Durbin wrote a letter to the owner of the Old Post Office located south of Chicago's Union Station to ask that he properly maintain and operate the ventilation systems below the building that prevent locomotive fumes from backing up in the train station.
After months of out-of-court attempts to settle the matter, Amtrak filed a complaint in U.S. District Court on February 3 against the Old Post Office's holding company, International Property Developers. The building has already been cited by the city of Chicago for not maintaining and operating the ventilation system.
"As you know, air quality in Union Station is dependent on ventilation systems operated by private owners," Durbin wrote. "When not properly maintained and operated, the resulting diesel exhaust build-up affects the millions of passengers who travel by rail through Chicago Union Station annually. Amtrak and City of Chicago officials have identified the lack of operational ventilation exhaust fans at the Old Post office property that you own a significant factor contributing to the problem. In the past year, both Metra and Amtrak have taken significant steps to reduce diesel emissions from their trains. The progress these changes will make toward improving air quality, however, will be limited if all ventilation systems in the surrounding area are not made fully operational."
In November 2010, Durbin asked several federal agencies to work with Amtrak and Metra to look into the results of a Chicago Tribune report that discovered the high level of diesel soot and air pollution in commuter rail cars and on train platforms at Union Station. The report found levels of diesel soot in Ogilvie and Union Stations significantly higher than on the streets outside. Diesel exhaust contains many air pollutants and has been linked to health problems.
In February 2011, Durbin met with then-recently appointed CEO of Metra, Alex Clifford, to discuss Metra's ongoing review of diesel locomotive emissions. Since the Chicago Tribune's report, Metra has added high efficiency filters to each of their train cars, reducing pollution inside cars by an average of 75 percent. Through the federally-funded Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction program, Metra will be able to install automatic shut-offs on 27 locomotives, shutting down train engines that idle for more than 10 minutes. With $5.28 million in additional federal funding through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, Metra will be able to install 29 additional engine retrofits to limit idling and completely rebuild tow aging locomotives. When these locomotives are shut down instead of left idling, carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced by more than 81,000 tons per year.
Durbin also wrote to Joseph Boardman, President and CEO of Amtrak, in July 2011 for an update on their efforts to improve air quality in and around Union Station. Amtrak has received federal CMAQ funds to acquire two "gen-set" switching locomotives to reduce emissions in its busy Chicago facility and will acquire new diesel locomotives that will meet new EPA Tier 3 or 4 standards designed to operate more cleanly. Amtrak also initiated a comprehensive review of the ventilation system surrounding the tracks in Union Station.
The suit filed by Amtrak claims the Old Post Office's lack of ventilation is affecting public health and would force the owner to operate and maintain the fans.