Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why Union Station's Problems Are All Of Illinois Problem...

The recent leaks at Union Station are just the most recent illustration of the general issues that exist at Union Station (the third busiest in the US), issues which in my opinion will have long term impact on economic growth as well as reduce the value of Illinois investment in "high speed rail"

Union Station:
As a long time Metra commuter on the BNSF line, I can attest to the continued degradation of the infrastructure at Union Station and how it has an impact on the overall rail experience.

Leaks:
On both the North and South ends of station water leaking onto the platforms in quite common during rain. During the winter you also end up with some really nice ice as well hanging down from the ceiling.  The platform between tracks 2 and 4 on the South side is a particular example, this platform has an additional metal ceiling to try and keep water (and other debris) of off trains and commuters with various levels of success.  The patchwork that is now the ceiling above those tracks (you can see where they have replaced various parts) illustrates how effective of a long term solution that is.

I suspect there are not a whole lot of commuter rail terminals that have street level storm drains, that drain directly onto rail tracks. This appears to be the case when it comes to track 2 at Union Station.

Outside of the platforms, the Grand Hall at Union Station can become an obstacle course when it rains due to the buckets and garbage cans set up to capture the water leaking from the ceiling.  I will say this, they have made some improvements in the Grand Hall, but the seem to be more focused at events than they are at commuters or Amtrak riders...

The Grand Hall...

Well it is a nice space in one way, if you have seen various movies shot in Chicago you have seen people ranging from Al Capone's henchmen to General Zod meet their end in the Grand Hall.  However I suspect Union Station is the only major rail terminal in the US where it's largest waiting area may be unavailable to train riders who might be waiting for a train because someone is hosting a reception in it's space.

It is the major issue in Metra's new plan for managing crowds during delays. If there is a major delay you could easily fit most folks waiting into the Grand Hall, but if the Grand Hall has an event going odds are not bad you may end up waiting outside for your train...

Air Quality..

Well this has gotten better over the last couple of years. There was a time when the air was bad enough that the smoke detectors inside the bathroom (with a closed bathroom door) would go off. But suffice to say there is a times a visible haze on the platforms.


Why This Matters
Well the quality of Union Station is going to have an impact on Metra rider experience and will likely lead to fewer riders in the longer term.  But what I think is the more likely and perhaps more interesting result is turning off the very riders (business folks) that 'high speed' rail in Illinois is meant to attract.  Would you go to an airport for a trip you could do by car (or from a different airport) if it meant waiting in a poorly heated (or air conditioned) waiting area that might be very crowded (you should see what the primary Amtrak waiting area at Union Station looks like) and while going to your train there was the very real possibility you might get rained on?  Part of 'high speed' rail is the idea of enticing folks who would drive and/or fly.  That is going to be hard when not only may the trip by rail take longer but it may also be a less pleasant experience.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Sorry Illinois Political Junkies, Most Folks Can Care Less Whou Rauner Appoints To Be Comptrolller..

Unless Rauner said he was appointing State Comptroller Atkins , most residents of Illinois can really care less who is in the role.

This isn't a slam on Leslie Munger, I really don't know enough about her to draw a conclusion one way or another, but  I just think the whole 2 year, 4 year thing and the rest of it all comes down a political fight by people who really care about that sort of thing, which by definition if you ask me excludes 99% of the residents of the state of Illinois.

So while the arguments about if she is a 'good' appointee or not will continue, when it comes down to it, until she is in the role, no one really knows.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Is It Good To Be Paul Vallas Now?

Back in August, I had a blog post about how Paul Vallas was in a fairly good position win or lose.

Now I have to say I am not so sure, because Pat didn't use Vallas that effectively in the general. He used him a bit as an attack dog, but pushing the billionare thing it seemed more than anything else. Right now assuming Lisa isn't going to run for governor and I am starting to think she will not ever run for governor, than Vallas is your likely frontrunner for the office on the Dem side at this point, which isn't saying much.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Thought For The Day...

If you deal with a regulator or have licenses issued by some government entity a professional association membership can be worth 10x the price easy....


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

No Metra, Not Good News....

Well, Metra thinks they have a solution to the crowding that happens on the south side of Union Station when there are major service interruptions.. Where basically it ends up wall to wall people (funny how the north side of Union Station seems to have that problem a lot less frequently)...

At the end of the post is the e-mail Metra sent out today, the plan sounds nice but it does not address the fundamental cause of the crowding.

The cause of the crowding isn't fundamentally the delays (stay with me a minute here), it is Metra's inability to share information about the delays and when trains will arrive and be able to leave. Trust me at least this commuter and I suspect lots of others would love to wait out these situations at the office or even at a tavern outside of Union Station.

The problem is normally these situations are either revealed late (so you are already waiting with several hundred friends on a platform or in the station) so you become 'trapped in the mass'... The other common occurrence is that metra shares no information besides 'we have no idea' and the 'trains are here and ready to go' an experienced Metra commuter knows it is worth waiting with the mass since the situation can change so rapidly.

If Metra did a better job of providing information about the delay (such as expected length) and get news of the delay out I think fewer people would try and wait it out at the station.

Also just for reference when you read the item below, keep in mind the Great Hall (where Superman killed General Zod) is rented out for private events, so sometimes the best place to have people wait (large space) is unavailable. When that is the case the plan is to keep folks in the other areas is going to fail IMHO...

I wonder if Metra considered why people feel they need to wait at the station, because I really doubt anyone enjoys being stuck in a crowd like that.  People end up waiting at the station because they don't know there is an issue and because it for want of a better term works since the system tends to go from 'screwed with no information' to trains moving in about 10 minutes (tops).



Attention Chicago Union Station Customers 

Good news for users of Union Station: Metra today unveiled a proactive plan to help avoid overcrowded situations on the South Concourse and south platforms of Union Station.

"This plan will rely on the assistance of our passengers, and Metra, BNSF and Amtrak would like to thank them in advance for their cooperation in following this plan and the directions of personnel at Union Station," said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno.

The plan, which was drafted with the help of Amtrak and BNSF Railway, will be implemented as soon as Metra suspects that peak outbound service could be significantly disrupted on the three lines that use the South Concourse - primarily the BNSF Line but also the SouthWest Service and Heritage Corridor lines. (A flyer detailing the plan will be placed on those lines in the morning. It also is available on our website.)
If a disruption happens, Metra, BNSF and Amtrak personnel will restrict access to the South Concourse by controlling the flow of pedestrians so they can only enter that concourse from one location - the wide corridor that connects the concourse to the Great Hall waiting area and Metra ticketing area. The corridor will service as a loading/staging area where riders can queue until trains are ready to board, keeping the concourse clear so passengers can easily get to and from the train platforms. The goal is to create a safe and orderly wait for train service to resume.


If the Great Hall is open (Map 1), passengers will be encouraged to wait there. Metra will provide updates to riders with public address system announcements supplemented by staff members with bullhorns among the waiting passengers.

Access to the South Concourse primarily will be controlled by closing the main escalators/stairs that feed the concourse from the food court level. Passengers who use the Union Station entrance at Jackson and the Chicago River will have to walk north, use the escalators/stairs that feed the North Concourse and double back south past the Metra ticket area to the loading/staging area.

Riders who enter Union Station from Clinton/Adams and Clinton/Jackson will have to walk through the Great Hall to get to the staging area. If the Great Hall is closed, passengers will have to use a different entrance/path to the staging area, as shown on Map 2 of the flyer.

In the event of a disruption that is only affecting BNSF trains, SouthWest Service and Heritage Corridor passengers will be allowed to enter the South Concourse via the hallway that connects the South and North Concourses to the Amtrak ticket area, as shown on Map 3 of the flyer. BNSF riders will be directed to the staging area.

Metra requests that all riders please obey instructions from Metra, BNSF and Amtrak personnel and police.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Well I Got That Wrong..

Really thought Quinn would end up pulling it off...

I have to say I don't feel bad that I was wrong however...