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Amtrak sues city over condition of Canal Street Viaduct at Union Station, alleges neglected maintenance

By Jonathan Bilyk | May 11, 2015

Amtrak and its subsidiary, the company overseeing operations at Union Station, have sued the city of Chicago to force the city to repair the underside of Canal Street running over tracks at the historic train station, and reimburse Amtrak and the station operators for the maintenance work they’ve already done on the viaduct over the last two years.

Monday, May 11, Amtrak and the Chicago Union Station Company (CUSCO) filed suit against the city in federal court.

Throughout its 90 year history, trains and the rail passengers they’ve carried have accessed the station by way of rail tracks running into the station under Canal Street, which was regarded and elevated to make way for trains. Known as the Canal Street Viaduct, the passage runs under Canal Street from Madison Street to Taylor Street.

From the time the viaduct was constructed until 1980, the viaduct was owned and maintained by CUSCO, and thus, Amtrak.

However, in the late 1970s, the city and Amtrak partnered to rehabilitate the Canal Street Viaduct. Under that rehabilitation agreement, CUSCO transferred ownership of the viaduct to the city, and, according to Amtrak’s new complaint, agreed to take maintenance responsibilities for the viaduct and its structures, as well.

However, according to Amtrak’s complaint, the city has “failed to properly maintain the Canal Street Viaduct,” which has resulted in “spalling concrete on it undersurfaces” which form the roof over the tracks.

According to the complaint, Amtrak and CUSCO have since June 2013 worked to regularly inspect and maintain the Canal Street Viaduct. The complaint states Amtrak and CUSCO have removed “portions of spalled concrete” and built “additional structures … to prevent the undersurface material of that portion of Canal Street Viaduct that extends over (Union) Station, station tracks and passenger platforms from endangering” the public and rail workers in and around the station.

Amtrak and CUSCO allege they have spent more than $500,000 on the work.

Amtrak and CUSCO allege counts of breach of contract, negligence and nuisance against the city.

In recent years, the city and Amtrak have each announced plans to improve Union Station and the streets around it. In January, Amtrak unveiled a $12 million project to renovate and improve the station’s concourse area and iconic marble stairway to better handle the crush of more than 120,000 people who use the station each day to commute on Metra and Amtrak.

And on the streets outside Union Station, the city has launched a project to build a new transit center, which would include a new pedestrian connection to Amtrak’s underground passage to Union Station’s concourse.

Those plans come as the latest steps to carry out the recommendations of the Chicago Department of Transportation’s 2012 Chicago Union Station Master Plan Study. That report included recommendations to “rebuild Canal Street Viaduct in a manner that improves street access.”

In calling for the rebuild, the report notes the viaduct, which “forms the ceiling over an integral part of Union Station’s passenger concourse,” is “at the end of its design life.” The report indicates CDOT plans to “rebuild the viaduct” before 2020. But the report’s authors said the city was investigating whether the viaduct should be modified to “help in achieving the study goals, rather than simply replacing the structure exactly as it was originally built.”

The report indicates the city could modify the design to allow for the installation of stairs or elevators to move foot traffic from Canal Street to the concourses below, as well as the creation of “traffic islands” on Canal Street to create curbside pick-up and drop-off areas.

In its complaint, however, Amtrak and CUSCO make no reference to those plans, asking the court instead to order the city to repair “those portions of the Canal Street Viaduct located over the station, station tracks and platforms,” or install “additional structures underneath the Canal Street Viaduct” to protect people and equipment in and around the station.

Amtrak and CUSCO also ask the court to award damages of more than $514,000.

Amtrak is represented in the action by attorney Susan K. Laing, of Anderson, Rasor & Partners, of Chicago.

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