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Chicago Union Station: My View Based on My Experience


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#1 Dakota 400

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 03:53 PM

The thread titled Suitcases in Chicago got me to thinking about my recent experience at CUS.  It has been a few years, around or less than 7, since I have traveled through Chicago.  I found my July experience de-training EB to be more stressful than I remember that it had been.

 

Is the re-modeling of the Station done?  If so, it seems to me that Amtrak has made it less customer friendly.

 

I felt the Concourse level to be confining with better signage needed.  The Baggage Claim area did seem somewhat familiar.  The Baggage Check-in area, as was stated in the previous thread, is next to Baggage Claim, but seemed rather small and inadequate for the business that I would think it does.  After claiming my luggage, where to go to get a taxi?  I had to search for a sign and then discovered I needed to find an elevator.  Poor signage, again, slowed me down.  Once I found the elevator, I was surprised, very negatively, that the taxi stand was across the street from where I was.  I was not a "happy camper" by that point in time.  The on-duty Amtrak policewoman with whom I spoke at the side of the Station/street to which the elevator delivered me appeared to sense that I was stressed and unhappy.  She did her job to insure that traffic would stop as I crossed the street dragging my luggage.  Once getting to the taxi stand, the Taxi Dispatcher quickly got me into a taxi.  

 

Red Cap service appeared minimal.  When I traveled through CUS before, there appeared to be many more Red Caps available to service a LD train. 

 

I think I remember a CUS during the mid-late 1950' and early 1960's where the Concourse area was open and spacious.  I recall, accurately or not which I now wonder, that one could stand outside the Gates for the North side tracks and see the Gates for the South side tracks.  There were kiosks for the Pullman Conductors to check-in Pullman guests in that area.  And, there was some limited seating.  If my memory is accurate, it surely is not so now!  It appears to be a maze to get from one side to the other.  That's making the interior environment of the Station customer friendly?

 

I'd appreciate learning other posters reactions to my experience.  Is my memory faulty?  If so, don't shy from saying so; I won't be offended.

 

What might I have done differently to make my transfer from train to taxi (or even taxi to train) a better experience? 

 

 



#2 RSG

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 04:44 PM

Remodel is nowhere near done, particularly if one counts the eventual track realignment in that estimation. Even if not, there is still plenty to do far above and beyond the rails. Count on things to change even more and evolve as the plan is phased in. I'm certain other elements will change as the new redesign is implemented.

#3 PVD

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 05:02 PM

I'm connecting there at the beginning of November to/from Dallas, if there is anything worth reporting I will, but I'm still almost 3 months out.



#4 SarahZ

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 05:56 PM

Why did you cross through that mess of traffic? :-/

There's a crosswalk at the corner of Jackson, just left of the doorway that brought you out to the east side of Canal Street. You cross there and either head left to the city buses or right to the line for the taxi stand.

I'm surprised she didn't point it out to you.

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#5 Dakota 400

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 06:11 PM

Why did you cross through that mess of traffic? :-/

There's a crosswalk at the corner of Jackson, just left of the doorway that brought you out to the east side of Canal Street. You cross there and either head left to the city buses or right to the line for the taxi stand.

I'm surprised she didn't point it out to you.

 

When I emerged from the Station, I was faced with a broad street with a wide designated cross-walk between where I was (with buses parked on my side of the street) and the taxi line directly across the street.  I am not familiar with Chicago so I don't know what street this was.  I don't think I was where you think I was.  To have walked to a corner and crossed the street there would have been further than crossing the street where I was in order to get to the taxi line.  Neither buses nor taxis were on the same side of the street.  They were on opposite sides of the street.



#6 crescent-zephyr

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 07:35 PM

May I reccomend you don't even attempt to visit New York Penn. Ha.

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#7 Lonestar648

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 09:59 PM

Getting around Union Station twice this summer was not difficult. I had looked up a map on line for any changes.. The station was really busy when we arrived on a Thursday about 4:30, with rush Metra trains starting to load. I find airports stressful compared to Union Station. At the street I used Uber who arrived as I was exiting. So was perfect.

Trains Traveled On:
Texas Eagle                                      Sunset Limited                            California Zephyr                                Southwest Chief                Empire Builder            Capitol Limited           Lake Shore limited (NYP & BOS)      Crescent
Kentucky Cardinal                             Cardinal                                       Pere Marquette                                  Wolverines                        Lincoln Service            Empire Service          Keystone Service                               Acelas
NE Regionals                                    Pioneer                                        Desert Wind                                       Broadway Limited             Three Rivers                 Coast Starlight                          
 
Amtrak Miles Logged: over 211,000


#8 wwchi

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 09:27 AM

Why did you cross through that mess of traffic? :-/

There's a crosswalk at the corner of Jackson, just left of the doorway that brought you out to the east side of Canal Street. You cross there and either head left to the city buses or right to the line for the taxi stand.

I'm surprised she didn't point it out to you.

you don't need to walk to the corner - the buses, cars, etc. are supposed to stop if people are in that crosswalk.  It's very wide and marked with lines - you are allowed to cross there.  Just move out there slowly and make sure cars, etc. see you before walking out in the middle of it.



#9 SarahZ

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 09:55 AM

Ok. That crosswalk wasn't there the last time I was. That's pretty cool.

Amtrak Miles: 39,318

 

Amtrak Routes: Blue Water, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Carl Sandburg, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Hiawatha, Illinois Zephyr, Lincoln Service, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Wolverine

 

Metropolitan Rail: Chicago Metra, Chicago L, Dallas TRE, Detroit People Mover, New Orleans RTA, San Francisco MUNI, Seattle Monorail, South Shore Line (NICTD), Toronto Subway & RT, Washington DC Metro


#10 Dakota 400

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 04:11 PM

May I reccomend you don't even attempt to visit New York Penn. Ha.

 

I was last at New York Penn in 2014 or 2015 to start a trip on the Crescent.  My only problem was the taxi dropped me off at the 8th Avenue entrance with only an escalator or stairs to get to the bottom level.  With two pieces of luggage and a carry-on, this proved to be a challenge that an Amtrak employee on her lunch break coming up the escalator helped me solve.  She took one piece down while I took the rest.  (I made note of her good service on this web site when I returned home and wrote a comment to Amtrak as well.)

 

Once where I needed to be, baggage check-in was easy to find as was the Metropolitan Lounge.  As had been recommended on this Forum, I used Red Cap service to board the train and that was certainly a breeze.  Even without the Red Cap service, Penn Station certainly did not seem as confusing to me as CUS did.  (I think it is my memory of "what was" helped me being somewhat bewildered at what I was experiencing.)



#11 PVD

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 04:51 PM

There are actually elevators available at some of the entrances, too bad the cab driver didn't drop you by one. When the station was designed, it had a service drive for drop offs, that has an elevator, but for security reasons that has not been open for cab drops in many years.


Edited by PVD, 12 August 2017 - 04:52 PM.


#12 jphjaxfl

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 04:53 PM

Chicago Union Station was much more user-friendly in the 50s and 60s prior to Amtrak.  With Amtrak owning, the facility, it should be more user-friendly.  Keep in mind Chicago had 5 other intercity train stations, most of which were easier to use than Union even then.  My favorite was Dearborn Street Station used by the Santa Fe and 5 other railroads.  Cabs arrived at street level and the departure tracks were at street level so it was easy to board.  A beautiful, but more complex station was Central Station where taxis dropped you off at street level and you had to go upstairs to the waiting room and then back downstairs at the gates to board the trains.  I think Union Station has reached its capacity and hopefully when the remodeling is done, it will be more user friendly.  



#13 Steve4031

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 05:26 PM

That widr street is canal.

#14 FrensicPic

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 08:07 PM

Last month, I arrived by taxi at the station to catch the California Zephyr #5. I went to the Metropolitan Lounge which, according to Amtrak has, "a red carpet exterior entrance near the taxi stand on the west side of Canal Street". The door was locked and no one could be seen inside. I was within the posted business hours.

 

Leaving my wife and our luggage outside, I went inside, found the inside entrance and a Red Cap. The Red Cap came up, got our stuff but, he couldn't get into the lounge either! He went around and opened the door from the inside to let us in and take us to the desk to stash our luggage. I was told they don't have the staffing to "man" the outside door!

 

Here is last years announcement where the above quote came from.

https://media.amtrak...mium-customers/


John...

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#15 Lonestar648

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 11:58 PM

I would think during busy times they could man it, but during low traffic times I can see locking the door.  But they should put up a sign that the upstairs door is closed at this time, please use the inside entrance, or something similar, maybe with best way to go.


Trains Traveled On:
Texas Eagle                                      Sunset Limited                            California Zephyr                                Southwest Chief                Empire Builder            Capitol Limited           Lake Shore limited (NYP & BOS)      Crescent
Kentucky Cardinal                             Cardinal                                       Pere Marquette                                  Wolverines                        Lincoln Service            Empire Service          Keystone Service                               Acelas
NE Regionals                                    Pioneer                                        Desert Wind                                       Broadway Limited             Three Rivers                 Coast Starlight                          
 
Amtrak Miles Logged: over 211,000


#16 dlagrua

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 04:00 PM

Our experiences at CUS have been mostly positive during the last few years. The new Metropolitan Lounge is far better than the old lounge. Its cleaner, brighter , more modern, the choice of beverages better ( there is now sparkling water, espresso and Cappuccino) and occasionally you will find fruit, wine and cheese. There is also more seating.  The baggage room is now self serve but has been a safe storage space so far. The only thing that we miss is the direct exit to the tracks where your train is waiting. The only negative is the exit walk to the trains,  typically through crowds in the busy waiting area.



#17 zephyr17

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 04:17 PM

The thread titled Suitcases in Chicago got me to thinking about my recent experience at CUS.  It has been a few years, around or less than 7, since I have traveled through Chicago.  I found my July experience de-training EB to be more stressful than I remember that it had been.

 

Is the re-modeling of the Station done?  If so, it seems to me that Amtrak has made it less customer friendly.

 

I felt the Concourse level to be confining with better signage needed.  The Baggage Claim area did seem somewhat familiar.  The Baggage Check-in area, as was stated in the previous thread, is next to Baggage Claim, but seemed rather small and inadequate for the business that I would think it does.  After claiming my luggage, where to go to get a taxi?  I had to search for a sign and then discovered I needed to find an elevator.  Poor signage, again, slowed me down.  Once I found the elevator, I was surprised, very negatively, that the taxi stand was across the street from where I was.  I was not a "happy camper" by that point in time.  The on-duty Amtrak policewoman with whom I spoke at the side of the Station/street to which the elevator delivered me appeared to sense that I was stressed and unhappy.  She did her job to insure that traffic would stop as I crossed the street dragging my luggage.  Once getting to the taxi stand, the Taxi Dispatcher quickly got me into a taxi.  

 

Red Cap service appeared minimal.  When I traveled through CUS before, there appeared to be many more Red Caps available to service a LD train. 

 

I think I remember a CUS during the mid-late 1950' and early 1960's where the Concourse area was open and spacious.  I recall, accurately or not which I now wonder, that one could stand outside the Gates for the North side tracks and see the Gates for the South side tracks.  There were kiosks for the Pullman Conductors to check-in Pullman guests in that area.  And, there was some limited seating.  If my memory is accurate, it surely is not so now!  It appears to be a maze to get from one side to the other.  That's making the interior environment of the Station customer friendly?

 

I'd appreciate learning other posters reactions to my experience.  Is my memory faulty?  If so, don't shy from saying so; I won't be offended.

 

What might I have done differently to make my transfer from train to taxi (or even taxi to train) a better experience? 

 

 

Don't blame Amtrak.  The sale of the air rights and the destruction of the open Concourse building you are obviously describing took place before Amtrak (1968-70) and resulted in the maze you see today, sitting in the basement of the office building constructed in the Concourse's place.  It was uglier before the 1990 Amtrak refurbishment, although Amtrak then moved all station services into the concourse at that time, which made it somewhat more cramped although much prettier (no more exposed cinderblock).  The ongoing renovations now are at least partly attempt to reverse that mistake, and the changes have only gotten started.  The move of the taxi stand to the other side of Canal by the Headhouse is in keeping with making more use of the Great Hall/Headhouse and returning it to its traditional role.

 

People rightly celebrate the preservation of Chicago Union Station, but really only one half of it was preserved, the headhouse/Great Hall.  The Concourse suffered the same fate as Penn Station.  Which makes sense, given that the Pennsy was the majority owner of Chicago Union Station.  It was pretty much the same management that made both those decisions.

 

From what I have seen of the plans, the long term plan is to open up a lot of that space in the concourse again making it primarily a boarding area and moving services into the Headhouse/Great Hall, while still having to live with the office building overhead.


Edited by zephyr17, 14 August 2017 - 04:36 PM.

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#18 Dakota 400

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 09:04 PM

zephyr17,

 

Your post is further helping me understand "where I was" in the Station.  I was wondering why I had not seen or walked through the Great Hall.  It's in a different building across from where I was!  

 

I still am of the opinion that taxi service should be available on the side of Canal Street where I emerged.  Maybe this is a City of Chicago decision as to where the taxi stand may be?



#19 SarahZ

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 09:12 PM

zephyr17,

 

Your post is further helping me understand "where I was" in the Station.  I was wondering why I had not seen or walked through the Great Hall.  It's in a different building across from where I was!  

 

I still am of the opinion that taxi service should be available on the side of Canal Street where I emerged.  Maybe this is a City of Chicago decision as to where the taxi stand may be?

 

The taxi stand used to be on that side of Canal Street. It moved just a little while ago (maybe a year ago?) It actually flows better now, as taxis and Ubers and people picking up their friends/relatives were always jockeying for position along that side of Canal. By moving the taxis to the other side of the street, that created more room (and a safer area) for people to pull over and drop off/pick up their friends/relatives.

 

This was made possible by moving the buses over to the big bus area (whatever it's called). When the buses stopped on both sides of Canal, that created even more of a jam with taxis and the drop-offs. Now that the buses are on the other side of Jackson, the taxis can claim one side of Canal while regular traffic has the other side. It's SO much better.

 

You can actually get to the Great Hall if you keep walking underground. When you're on Canal Street, it looks like two separate buildings, but they're connected by a huge walkway under the street. That "walkway" has the escalators to Canal Street, Amtrak Passenger Services, Amtrak Ticketing, Baggage Services, and the Metra Ticketing office (and Ventra card machines). The Metropolitan Lounge entrance is within the entryway to the Great Hall, and the Redcaps are stationed nearby.


Amtrak Miles: 39,318

 

Amtrak Routes: Blue Water, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Carl Sandburg, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Hiawatha, Illinois Zephyr, Lincoln Service, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Wolverine

 

Metropolitan Rail: Chicago Metra, Chicago L, Dallas TRE, Detroit People Mover, New Orleans RTA, San Francisco MUNI, Seattle Monorail, South Shore Line (NICTD), Toronto Subway & RT, Washington DC Metro


#20 Dakota 400

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Posted 14 August 2017 - 10:01 PM

SarahZ,

 

More good information!  Thanks!  I thought that continuing to walk underground I would get to the Great Hall after zephyr7's post.

 

If one arrives at CUS to depart on a train, where is the drop-off point for the taxi?  Is it on the side of Canal Street where the taxi stand is?  And, if so, is there an elevator to the Concourse level at that location? 






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