The Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago announced the winners of its “Active Union Station” competition, which is meant to enliven the railroad hub’s underused public spaces. Although it’s the nation’s third busiest train station and gets more daily traffic than Midway Airport, Chicago’s Union Station remains basically a waypoint on a longer trip.
Happy Birthday Grand Central Terminal! Today the 49-acre train station is turning 100 and celebrating this grand ‘ole affair with performances, events, and even a LEGO model of the Beaux-Arts style station itself, courtesy the LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester Station Master’s Office. Designed by Reed & Stern and Warren & Wetmore, the station is believed to be the largest station by number (44) of platforms in the world.
In honor of the Centennial, some of the retail shops and restaurants are even dropping their prices to 1913 levels, so commuters can grab a piece of cheesecake at the Oyster Bar for 19 cents. The New York Times also fired up its own time machine, posting the original supplement from 1913 when Grand Central first opened to the public. (You can download the PDF here.)
Midwest train travelers will enjoy a quicker passage, as Amtrak approves a new top speed of 110 mph for a section of its Chicago-St. Louis route. Though trains will only accelerate to the new top speed over a 15-mile segment, officials said another $1.5 billion investment over three years of upgrades will bring the rest of the track up to speed.
The current top speed is 79 mph over most of the route. Instead of 5 and a half hours, future trips could be under 4 hours. Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak tested a new system of triggers for highway crossing gates earlier this year.
Amtrak’s Midwest presence has seen a significant ridership boost, following trends around the country. Transit in general may be enjoying a small renaissance, with the CTA counting 16 months of rail and bus line increases. Despite setting ridership records, Amtrak is losing money and faces an uncertain future.
Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak have sought permission from federal regulators to conduct the first test of high-speed rail in Illinois. A 20-mile track between the cities of Dwight and Pontiac could be a proving ground for the 110 mph passenger train starting October 1.
They would be testing a new system of triggers for highway crossing gates — one that uses radio signals to raise gates 80 seconds before a crossing in order to give the faster trains more time to slow down or stop if necessary. The current system uses track circuits to communicate, and allows the normal 79-mph trains 30 to 35 seconds of clearance before a crossing. The Illinois Department of Transportation will conduct a survey to determine whether motorists will tolerate the longer wait times.
Funding for high-speed rail was narrowly approved in California earlier this month, as Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and others continued to build on growing excitement for high-speed rail in the heartland.