I recently took a train trip from my Minnesota home to Detroit, MI. Mostly, it was a pleasant experience and I’d recommend Amtrak to anyone not in a hurry or, like me, about as interested in submitting to the TSA bullshit as being sold into prostitution. The problem with going east from practically anywere civilized is Chicago. In particular, Chicago’s Union Station.Chicago is, in general, where ergonomics of any sort goes to die, but Union Station is the sort of organizational disaster usually described in Terry Gilliam movies or the noisy, disorderly hell-hole depicted in dysfunctional post-apocolypic movies where Donald Trump was elected President of the USA and human society collapsed into a drug-infested shooting gallery.
The station, itself, is a gothic cathedral sort of place with tunnels, alleys, and subteranian shopping malls all coupled, acoustically, with an excessive amount of echo and reverberation. It is noisy as hell, but half as pleasant. In a facility like this, you’d hope that public address audio would be abandoned as a useful medium to transfer information. You’d be disappointed. There are mumbling, distorted “messages” being broadcast constantly; including a feminine computer voice endlessly repeating “Track number 17, track number 17. . . “ Even in the waiting areas for specific train gates, useless information is regularly broadcast while the video screens are either filled with pointless TSA messages or are blank. Even stranger, there is elevator music straining to be heard, sometimes above, the pointless and unintelligable “directions,” arrival, and departure information.
This is a place where audio of any sort is nothing more than pollution. From the squeltching noises of the various police and security personnel to loud and confusing conversations to the P.A. system bullshit, no audio information of any sort is likely to be useful. However, the noise level everywhere I explored was well above industrial OSHA limits; often as high as 105dBSPL-A on a constant basis. However, where there were video displays with arrival and departure information, they were often placed where you couldn’t get close enough to read them or they were displaying information about every gate but the one they were near.
I managed to walk off without my 6-year-old Android tablet while I was trying to confirm the information on the Chicago Union Station’s website that said I needed a special boarding permit to get into any of the station’s waiting areas. That turned out to be untrue, but none of the Amtrak or Union Station employees seemed to know the website was incorrect. In all, my interactions with Union Station were miserable and among the dumbest I’ve experienced in my 69 years.
Chicago, you and Rahm Emanuel deserve each other.