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Elected officials, transportation leaders announce coalition to transform Illinois passenger rail

The project looks to improve and expand passenger rail in Illinois and the Midwest, including commutes to, from and through the Metro East

U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, and regional transportation leaders recently joined together at Chicago Union Station to announce a broad coalition of leaders in support of the Chicago Union Station Access Project, which will transform passenger rail in the region.

The $418 million project is a joint effort by Amtrak, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), the City of Chicago, Metra, Cook County, and Michigan’s Department of Transportation. The project is supported by a broad coalition of regional leaders including labor, business, and environmental groups. The project partners recently applied for $251 million in federal funding from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s new MEGA grant program, which provides federal funding for large projects of regional significance.

Durbin and Lightfoot were joined by Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-4), Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner, IDOT Secretary Omer Osman, Metra CEO Jim Derwinski, and Cook County DOT Superintendent Sis Killen. Representatives from the Regional Transit Authority, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and the Commercial Club of Chicago also joined to show their support.

“Chicago Union Station has long been the hub of our passenger rail network in Illinois and the Midwest,” said Durbin. “But it’s time for a new and transformational vision that will improve and expand passenger rail. The $418 million Chicago Union Station Access Project will significantly enhance the passenger rail experience in and out of Chicago and provide a range of improvements to passenger rail service in Illinois and throughout our region. I’m glad to join Mayor Lightfoot and regional leaders in pushing to get this essential project across the finish line.”

“Daniel Burnham said, ‘Make no little plans,’ and there is definitely nothing ‘little’ about this plan,” said Duckworth. “This is a major opportunity not just for Chicago, but for Illinois and the entire region. We’re talking about working Illinoisans saving time getting from Chicago to Champaign and Southern Illinois, having better access to Metra, a better Union Station and improved rail to O’Hare—on top of the good-paying, local jobs this project will create. That’s why we’re urging the federal government to fund it.”

“Chicago is grateful to be a part of one of the most robust transportation systems in the country,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “This transformational project for a passenger rail will strengthen this system, as well as deepen our regional partnership with other transportation stakeholders. I thank Senator Durbin for working to secure federal funding for this effort and look forward to seeing it become a reality in the near future.”

“Chicago is the transportation hub of our nation, but that didn’t happen by accident. It happened through strategic planning and long-term investment, and we’ve got to keep that up so we don’t fall behind,” said Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García. “That’s what I fight for every day on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and that’s what the Union Station Access Project is all about— improving rail service and keeping Chicago ahead of the curve.”

“Cook County’s $15 million contribution to the Chicago Access Project will help the region and the nation reach important transportation goals,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “This project will make room for Amtrak to upgrade and expand service, give new transportation options to those who don’t have access to other modes and make Union Station more convenient and accessible for all users. I am grateful to the partners for making this project a reality as we work to strengthen our transportation infrastructure and move toward long-term sustainability and growth in our County and country.”

“We’ve been working on these ideas and bringing the partners together for years. We can’t be sure we will get all the funding we’re seeking, but our goals line up exactly with the USDOT’s Megaproject goals. While these are big-ticket items, there are big needs here in Chicago. We certainly have reason to be optimistic because of the support of Senator Durbin and so many others, including Senator Duckworth, Congressman Garcia, Governor Pritzker, President Preckwinkle, Mayor Lightfoot, the RTA and Metra, and our Michigan partners,” said Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner.

“The improvements to Union Station will build upon the investments being made in passenger rail across the state through Gov. Pritzker’s historic, bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital program,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman. “Working together, as local, state and federal partners, we are strengthening our status as the transportation hub of North America.”

“We appreciate Senator Durbin’s continued advocacy and commitment to bringing our region together to improve passenger railroad service throughout the Midwest,” said Jim Derwinski, CEO/Executive Director, Metra. “The improvements discussed today to Chicago Union Station would benefit Metra and Amtrak riders alike by providing a modern passenger experience at the station and would help pave the way for an expansion of Metra’s service and the opportunity to consider through-running between our north and south corridors. I look forward to working with Senator Durbin, the City of Chicago, Amtrak and our regional partners to advocate for these critical federal funds to improve service.”

“The Michigan Department of Transportation supports Amtrak and our partners in applying for the federal MEGA grant application,” said Michigan State Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba. “Improvements to Chicago Union Station and the final design of double-tracking on the Amtrak-owned line from Niles through and beyond Dowagiac, Mich will be a huge benefit for rail travelers.”

“Chicago’s Union Station is the hub of the Midwest’s passenger rail network,” said ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner. “Investments in Union Station benefit riders throughout the region, leverage our investments in higher-speed rail, and reduce our carbon footprint when more people choose rail travel and leave their cars at home. It’s good for Chicago, good for the Midwest and good for the planet.”

“The Chicago Access Program will have a powerful multiplier effect by connecting major job centers of O’Hare, McCormick Place, and West Loop in new and faster ways, ensuring the long-term economic vitality of Chicago,” said Jennifer F. Scanlon, Chair of the Commercial Club and president and CEO of UL Solutions.

“President Biden’s infrastructure bill was drawn up with projects like this in mind. The renovation of Union Station will revitalize Chicago and solidify our city as the transportation hub in the country. Modernizing this grand, historic building will not only bring thousands of good, union jobs during construction, but lead to new opportunities for workers and communities from all across our city and state,” said Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter.

The Chicago Union Station Access Project will create a new way for passenger trains to access CUS from the South, which will significantly improve on-time performance for both Amtrak and Metra trains; provide the increased capacity needed for the new routes and increased frequencies that Amtrak has planned for the Midwest; provide faster connectivity between the region’s largest job hubs; improve on-time performance by more than 15 minutes on the Chicago to Carbondale route; transition Amtrak’s southbound passenger service off of Canadian National’s tracks between Chicago and Joliet, which will further improve on-time performance; transform the inside of CUS, improving the passenger experience by modernizing concourses and platforms to improve passenger flow and providing cleaner air by updating the station’s ventilation system; and allow for future direct rail service between O’Hare and McCormick Place via Union Station.

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