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Durbin praises federal decision ordering operation of Union Station exhaust fans

Amtrak VP State Government Relations Ray Lang left U.S. Senator Dick DurbJoel Africk President Chief Executive Officer Respiratory Health AssociatiMetropolitan

Amtrak VP of State Government Relations Ray Lang, left, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer of Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, talk about the air quality at Union Station Thursday, May 2, 2013.| Provided photo

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Updated: May 2, 2013 7:25PM

After a lengthy legal battle, a federal judge has ordered the owner of the former main Chicago Post Office to operate all exhaust fans 24-7 to provide ventilation for all Union Station tracks.

Sen. Dick Durbin on Thursday stood in Union Station’s Great Hall on Thursday, praising a federal consent decree issued April 17 that forces owner William Davies’ International Property Developers to operate the fans.

The improved ventilation will clear the air of diesel soot, exposure that has been linked to cancer, heart attacks and respiratory diseases, among other illnesses. Last February, Durbin (D-Ill) called on the UK-based owner to meet its legal obligations to maintain the station’s ventilation system that removes diesel fumes from tracks used by Amtrak and Metra trains.

Davies purchased the building in October 2009, and his legal team argued it wasn’t his company’s responsibility to maintain and repair Union Station’s exhaust fans, authorities said.

Durbin said the owner’s decision to pick a fight in court slowed down solving the problem, despite it being what he called “a threat to public health.”

“I think it is an indication of what happens when you lawyer up and pick a fight instead of spend the money to fix the problem,” Durbin said. “...That’s an unfortunate thing because the loser in that were the passengers and train crew that were exposed to these emissions.”

The federal decree also gives Amtrak the right to inspect the ventilation system every four months to make sure owners are compliant with the order.

The investigation began in November 2010 after a Chicago Tribune report discovered the high level of diesel soot and air pollution in commuter rail cars and train platforms at Union Station.

Since then, Metra added high-efficiency filters to each train car. The commuter rail agency also switched to ultra low diesel fuel and began to reduce engine idling at Union Station by plugging trains into station power whenever a train is standing for more than 10 minutes, Michael Gillis, spokesman for Metra said.

Metra also pushes trains into downtown stations so the engines are located as far away as possible from the concourses, he said.

Amtrak chief Ray Lang said owners have already replaced and repaired the exhaust fans.

International Property Developers did not respond to calls for comment.

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