Durbin: Court Ruling Will Clear the Air for Amtrak and Metra Passengers at Union Station

Overseas Owner of Former U.S. Post Office Must Maintain Ventilation System, Allow Inspections and Comply with Directions from Amtrak and City Officials

[CHICAGO] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today applauded U.S. Federal Court Judge Harry Leinenweber's approval of a Consent Decree that requires the owner of the former main Chicago Post Office, International Property Developers (IPD), to operate all the exhaust fans "seven (7) days a week, twenty-four (24) hours a day" to provide ventilation for the tracks at Union Station in Chicago.  The Consent Decree also allows regular inspections by Amtrak, which owns the station through its Chicago Union Station Co. (CUSCO) subsidiary.  The ventilation system clears the air of diesel soot, exposure to which has been linked with a variety of health problems including cancer, heart attacks, respiratory diseases, diabetes and brain damage.


Last February, Durbin held a news conference at the station where he called on the U.K.-based owner of the old post office to meet its legal obligations to operate and maintain the ventilation system that removes diesel fumes from tracks used by Amtrak intercity and Metra commuter trains at Chicago’s biggest train station.  The owners claimed the situation was under control, but less than two weeks after Durbin’s news conference a large fire erupted in the Old Post Office.  Investigators found a faulty ventilation blower in an exhaust tower ignited flammable materials nearby on the roof.  The fire was serious enough for the City to close several streets in the South Loop that evening. 


“Amtrak has taken big steps to clean up Union Station in recent years, but the station’s air quality is only as good as its ventilation,” Durbin said.  “Amtrak and the federal court are doing the right thing by making the owner of the Old Post Office keep the fan system running, protecting the health and safety of millions of rail passengers.  I applaud Amtrak for fighting for better air quality for their passengers and the City of Chicago for their vigilance ensuring the owner of the Old Post Office is maintaining a safe building.”

“Amtrak appreciates the court’s hard work in bringing the sides together and resolving this issue without the time and expense of a trial,” said Ray Lang, CUSCO President and Chief, State and Local Government Relations at Amtrak. “Amtrak ridership continues to set records and the health and safety of those customers is our first concern. We thank Sen. Durbin for his continued support of Amtrak and the growth of passenger rail.” 


“On behalf of the thousands of Metra riders who use Union Station every day, I would like to thank Amtrak, the federal court and Senator Durbin for their efforts to resolve this issue and ensure that the station’s ventilation system is operated and maintained correctly,” said Metra CEO Alex Clifford.


“This is a great day for the 120,000+ people who walk through the Union Station Terminal each day,” said Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer of Respiratory Health Association, which had long advocated for improved ventilation at Union Station.  “Diesel exhaust pollution has been linked to asthma attacks, lung cancer, and many other illnesses.  Amtrak’s actions, and Senator Durbin’s persistence in advocating for improved ventilation, will significantly improve the quality of the air at Union Station.”     


In November 2010, Durbin asked several federal agencies to work with Amtrak and Metra to look into the results of a Chicago Tribune report that discovered the high level of diesel soot and air pollution in commuter rail cars and on train platforms at Union Station. The report found levels of diesel soot in Ogilvie and Union Stations significantly higher than on the streets outside. Diesel exhaust contains many air pollutants, and has been linked to health problems such as cancer, heart attacks, respiratory diseases, diabetes and brain damage.


In February 2011, Durbin met with then-recently appointed CEO of Metra, Alex Clifford, to discuss Metra’s ongoing review of diesel locomotive emissions. Since the Chicago Tribune’s report, Metra has added high efficiency filters to each of their train cars, reducing pollution inside cars by an average of 75 percent. Through the federally-funded Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) program, Metra will be able to install automatic shut-offs on 27 locomotives, shutting down train engines that idle for more than 10 minutes. With $5.28 million in additional federal funding through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program, Metra will be able to install 24 additional engine retrofits to limit idling and completely rebuild tow aging locomotives. When these locomotives are shut down instead of left idling, carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced by more than 81,000 tons per year.


Durbin also wrote to Joseph Boardman, President and CEO of Amtrak, in July 2011 for an update on their efforts to improve air quality in and around Union Station. Amtrak has received federal CMAQ funds to acquire two “gen-set” switching locomotives to reduce emissions in its busy Chicago facility and will acquire new diesel locomotives that will meet new EPA Tier 3 or 4 standards designed to operate more cleanly. Amtrak also initiated a comprehensive review of the ventilation system surrounding the tracks in Union Station.


The City of Chicago also issued citations and brought an action in state courts against IPD.   A similar consent decree was entered in that case, which makes the City a partner with Amtrak in making sure the tracks below the Old Post Office building are ventilated, Lang added.