Chicago Union Station: Chicago, Illinois


As one of the downtown's most iconic structures, Chicago Union Station represents both the city's outstanding architectural tradition and its historic role as a national rail hub. Completed in 1925 following construction delays caused by World War I, the station underwent a series of major renovations after Amtrak took full ownership in 1984. There were sustainable retrofits and a 1992 change to the underground space to better accommodate growing passenger volumes and consolidate amenities in a redesigned food court.

Designated Area

First envisioned by renowned architect Daniel Burnham, the station provides a grand stage where Chicago's history and energy come together for millions to enjoy. Beaux-Arts facades, soaring columns, marble floors, brass lamps, and the striking Great Hall create a setting, featured in films such as The Untouchables, that invites commuters and tourists alike to stop and take it all in.

The striking Great Hall and its 219-foot barrel-vaulted skylight. The Daniel Burnham–designed station opened in 1925. Photo by Jeff Brown, courtesy All Events Photography.

Planning Excellence

Following a public meeting in December 2011 with more than 200 people in attendance, the May 2012 Master Plan Study balances the improvements in bus connections demanded by suburban commuters with the broader goal of accommodating an expected 40 percent increase in ridership by 2040. Currently handling 32 million passengers a year, Union Station is not just a historic and beautiful space, but also an aesthetically pleasing interchange for 120,000 daily passengers and passersby.

Among the issues covered in the station's 2012 Master Plan study are improving bus connections between downtown Chicago and suburban communities. Chicago Union Station is one of the busiest terminals in the country, handling 120,000 passengers and visitors daily. Flickr photo by joseph a (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Defining Characteristics, Features


  • Plan of Chicago by architects Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett includes vision for consolidated passenger and express freight rail hub at Union Station (1909)
  • Architecture firm Graham, Anderson, Probst and White manages construction costing $75 million; work takes 10 years (1925) because of World War I delays
  • Chicago Daily News (1929), Post Office (1932) buildings use station air rights north and south of the Concourse Building
  • "L" train station removed (1958); Concourse Building demolished (1969)
  • Amtrak assumes full ownership of station in 1984; five-year, $32 million renovation including new escalators and redesigned food court completed 1992
  • Three-year, $40 million renovation includes doubling of seating capacity for Amtrak passengers, new restrooms, replacing exterior concrete barriers with bollards (begun 2010)
  • Air-conditioning restored to Great Hall in 2011 for the first time since 1960, leading to increases in public use of the Great Hall and additional revenue to Amtrak from private events held at station

Station design and features

  • Beaux-Arts building design, by Chicago city planner and architect David Burnham, features elegant facades made from Bedford limestone
  • Great Hall incorporates Corinthian columns, Tennessee marble floors, brass lamps, 219-foot barrel-vaulted skylight
  • As first and only double stub-end station in U.S., trains enter and exit from separate sides, delivering Burnham's vision of station as a national hub
  • Name of former railroad company owners, Chicago Union Station Co., etched on windows to the Canal Street colonnade
  • Sculptor Henry Hering's opposing figural statues, one holding a rooster and the other an owl, signify station's 24-hour activity
  • $25 million infrastructure improvements update Great Hall's mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems (completed 2012)

Commitment to sustainability

  • Lighting upgraded with energy efficient bulbs and motion sensors, saving station $336,402 and reducing carbon footprint by 4 million tons each year (2011)
  • Reduced-voltage starters installed on all 12 escalators in station, reducing energy consumption by more than 20 percent while improving escalator service
  • Clear bags used for all waste; garbage collection staff separates all recyclable materials from bags for on-site compacting and daily collection by city

The Beaux-Arts building features elegant facades made from Bedford limestone. Since 2010 there have been more than $65 million in station improvements. Photo by Jeff Brown, courtesy All Events Photography.