JOLIET – Commuters took their first steps into a section of the Joliet train station, which still is under construction but partially was opened to give access to the new Metra Heritage Corridor platform.
“We do like the new entrance. It’s very nice,” said Kathy Parrish of Joliet, who was beaming at 7 a.m. Monday on her way to work.
The walk up a lighted and heated flight of stairs to the platform beat standing in the dark and cold, which has been the typical wait for Heritage Corridor commuters.
“It’s about time. It took long enough,” said Sherry Farrar of Joliet.
But Farrar said she was pleased with the warm station area leading to a platform that now is level with the train.
“We don’t have to step 2 feet up to get on the train,” she said.
The temporary platform was level with the tracks, which meant commuters had to step up to get onto the train. The new platform is 8 inches above the rail, which is compliant with Americans With Disabilities Act. An elevator in the station also offers an alternative way up to the platform.
All Heritage Corridor commuters interviewed before the 7:05 a.m. train liked the latest addition to the Joliet Gateway Center transit area that Joliet is building for Metra and Amtrak commuters. If funding comes through, there eventually will be a new Pace bus station, too.
A new commuter platform for the Metra Rock Island line has been open since September 2014.
It was confusing at times for some commuters on the first day.
Gurdeep Saimi of Plainfield had some trouble finding the right way to go.
“They should put up some directions,” Saimi said. “You see ‘No trespassing,’ but it doesn’t point to where you should go. There are still construction workers inside.”
The station still is a construction site with chain-link fence around it, but it has enough openings to get through. Crews inside are completing interior work before the station is fully opened, which is expected sometime in April.
“I thought it was still on the other side,” said Michael Chargualaf of Plainfield, referring to the location of the former temporary boarding area on the north side of Jefferson Street.
Actually, there also is a new tunnel stairwell to the board platform on the north side of Jefferson, although it’s not where the temporary loading area was located. The north tunnel is located on Mayor Art Schultz Drive between Van Buren and Clinton streets.
Lisa Dorothy, project engineer for the city of Joliet, acknowledged that signage could be improved for commuters and Amtrak travelers headed to the station from the north side of Jefferson Street, where ticket sales still are housed in temporary trailers. The station is on the south side of Jefferson Street and will house the ticket offices once it is done.
“We had snow, and we had some construction, as well. Those were the two confusion points,” Dorothy said. “Anytime you ask somebody to walk through what is a construction site, it’s hard for them to know if they’re in the right place.”
A large number of what appeared to be college students took the Amtrak train Monday morning while she was watching, Dorothy said.
“For the most part, everybody is safely using the new platform,” she said. “They’re not trying to use the old platform, which is what I’m worried about.”
Dorothy said she was looking into putting up better signage to direct people from the old boarding area to the new one. But she said commuters coming from the commuter parking lots from the south of Jefferson are well guided by signs already up.
Having access south of Jefferson is a big plus for Kayleigh Cimaroli of Channahon.
“It seems like it will be easy to get to rather than having to cross the street,” Cimaroli said. “It takes one more delay out of the equation.”
The train station access is one of two tunnels leading to the new Heritage Corridor. The remainder of the train station is blocked by a rolling metal door to keep the public out of the areas still under construction.
Commuters, however, walk through the main entrance to get to the tunnel stairwell.