Officials mark the start of Homewood station renovation

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Officials mark the start of Homewood station renovation

September 28, 2020 - 22:13

Elected and railroad officials gather Monday to officially mark the beginning of a long-awaited major renovation to Homewood's train station. (David P. Funk/H-F Chronicle)

Local, state and federal officials gathered Monday to mark the start of the Homewood train station renovation. 

“The Homewood station is one of the central, premier train stations of the south suburbs. This station not only takes people to Chicago, but all the way to New Orleans and many cities and states in between,” U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., said. “Each of these governing bodies worked together to create this incredible project.” 

A formerly blocked off stairway extending south from the west end of the Homewood train station tunnel was reopened early in the construction project. The west stairway used until recently by rail passengers has been demolished in preparation for building a new accessible ramp. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

The renovation has been in the works for years, becoming fully-funded last October. 

Construction is already underway on the west side of the tracks. Amtrak is replacing the stairs with an enclosed ramp that will allow access to the tunnel under the tracks to both the Amtrak and Metra platforms. That’s being funded with $15 million from the federal government for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Accessibility is important and right now, as it stands today, the station is not fully accessible. At the completion of this project, it will be,” Amtrak Vice President David Handera said. 

The 650-foot boarding platform is being demolished and replaced with a new one eight inches above the rails to make trains easier to board. It will be covered and lighted and serve both the northbound and southbound trains, which may allow for increased service in the future. 

Demolition continues on the roof of the old Amtrak boarding platform on Aug. 26. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

In the spring, Metra will be replacing the existing station in downtown Homewood on the east side of the tracks and renovating the tunnel, which will include creating accessible paths on both sides. 

That portion of the project will be paid for with a combined $14 million in local and federal funding, mostly from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Federal Transit Administration. Metra will also contribute $4 million, Homewood $585,000 and Cook County $300,000. 

“One of Cook County government’s responsibilities is to ensure that we support a robust transportation infrastructure,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “Our transportation network is extensive and one of the greatest strengths of the county but its foundation has begun to erode.”

Workers continue breaking up the foundation of the former Amtrak boarding platform on Sept. 21. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

The Metra portion will go to bid in the fourth quarter of this year. Construction is expected to take about 18 months. 

“Groundbreakings are always great events for Metra. It shows that we’re starting to reinvest into the system,” Metra CEO Jim Derwinksi said. “We don’t do enough of this. This is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of how many different government organizations, villages and support groups coming together to make this happen. And it’s not always in the newspaper that Amtrak and Metra are getting along, but we actually are great partners.” 

The tunnel will be waterproofed and improvements will be made to lighting, drainage and ventilation. A graffiti-resident finish will be applied. 

The Pace Suburban bus station adjoining Metra's downtown Homewood station will also be reconfigured.

The station is normally used by 54 Metra electric district trains on weekdays and 40 on weekends, but service has been limited during the COVID-19 pandemic. The station also serves as a stop for Illini and Saluki Amtrak trains between Chicago and Carbondale, as well as the City of New Orleans train. Those trains have been suspended during the pandemic.