JOLIET – The city opened its new train station Wednesday to favorable reviews.
“It’s awesome,” said Lisa Smith of Joliet. “Finally, a facility you can go into, and it’s – wow!”
Smith, who was waiting for an Amtrak train to Springfield, was like many travelers who were impressed in part because they finally had a train station to use since the city closed Union Station to commuters in 2014 while moving boarding operations to the other side of the tracks.
“For the last year, I’ve seen it under construction,” said Jose Guzman of Chicago, who regularly uses Metra to visit his girlfriend in Plainfield. “It’s beautiful.”
Guzman, like others, was impressed by the high ceilings, large windows and conveniences that include a connecting bridge for Metra commuters using the Rock Island line and a connecting tunnel for Heritage Corridor riders.
Danielle Tully of Plano, catching a train in Joliet for the first time, also was impressed by the new station.
“It’s pretty,” Tully said. “It’s clean. I like all the big windows and the light. It seems welcoming for someone who didn’t know what she was doing.”
Welcoming is the atmosphere that Joliet wanted.
“The hope is that this feels like an open, safe, welcoming entryway to the city,” said Lisa Dorothy, Joliet’s project engineer on the construction job.
Dorothy said the city worked with its architects to “come up with features that were compelling but not costly.”
In addition to the large windows, those features include the curved design of the second floor, a portico entrance and limestone on the outside walls that offers the classic look found on the city’s Union Station, which was built in 1912.
While Union Station actually was built with limestone walls, the walls on the new station only have a limestone cladding that provides an aesthetic facade.
The train station is part of the city’s Gateway Center, a $51 million project that has included new boarding platforms on the east side of the railroad tracks downtown. The city will continue to pursue funding for a bus station, Dorothy said. A bus station was part of the original plan but was postponed when the city ran out of money.
One glitch on opening day was the discovery of just how bright the new train station is with the large windows. Ticket counters facing east encountered bright sunlight through the morning, and city officials said they will consider blinds or some other window covering to shield Metra and Amtrak employees on sunny days.
The good news is that the ticket offices now are inside the station, instead of the temporary trailers that have been outdoors during construction.
The station has two floors.
The first floor includes space for a coffee shop yet to be filled.
The city on Thursday will issue a request for proposals from potential vendors interested in putting a coffee shop in the station. The process will include a required tour of the facility on April 19.
“I’ve mentioned it to a couple of the local coffee shops, and they seemed very interested,” said Derek Conley, economic development specialist with the city.
City officials used that space Wednesday to provide free coffee and doughnuts to commuters as a sign of appreciation for their patience during construction.
“I’m very impressed,” Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, who was among officials welcoming commuters, said of the station interior. “This has been a long time coming. It’s a step forward for downtown Joliet.”
Some work still needs to be done, and a painter was brushing up walls on Wednesday.
A parking lot across Mayor Art Schultz Drive from the station also will be paved after the Metra ticket trailer on the lot is moved and the weather warms up.
The grand opening for the station is planned for June 6.