Chicago’s Union Station Exposes Commuters to High Levels of Diesel Exhaust

After a Chicago Tribune investigation revealed alarming news about diesel pollution inside Metra’s passenger trains, the agency took several steps to improve the situation.

This week, tests by Amtrak revealed unsafe levels of diesel pollution in Union Station.

Thousands of commuters continue to breathe high levels of lung-damaging diesel exhaust at Chicago’s Union Station, in part because of nagging maintenance problems at the Old Post Office that straddles the southbound tracks.

Testing by Amtrak has determined that ventilation fans at the shuttered post office building repeatedly malfunction. At times, the system of 11 ducts and fans has operated at just 53 percent of its design capacity, according to a letter to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin from Joseph Boardman, Amtrak’s president and chief executive.

After months of negotiations, Amtrak officials are filing a lawsuit in federal court seeking to force Bill Davies, the British developer who bought the former post office building in 2009, to follow through on promises to fix the problem.

City officials already have cited Davies’ International Property Developers with two violations of Chicago building codes related to the ventilation system.

“This owner’s failure to remedy the situation shows a disregard for the air quality in the station area and for the people who use the station,” Boardman wrote in a letter obtained by the Tribune.

The issues relating to Union Station’s problems are examined in several Roosevelt University seminars, including SUST 320 Sprawl, Transportation, and Planning and SUST 310 Energy and Climate Change. For more information on these or any other of our courses, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email

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