their offerings.

The food hall could begin operations by spring 2021.

Promotional materials brochure created by Cushman & Wakefield note that 140,000 rail passengers, mostly Metra riders, pass through Union Station each weekday and the daytime population nearby exceeds 160,000.

“You know how many people are walking through that space every day, and it kind of doesn’t change,” Kirsch said. “We’re very optimistic that this will be well received.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said construction of the food hall is expected to be finished by mid-2020.

Thus far Amtrak has restored the skylight in the Great Hall and has plans in the works to renovate the building’s office space.

Amtrak also is planning a one-story addition to the eight floors that surround the Great Hall and use that space for two hotels with a combined 400 rooms.


CUS Station Project Nets Amtrak 6 Awards

December 13, 2019

Amtrak has won six awards for its $22 million project to restore the Great Hall of Chicago Union Station.

The awards were presented by architectural, engineering, construction and real estate organizations or publications and include:

• 2019 Interior Architecture Award – American Institute of Architects, Chicago Chapter

• 2019 Overall Transformation of the Year – GlobeSt Real Estate Forum Magazine

• 2019 Silver Reconstruction Award – Building Design & Construction Magazine

• 2019 Best Project, Government/Public Building – ENR Midwest Magazine

•2019 Best Renovation/Retrofit Project – Structural Engineers Association of Illinois

•2019 Metamorphosis Award, Whole Building – Retrofit Magazine

“We appreciate the awards to our team from our industry colleagues. But most rewarding to us is the constantly positive comments from those who use our station,” said David Handera, Amtrak’s vice president of stations properties and accessibility, in a news release.

Renovation work at the station continues, including the construction of a new Clinton Street entrance to improve station accessibility with an elevator from street level.

Amtrak also said it is creating a two-tier food hall that is expected to open next fall.

Congressman Wants Metra to Control Chicago Station

November 19, 2019

A Chicago area congressman may introduce legislation to force Amtrak to turn over control of Chicago Union Station to commuter rail operator Metra.,

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski said he will introduce that legislation unless Amtrak voluntarily gives up control of the station.

Lipinski, who had unsuccessfully sought earlier this year to prod Amtrak into giving up control of Union Station, noted that 90 percent of the depot’s passengers are Metra passengers.

A computer failure in February in an Amtrak control center brought rail traffic to a near halt causing major delays for thousands of Metra passengers over the course of a day.

The legislation would be a clause inserted into the 2020 Amtrak reauthorization bill that Congress has just started to work on.

Before introducing the legislation, Lipkinski’s office said the congressman wanted to consult with outside experts on whether Metra has the technical ability to operate Union Station, which is owned by Amtrak.

Lipinski also wants to ascertain if there are any national implications to a Metra takeover of the station.

As chairman of House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, Lipinski has been using his bully pulpit to pressure on Amtrak.

At a minimum, he has argued that the national passenger carrier needs to make improvements to the station, although he said he now thinks the best way to achieve those would be for Amtrak to give up operational control of Union Station.

Amtrak has said in response that it is committed to keeping control of Union Station ownership or operations.

During a hearing last week before Lipinski’s committee, Amtrak President Richard Anderson said Amtrak dispatches Metra trains with a 99 percent on-time rate.

Metra CEO Jim Derwinski had said previously that Metra believes it needs to “have control over our own destiny” at Union Station.

The rail commuter carrier said it wants to own or control the station’s  transportation assets, but not its commercial space.

Metra and Amtrak have also been involved in contentious negotiations over a new lease that both sides have asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to help resolve.