Situated on the west bank of the Chicago River, between Adams Street and Jackson Street, Union Station is one of the most beautiful and impressive railway stations in the United States. Due to a combination of neoclassical style and modern technology with the principles of spatial planning, the station has been declared a breakthrough in American railway architecture.
Presently, the station is the second one built under that name, and probably the third one on that site. Central station was indispensable in 19th century Chicago, where many small stations were functioning, serving single lines, which was troublesome for passengers. In 1874 five railway companies: Pennsylvania Company; Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad; Michigan Central Railroad; Chicago and Alton Railroad; Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway decided to build a new central station. After Michigan Central Railroad withdrew, four other companies implemented the project, and in 1881 the new station was ceremonially opened. The main part at that time faced Canal Street, tracks led to it from the south, and platforms occupied the space between the main building and the banks of the Chicago river.
Increasing numbers of passengers, as well as the need to consolidate terminals, led to a thorough modernisation and expansion of the station. The creator of the design was American architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, who died before the construction was completed. Despite this fact, the station was built according to his concept. The construction took from 1913 to 1925, which was the year of the ceremonial opening. The last viaducts were completed in 1927.
New Union Station is one of the most beautiful buildings representative of Neoclassicism in the United States. The flat roof structure, monumental Great Hall, arch vaulting of vast doors, passages and windows, as well as ornamental railings, stairways, cartouches, pilasters and bas-reliefs emphasised the Beaux-Arts style.
The most characteristic place at the station is the 12 ft (34 m) high Great Hall, crowned with a brilliant, five-storey glass vaulting, supported by 18 Corinthian columns. It contains a waiting room with huge wooden benches. Around this central part of the station, there are many restaurants, tourist information offices, waiting rooms, luggage storages and ticket offices, and above it there are several storeys of office space.
This architectonically impressive room functions not only as a waiting room. Fashion shows, exclusive wedding receptions or elegant company or occasional parties are held there. Cinema lovers will probably associate the Great Hall with the memorable shooting scene on the stairs from “The Untouchables” by Brian De Palma.
Union Station is Chicago's huge junction for changing trains. Underground, 12 platforms and 24 tracks are located, which serve long-distance, regional and suburban connections by two American carriers, Amtrak and Metra. Lines reach the station from the north, as well as from the south, and for most of them this is the terminus. Between northern and southern tracks the station concourse is located. Both carriers provide about 300 connections per day, used by 54 thousand passengers.
In the future, due to unavoidable high speed railway services, the Union Station will face further modifications and modernisation.