Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: JamesT4, metraRI

  by Gilbert B Norman
When I first moved here during 1979, the Real Estate Broker made it her business to tell me that "Burlington is the best", and that my house is .06 mile from the station "sealed the deal".

But now, this CBS Local News reports that "The Tiffany" from my day (my commuting days were over at end of '81) has now become a "problematic" operation.

Of course, the audience is "quite captive" - who of sound mind working in The Loop is about to pay $32 a day for parking, in addition to "all the rest"?

I know when I ride for "whatever" - "poor man's way to O'Hare", the Symphony, meet up with friends - CUS is simply vile, and the BNSF trains are getting there themselves. There is no longer an Agent here, so that now means having to pay on the train inbound, then standing in line at the CUS windows for your return ticket (also must remember to have cash as well as my Senior ID).
  by MetraBNSF
I can’t remember where I read it and it was a bunch of years ago. With the recent schedule change in spite of PTC, it’s starting to make sense. Ridership has actually declined east of Downers Grove while its increased at an explosive rate west of there. A closer analysis of the revised schedule added additional express trains during both rush hours in the DG-Aurora corridor. It certainly comes at the expense of the trains that run from CUS-Fairview. The line is certainly over saturated. Parking lots from DG and points west are generally filled by 7am. Long trains are packed.

Fortunately I recently haven’t had to ride in a car in which the AC is broken. CBS reports the BNSF coach fleet has 211 cars. Assuming that number also contains the control cars. The newer cars that operate on the line are small numbers of 6000s, 7400s, 8400 and 8500 series. My estimate is that’s only about 50-60 newer cars. Some of the Budd 700 series cars have been retired while most have been rebuilt. A handful of former Budd control cars have been decommissioned and operate as regular coach cars.

The only answer is funding. From the state and federal governments. I don’t get into politics but certainly much needs to be invested in transit. Rebuilding and rehabbing can only go so far.
  by Tadman
Gilbert B Norman wrote: CUS is simply vile,
Wait until they take the barriers down. I've had the behind-scenes tour, the new glass dome is stunning and they've done a very nice job with the ceiling as well. The building was deeply flawed as built and the money was spent to do things right in rebuilding it. What does bother me is the day-to-day boarding operations have regressed back to old standards, and the equipment is still old leading to delays out of the originating terminal.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Mr. Dunville, lest we forget Iv'e had that "behind the scenes" tour you note - eleven years of it.

If the hotel is to be within the existing eight floors - the MILW's General offices, I'd almost want to come in and pay $350 just to spend a night in what was Room 726 - AKA known as my "workplace".

But I'd like to think "great things" are ahead for CUS, but at the moment for a paying passenger, the place is simply a vile dump.
  by Engineer Spike
This is sad. I began my railroad career as a trainman in Aurora. My hire date was in April of 1997. Back then, we were held to a really high standard. When I was working freight, I’d laugh to myself at Amtrak, while doing a pull-by inspection, of the passenger train. Half the wheels had flat spots. On the other hand, we had a bad rain one fall day, and the engineer put a flat spot on our cab car. Within a day or so, it was pulled to have the wheels turned. All the cars seemed to come out surgically clean every morning. I’ll say that Burlington/BN/early BNSF ran top notch passenger service.
  by jonnhrr
Wow CUS a dump. It must have declined a lot since I arrived there on the LSL about a year ago. I was impressed by much of it.

But if I compare it to Penn Station NY, almost anything looks good in comparison.

  by Gilbert B Norman
"METRA's Troubled BNSF Line":

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/loc ... story.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Fair Use:
A downed utility wire near west suburban Cicero caused massive problems on Metra’s troubled BNSF line Thursday morning, leading to three hours of halted service and then extensive delays during the morning commute, according to the transportation agency.

The incident is the latest in a series of problems on the BNSF, which has been plagued by air conditioning, overcrowding and other issues in recent months. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Chicago Democrat, said he sent a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board on Wednesday calling for stronger federal oversight in addressing issues on Metra’s busiest line, which runs between downtown Chicago and Aurora.
  by Tadman
jonnhrr wrote:Wow CUS a dump. It must have declined a lot since I arrived there on the LSL about a year ago. I was impressed by much of it.

But if I compare it to Penn Station NY, almost anything looks good in comparison.

CUS is not a dump by any means. They just sunk something like $160m into it, completely refurbishing the football field-size skylight, restoring the womens' lounge for special events, restoring the interior paint to match the original, totally new sleeper lounge, totally new ticket windows, foamer gear store, revamped baggage claim, etc... They've also moved the waiting area back to the grand hall, as that crummy glassed-in holding area was geared for 1993 passenger levels.

If the place comes off as dumpy, it's due to the significant ongoing construction, which is the price to pay for renewing the place.
  by EricL
They're doing great things with the building interior. The platforms themselves, however, are still extremely dumpy. The master plan for redevelopment doesn't seem to address much at platform level. They want to tear out some of the mail platforms, where appropriate, to increase the width of the passenger platforms; and they want to add some extra escalators or stairs to provide new entry/exit points. They also want to rebuild the Canal Street viaduct portion, which passes over the westernmost tracks (1 through 4).

These are all good and necessary projects, but they don't address the basic fact that the platform areas themselves are rather dark, dingy, and dirty. The last major power washing and repainting of the place was done way back in 2008 when newly minted CEO Boardman was slated to come to town. It helped a lot, but still, there's a lot of grime you just can't get out like that - not to mention all the cracked and falling concrete everywhere.

Aesthetically speaking, I think it would be a great idea to just chip out all the concrete which surrounds the support beams, and leave them exposed. Even with all the various utility lines that run up and down them being exposed, it would be a visual improvement. I'm not a civil or structures engineer though, so I don't know how realistic it would be to actually do that. Concrete surrounds can help forestall rust/water damage, after all, right? which the platforms have an awful lot of.
An egregious example: when the Adams St viaduct was rebuilt a few years ago, the job was finished in a way that left a significant water leak (on rainy days) right above the track 17/19 platform. Insufficient sealant between the upper surface edges was apparently not provided, or at least not tested for after the fact. Why on earth did Amtrak not go after CDOT for this - or else just patch it up themselves? It's an easy fix, unlike at many other locations where the water leakage is a product of old age and erosion.

I have a question about the roof panels with the slats in them for removing diesel exhaust. (You know, the ones which are currently partly torn out in places due to falling concrete - evidently to be replaced again at some point - but when???) Assuming no working fans for suction - which seems to be the case if you're standing down there coughing on blue smoke - how effective are these slats at inertly pulling in the exhaust smoke and isolating it from the public? I only ask because it seems like the place would feel a lot more open if these panels just weren't even there at all. You can see it in some of the places where they've pulled pieces of the false roof out - there's another good ten feet of clearance up there.

Some naive questions, perhaps, from a guy who's been working in and out of this station every week for the last 12 years. But again, I'm not the "smart" kind of engineer!

Sorry for getting off topic - feel free to split this off into a new CUS Renovations thread or alike.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Tadman wrote:
jonnhrr wrote:Wow CUS a dump.
CUS is not a dump by any means. -in holding area was geared for 1993 passenger levels.
Mr. Dunville, that vile place IS a dump. I was last through there Friday Oct 5 taking my "poor man's way to O'Hare". Now that METRA has closed the Clarendon Hills ticket office, I have to pay cash on board and "line up" at the METRA cage for a return ticket. Furthermore, the CTA "slot machine" there was "balky".

While likely the first factor in my decision not to attend a matinee Chicago Symphony today was that a very special former neighbor (kids in college; why pay $25K a year taxes to support a school district anymore) was unable to meet for a pre-concert Lunch, contributing was the "less than reliable" BNSF service and having to be anywhere near CUS.

OK, why don't I become like most of my affluent neighbors and just "drive in"? Well, $6 round trip and a chance to get in 2.5 miles of walking (CUS to Orchestra Hall and back) sure beats $30 parking, $10 gas, and $3 of tolls. Likely the next time I drive in will be when my mobility impaired Sister comes out to visit and wants to go to the CSO.
  by Tadman
There seems to be some questions about the state of CUS. Due to my work a few years ago proposing some projects for Amtrak, I have had multiple extensive tours of the facility and I can personally attest to the high quality of work done. Recently, CBRE posted these pictures so I feel it's kosher to repost here. Judge for yourself:

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https://image-store.slidesharecdn.com/c ... ginal.jpeg" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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https://image-store.slidesharecdn.com/0 ... ginal.jpeg" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

What's interesting is those rosettes on the wall. What looks like shadows is really different colors of shading of the relief pieces, incredible attention to detail. They've also built a skylight over the skylight, as the original was very leaky.

Here is a link to pics of the new sleeper lounge: https://media.amtrak.com/2016/06/amtrak ... customers/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Here is a look inside the new Burlington Room (the former Ladies lounge): https://chicago.curbed.com/2016/11/28/1 ... eservation" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Here is the former barbershop, now a small city club: https://www.yelp.com/biz/legacy-club-chicago-5" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

They have done this really well. It's pretty hard to argue that the place is a dump in the face of these photos.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Mr. Dunville, I have not arrived or departed on any Amtrak train since '12. Therefore since then, all I have been is a METRA/BNSF passenger. Now that you've made a one way trip on #59 (to somewhere I was last in during '04), we no longer have our "Miller's Pub meet-ups". Therefore, my passing through CUS is simply my "poor man's way to O'Hare", CSO concerts, or meet-ups with friends in town. From that exposure to the place, it is somewhere that the sooner I'm out of, and away from the panhandlers, the happier I be.

I pity the connecting Coach passenger who is facing six hours of those hard benches in the now so-called Great Hall with essentially only Mickey D for Lunch. The place at this time, from my perspective, is simply a vile dump that the sooner I'm gone from it, the happier I be.
  by Tadman
If you've got six hours on that bench, go to Lou Mitchells! It's a great greasy spoon a few blocks away.

Also for what it's worth, most European terminals have no waiting facilities other than 2-3 backless benches for a large 10-20 track station. Walk in, board, depart. That said, their food choices are better than ours.
  by justalurker66
OK ... for those who believe CUS is a dump what would tip the scales? What improvement would be needed to make it not a dump? What specific problems need to be resolved and how would you resolve them?

There is a plan to rework the platforms - remove the unused freight platforms and ramps between the tracks, shift tracks away from the current passenger platforms as far as practical and create wider platforms for passenger use. I believe that will help with crowding and passenger flow. That work would include resurfacing the platforms. Platform access would also be improved to get Metra passengers in and out of the station quickly. On the Amtrak side they are considering creating new platforms on the tracks to the east of the existing platform tracks.

I see CUS as two stations ... one for the several Metra lines and one for the several Amtrak services. Metra passengers generally should not be spending a lot of time at the station. Arrive by train and pass through as they go to work or whatever reason they came to Chicago. Return and get on a train and leave. The station does not have to be spectacular - it just needs to be functional with no impediments to traffic flow. Commuters are not admiring the architecture as much as trying to get from A to B efficiently. Mc D is not the only food on the Mezzanine level for those who need to grab a bite.

The second station is Amtrak. Amtrak has had their challenges at CUS but it seems they offer two classes of service depending on how much one pays for their ticket. Expecting free access to posh lounges when one is traveling on a coach ticket (or is not an Amtrak passenger) is a big ask. Letting everyone in lowers the value for those who paid for the exclusive space.

If you believe the wooden benches make the place a dump what would you replace them with? BarcaLoungers? As unappealing as a wood bench can be would you prefer a metal grate style? Backless benches? No benches? Whatever seating is provided must be easy to maintain and the wooden benches seem to meet the need of having some place to sit without extreme costs.

I have seen places in CUS that I wish were less urban in feel. Perhaps if I spent five hours there instead of passing through I'd see things differently. The time I have spent at the station was time I wanted to spend at the station - I was not being held captive waiting for a train. And I am still young enough that I can leave ... and take a walk around the neighborhood if it is daytime.

So what is dumpy about CUS? What would it take to make CUS not a dump? Or is CUS a lost cause?