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Architect Wants To Expand Union Station

CHICAGO (WBBM) -- Union Station is running out of room for trains, even though Metra commuters are asking for more service, Amtrak is setting ridership records, and advocates want to make Union Station the hub for a regional network of high-speed trains.

One planner believes he has found a skyline-altering way to accommodate all of those trains.

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It's no small plan, which may be appropriate because Daniel Burnham himself designed Union Station.

The key is to tear down the 1960s-vintage office tower at 225 S. Canal St., which sits directly above Union Station's concourse and terminal tracks.

Architect Martin Wolf, of the firm Solomon, Cordwell, Buenz (benz) & Associates, said most of Burnham's plans were done quite well, but he said there is one basic flaw -- providing only two tracks that run through Union Station, with the rest terminating on its north or south sides.

"We actually think that Daniel Burnham's model does work, with a few adjustments, and one of those adjustments would be doing something with the building that is located where he had his existing concourse," Wolf said.

As audacious as it sounds, Wolf said doing so would be far cheaper than trying to find another rail route through the west Loop.

Wolf said Union Station has never run at its passenger capacity. He said Burnham designed it for 400,000 passengers a day, and said at most it has hosted 100,000. That is one reason why the original concourse building was torn down in 1969 to make way for the office tower. Its supports now stand in the way of any attempt to connect the stub-end tracks to the station's north and south.

Wolf said that his proposal would create six new through tracks for high-speed trains, while retaining ample space for Metra and existing Amtrak service.

He said he has not consulted either with Amtrak, which owns Union Station, or Metra, which is its biggest tenant. He estimates the cost of his proposal in the range of $700 million. But he said everyday service would be able to continue uninterrupted through the demolition and construction phases.

A new, semi-enclosed concourse area would take the office tower's place, with escalators descending to track level. Clearance would be left to accommodate electrification of commuter and intercity trains.

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