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Amtrak makes no little plans with Union Station vision

Yesterday, Amtrak released a master plan to guide Union Station's growth over the next several decades. The ambitious proposal includes several key components that will make the station easier to use, increase its capacity, and ensure a strong foundation for the transportation center.


Images from Amtrak.

It's somewhat fitting that this ambitious plan is attached to Union Station. The architect who designed the Beaux-Arts main station building, Daniel Burnham, is known for saying, "Make no little plans. They do not have the magic to stir men's blood."

This plan is a big plan. And at an estimated $7 billion, it's an expensive plan. But it has many needed pieces. It will triple Union Station's passenger capacity and double the number of trains.

Union Station needs to grow

According to Amtrak's Stephen Gardner, since the station was rebuilt in 1988, the station's annual passenger volumes have risen by more than 2 million trips. In 1988, MARC's daily ridership was a mere 5,000. Today it's passed beyond 33,000. The station has outgrown its capacity, and many of the stations tracks, platforms, and other facilities are old and do not meet ADA requirements.

As the plan makes clear, deferring action is not an option. Additional capacity is needed to accommodate the thousands of additional daily riders expected over the next several years.

Union Station is the second-busiest Amtrak station in the nation, falling only behind New York's Penn Station. It handles an estimated 100,000 passenger trips each day, but the station is home to outdated infrastructure and crowded spaces.

The Union Station Master Plan sets out a framework for rebuilding and expanding the station over the next 20 years. The first 3 phases of the project are expected to cost somewhere between $6.5 and $7.5 billion, and will greatly expand capacity and usability.

Funding is not identified in the document. The region will likely need to contribute a good deal, but the station is in federal ownership and is the southern end of Amtrak's busiest rail corridor, so some investment can be expected from outside the region.

What would a better Union Station look like?

The vision lays out a plan to improve much of the station. Here are the key elements:

Platforms and tracks are going to be redone completely. The plan is actually to reduce the number of tracks at the station, but to make use of them more efficiently. Currently, there are 20 tracks at the station. At the end of Phase 3, there will be just 18.

However, one major and early component of the project will be to lengthen and widen the platforms. Additionally, Amtrak wants to remove the parking garage above the tracks, which will let it keep the new platforms clear of obstructions like the large columns that crowd the platforms now.

While all VRE trains and the Superliner cars that Amtrak uses on its Capitol Limited can only use low-level platforms, the majority of trains operating at Union Station are designed to use high platforms. When those cars stop on a low-level platform, passengers have to navigate stairs to board and alight.

The lower level of the station currently has 6 platform tracks, all of which are low-level platforms. These tracks have access to the First Street Tunnel, which allows trains to continue south toward L'Enfant Plaza and Virginia.

Under the plan, Amtrak will add 2 new platform tracks, for a total of 8 on the lower level. 5 tracks will have high-level platforms and 3 will have low-levels.

On the upper level, the plan includes 10 high-level platforms. These are the stub-end platforms that will end directly behind the station building.

Phase 4 adds 6 (and potentially up to 9) underground tracks specifically for the NextGen Northeast High-Speed Rail. Those tracks will be built under the Upper Level platforms, and 3 will be able to extend further south under the station building to connect with the proposed Southeast High-Speed Rail to Virginia and North Carolina.

Each platform will have access at three points: at the southern and northern ends of the platforms and also in the middle.

Concourses will provide routes through the complex.

Running down the central axis of the station is a major pathway called the Central Concourse. The Central Concourse will be located one level below the tracks, starting in the area that is currently the food court.

The corridor will be 50 feet wide, and open above, with the ceiling about 100 feet up. This concourse will connect the main station building to each of the three east-west concourses that provide access to the tracks. It will also connect to the consolidated bus terminal at its northern end.

Concourse A is the current train concourse, located one level above the Central Concourse at the southern end of the platforms. It will connect the Great Hall to the train platforms, and will also include a connection to the Central Concourse.

The plan calls for most Amtrak passengers to use Concourse A to access platforms, but the platforms will be open to all passengers from any of the entrances.

Concourse B, located in the middle of the platforms, and Concourse C, located at the north end of the platforms, will primarily serve commuter rail patrons. Waiting areas for commuter trains will sit along Concourses B and C. These concourses will be on the same level as the Central Concourse, one story down from the platforms.

Additionally, a north-south connection will run along the western edge of the station, called the West Concourse. This concourse will start at the northern entrance to the Metro station and run all the way along the station to Concourse C. Along the way it will link to several new entrances along First Street NE.

One additional east-west corridor, called the Market Passage, will facilitate movement through the station, but will not provide access to the platforms. The Market Passage runs along the area currently occupied by the closed H Street underpass. It will link a new entrance on First Street NE west of the station to one on 2nd Street NE on the east side of the station.

New design will shift station's architecture

While Burnham's structure will still remain a major element of Union Station, the complex's center of gravity will shift northward.

Above the Central Concourse, Amtrak plans to create a high trainshed that will let light into the platform and concourse areas. At the northern end, a new entrance on H Street will give passengers access to H Street and the Burnham Place development over the tracks along H.

The design of the northern end of the station will be quite different from the Beaux-Arts headhouse on Columbus Circle. But it will give the station an airy, light-filled interior.

Transit will connect far better

The plan calls for greatly improving transit connections in and around the station.

On the lowest level of the station, the plan suggests removing lots of the walls. Opening up the space that's currently the food court will allow easier access between the Metro and the Central Concourse.

Designs show a much more open area around the north mezzanine entrance to the Metro station. It includes 2 new escalators which will drop customers closer to the center of the Metro platform. These new escalators will be in addition to the 2 new elevators and staircase that Metro has already proposed to add.


Lower level of Union Station at the Metro entrance.

The plan makes reference to another new Metro line. But since WMATA is not actively planning such a line (yet) and hasn't chosen an alignment, the plan is silent about how a second Metro platform would fit into the new designs.

As for the DC Streetcar, the plan calls for platforms on the Hopscotch Bridge, immediately outside the new H Street entrance pavilion.

Intercity and tour buses will move to a new consolidated bus terminal beneath the tracks just south of K Street, linked to the rest of the station by the Central and West concourses.

Is there too much parking?

One possible way to cut the project's costs would be to reduce the parking in the plan.

The current parking garage, located above the station's upper level platforms, has about 2,200 parking spaces. The plan calls for building 5,000 spaces to replace the spaces in the deck and expand capacity. And a good portion of those 5,000 spaces would be built underground within the station site.

Amtrak is proposing this increase in the parking despite its expectation that the number of people accessing trains by car at Union Station will drop. Amtrak feels the parking needs to be included for employees and shoppers at the station complex.

As the region's preeminent transit hub, Union Station can probably succeed without so much expensive subterranean parking.

Plan has magic to stir the blood

Seeing Amtrak's vision for Union Station is exciting. The redesign of the station will create a truly magnificent transportation hub for and gateway into the region.

In 30 years, surely our children will find Burnham prescient. His famous quote ends, "Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big." Burnham designed the foundation, but he certainly would be amazed to see this Amtrak vision realized.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

Comments

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I'll agree in that I don't think they need that much parking. But they should maintain at least some modicum of parking for those who take trains outside of "Metro operating hours". I have my own example where I had a Saturday morning NER that I had to drive to catch...Metro normally doesn't start until 7am on Saturday, which was way too late for me. And it was more cost effective to drive myself to the station than to get a cab.

by Froggie on Jul 26, 2012 10:15 am • linkreport

I often suggest the Union Station parking garage to visitors as an alternative to expensive hotel valet parking. Many of the private garages downtown are closed nights and weekends. Union Station is one of the few that's open 24/7, safe, and accessible to the rest of the city via Metro.

by Rob P on Jul 26, 2012 10:28 am • linkreport

I too was excited by this plan. I just hope they start lining up the funding and break ground.

by Graham on Jul 26, 2012 10:31 am • linkreport

I don't think it's too much parking if it is the total amount of parking for the entire Burnham Place development, including the offices, residences, and hotel(s) as well as Union Station.

As one of the few 24-hour garages in the city, Union Station has become an important asset for people looking to dump the car for a few days while they're in town.

by Adam L on Jul 26, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

Wow. Union Station only handles 100.000 passengers a day?

Amsterdam Centraal handles 250.000 a day.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amsterdam_Centraal_railway_station
Or 186.000 if you want to believe the Dutch wiki entry
http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Station_Amsterdam_Centraal

Apparently, it's hard to count passengers.

by Jasper on Jul 26, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

It's bold and visionary. This is the type of infrastructure that makes up a world class city. While the focus is on Amtrak for obvious reason, it would be interesting to see the integration of buses to make this a truly multi-modal hub.

RE: Parking. I agree that 5,000 seems a lot. I don't know that I've ever been there were the current lot was full. It also seems contradictory to the SustainableDC goal of most trips by transit, walking, and bike.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Jul 26, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

The parking thing is really bizarre, given that Union Station's current garage has been notoriously underused ever since it was built. I wonder if they could repurpose those underground parking spaces into another entrance for the people on 1st St NE and 3rd St NE, which are about one story below the Hopscotch Bridge.

by Tom Veil on Jul 26, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

Re: "So much...parking",

Keep in mind that the Union Station garage is one of the few - if not only - 24-hour garages in downtown DC. It's the de-facto "municipal parking" that thousands of travellers, visitors, and workers use. not to mention the additional residents and workers at the Burnham complex.

Metro doesn't run 24 hours. And even if it did, everyone can't always take Metro - or walk or ride a bike.

Keep the parking!

by ceefer66 on Jul 26, 2012 10:41 am • linkreport

@Tom Veil:
Keep in mind, the "Market Passage" will provide an entrance at 1st NE and 2nd NE directly under the H Street "Hopscotch" Bridge.

@Ceefer66:
I agree there should be parking there. Is it necessary to more than double the parking, and put it underground at great expense?

by Matt Johnson on Jul 26, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

I'd like to see the original wood benches restored to the Great Hall.

by Amtraker on Jul 26, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

If parking goes unused, how easy is it to convert parking to other uses? If we're thinking long-term (10-30 years), I'm sure a parking floor can be rented out to Google and their automous taxis. Why not?

by cmc on Jul 26, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

wouldn't most of the parking cost be controlled by having to go underground. Once you go that route -- and the construction hassles -- size doesn't seem that important.

The biggest parking lot in the plans seems to be under the tracks. That will be a major hassle.

by charlie on Jul 26, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

RE: parking. The plan's executive summary says this (page 17-18):

Even so, the total future requirement for parking
at Union Station will increase to 5,000 cars,
including amtrak and retail requirements,
rental cars, taxi queueing, and parking for the
new commercial and residential space in the
air rights development.

by Alex B. on Jul 26, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

I don't think putting parking underground is such a bad idea, honestly. That leaves more space above-ground for building.

As to doubling the number of spaces...I agree, it does sound like a bit much. But cutting down the current number isn't the best solution, either. The Union Station garage serves a lot of purposes...and I'm sure its usage could be rethought even further if need be. I'm presuming it will still be the hub for bus parking? What about tour bus parking?

@Jasper:Apparently, it's hard to count passengers.
Yes, but would you want that job? I'm having visions of a Dutch bureaucrat standing on a chair in the middle of the station with a megaphone, shouting, "OK, all you people, I'm going to need you to start counting off one by one here. 1...2...3..."

by SerAmantiodiNicolao on Jul 26, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

I'm also a bit curious as to how the bus station will work.

It would be nice to see a bus terminal that's more than just an afterthought. The expansion of low-cost bus service on the East Coast has been an unsung godsend for people traveling to destinations not served by Amtrak (or those who can't afford Amtrak's ridiculously-expensive NEC tickets)

by andrew on Jul 26, 2012 11:23 am • linkreport

This looks incredible, but I would like to know more about the plans for Columbus Circle. I take major issue with the idea that this new north entrance would be the focal point of Union Station. While it's an amazing addition, the focus should always be the Beaux-Arts structure facing the Capitol.

by MJ on Jul 26, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

I'm still shocked at the number of new platforms - totally unnecessary - the expense, and the way it handles crowds.

It just doesn't pass the smell test for me. The report indicates that other stations with a similar footprint to Union Station's handles far more passengers and trains. How? Why doesn't Union Station adopt those practices?

by OctaviusIII on Jul 26, 2012 11:28 am • linkreport

@MJ: While it's an amazing addition, the focus should always be the Beaux-Arts structure facing the Capitol.

Why?

by Gray on Jul 26, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

@OctaviusIII: The report indicates that other stations with a similar footprint to Union Station's handles far more passengers and trains. How? Why doesn't Union Station adopt those practices?

Did you read the part about current platforms being far too narrow and having far too few entrances and exits?

by Gray on Jul 26, 2012 11:36 am • linkreport

This is almost surreal. It was within my lifetime that rail travel had declined and Union Station had fallen into disrepair—was even in danger of caving in. And now rail travel has become so popular that the station can't accommodate all the travelers.

by Frank on Jul 26, 2012 11:39 am • linkreport

@SerAmantiodiNicolao, the parking garage would get torn down in Phase 3 after the new underground parking facility is built in Phase 2. The support columns from the parking garage are major obstructions on the upper level / west side platforms and prevent the platforms & tracks from being re-aligned. I think in almost all of the potential scenarios for revising Union Station, the parking garage has to go. It takes up valuable air space for one thing.

I posted comments in the Alpert thread on the parking situation at the station. Union Station needs a 24 hour parking facility, period. The question is how much capacity is needed and how much will it cost to build the underground parking garage or garages. A high level breakdown of the $7 billion estimate would be useful, but I understand why they would hold that back.

by AlanF on Jul 26, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

@Gray

I did, but adding new entrances and exits and widening platforms oughtn't balloon into a $7B project. The plans indicate people will still be queuing to walk through gates so they can get onto the platforms, as they are now, meaning Amtrak isn't actually learning the lessons it says it is.

The Amtrak plans do provide one solution to its problems, but it really doesn't feel like the best solution to its problems, and certainly not the cheapest.

by OctaviusIII on Jul 26, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

@OctaviusIII:
No. I did not include it in the post, because I thought describing operations would take away from the substance of the post.

However, according to an Amtrak official, once this program has been completed, the platforms will be open. According to Amtrak, the reason they currently restrict access to the platforms is because they're narrow, have access only at one end, and are difficult places for riders to hear/see announcements about track changes and so on.

Amtrak realizes that it's a problem, but they have to fix other problems before they'll let people right onto the platforms.

With the new design, if a track assignment changes, it will be easy for patrons to hear the announcement, and they'll also have 3 places where they can cross to different tracks, rather than by going all the way back to Concourse A, as is the case today.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 26, 2012 12:06 pm • linkreport

I would hazard a bet that a not-insignificant portion of that $7B price tag is to build what will effectively be the HSR tunnels and platforms underneath everything.

by Froggie on Jul 26, 2012 12:07 pm • linkreport

I think Union Station is great already, but it could be made... um... greater. Questions:

* Where does this rank on Amtrak's to-do list compared to, say, making Penn Station less of a dump or replacing the 1930s-vintage catenary on the NEC?

* Could Amtrak cut costs further by letting passengers wait for their train on these expanded, more open platforms instead of in separate areas as we do now?

by Rob Pegoraro on Jul 26, 2012 12:08 pm • linkreport

This is a Master Plan: there's a whole bunch of people who want to do a whole bunch of things in a confined space; this says what gets done where and when. It isn't just an Amtrak plan.

If I have the dependencies right, on the east side Akridge can't build that piece of Burnham Place until Amtrak has realigned the tracks and platforms (because they can't put support columns where tracks are today or where tracks will be in the future), Amtrak can't realign the tracks and platforms until the existing concourse is expanded so as to provide vertical accesses to the new platforms. On the west side it's worse: Akridge can't build until Amtrak's realigned; Amtrak can't realign until the garage is demolished (support columns again); the garage can't be demolished until new parking is in place. Those dependencies drive the schedule.

There's a couple of sentences which imply that someone other than Amtrak is going to pay for something. In the parking section, the plan takes out time to note that few Amtrak(and even fewer MARC or VRE) passengers park at Union Station. The parking is for visitors to USRC-let activities (and eventually for Akridge tenants). I assume that means that USRC and Akridge will pay for it. In the section about the concourses, the plan unnecessarily assumes that in 2030 Amtrak will still be checking tickets at one entrance, so that Amtrak passengers will primarily use A concourse and that the two other concourses will primarily be for MARC and VRE. I assume that means MARC and VRE pay for them. People complain about the line to board Amtrak trains, but boarding MARC trains is much worse and clearing the platform after a MARC train has arrived is slow. MARC (and to a lesser extent VRE) need more platform accesses much more than Amtrak does.

The Western Concourse provides much better access to Metro and opens up that forbidding wall on the east side of First Street. It will also provide connectivity between Metro and the new bus station (which I assume will be a pure DDOT responsibility). Both the City and WMATA should be pushing for that concourse to be built (and perhaps chipping in). The Central Concourse, on the other hand, is just there to be iconic and to move Club Acela from the original headhouse to a place where first class passengers will have a shorter walk to their train. That's an Amtrak requirement and cost and it wouldn't surprise me if it slides to the right on the schedule (perhaps so far to the right that it falls off). The same goes for the train shed with the undulating roof.

Any plan with multiple phases is going to have its early phases better defined than its later phases. Work that starts in 2023 is perhaps going to get changed between now and then. So we shouldn't expect the final buildout to look exactly like the renderings Matt's reproduced. But this is a good plan and (funding willing) be the foundation of a much improved Union Station.

by jim on Jul 26, 2012 12:10 pm • linkreport

@Froggie:
No. The $6.5 - $7.5 billion price tag is for the first 3 phases only. The subterranean NextGen HSR terminal is NOT part of those costs.

I had a sentence clarifying that, but I think it might have gotten removed in the editing process. Sorry about that.

@Rob Pegoraro:
See my comment to OctaviusIII above. Once the platforms have been reconstructed and have multiple access points, patrons will have free access to the platforms.

They'll probably still want to wait in a waiting area until the track is called, though.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 26, 2012 12:16 pm • linkreport

And I see that Matt Johnson answered my second question (with the answer I'd hoped for) in a comment posted as I writing my own.

by Rob Pegoraro on Jul 26, 2012 12:17 pm • linkreport

How does this effect the idea of ever getting a separated blue line to connect to union station? Is Amtrak grabbing so much underground space it becomes prohibitive?

by Paul S on Jul 26, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

Union Station is not owned by the federal government as the article states, but rather by the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, which is a non-profit organization.

by silver springer on Jul 26, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

I have to say, I'm seriously disappointed at your lack of skepticism in this plan, Matt. Expanding the tracks is all well and good, but SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS?? This is not a seven billion dollar job by any stretch of the imagination! A tenth of that, if that. Look at the cost of other comparable station renos – Berlin Hauptbahnhof, SF Transbay (a boondoggle itself, but it looks downright efficient compared to this!!!!), London's St. Pancras Internation. There is simply no justification for this kind of cost, and I'm very disappointed that you're accepting it so uncritically.

As for the pedestrian circulation issues, again, wtf???

However, according to an Amtrak official, once this program has been completed, the platforms will be open. According to Amtrak, the reason they currently restrict access to the platforms is because they're narrow, have access only at one end, and are difficult places for riders to hear/see announcements about track changes and so on.

So rather than install a few LCD panels with info on them and pipe in some announcements, they're going to spend $7 billion?!?!?!? (As for "narrow platforms," somehow it's okay to herd eveyone down those narrow platforms at the same time, but it would be too dangerous to let them trickle down from multiple chokepoints??????)

C'mon Matt. This is total amateur hour. This plan has no chance of funding, and it's even worse than that – it's so wasteful that it will give ammo to those who oppose transit.

It's time to fire anyone involved in this plan (including Parsons Brinckerhoff, who apparently prepared it, and has never met a US transit project they didn't think could be done for 10x the cost). Anything less is just plain laziness. Are we really supposed to believe that it'll be easier to convince Republicans to shell out 10x what peer first world countries do for transit, rather than actually reform our processes so that projects don't come in at 1,000% cost?

by Stephen Smith on Jul 26, 2012 1:07 pm • linkreport

@Stephen Smith:

I haven't looked at this plan other than what is on GGW and the Washington Post but by comparison, the Transbay Terminal is expected to cost $4.1B and Heathrow's Terminal 5 cost $6B - $7B USD.

I am not saying this is inexpensive nor am I saying that greater efficiencies can't be found, but $7B is not out of line for similar mega-projects like this, especially if this cost is adjusted to year-of-expenditure dollars.

by Ward 3 Resident on Jul 26, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

@Ward 3 Resident:

First of all, apples & oranges with the airport plan. Totally irrelevant.

As for Transbay, like I said, it's a boondoggle – it should not have cost $4 billion. But, that price also includes a brand new underground facility (all the phases 1-3 Union Station stuff are above ground or close to it), more tracks, plus an actual rail tunnel leaving the station.

by Stephen Smith on Jul 26, 2012 1:21 pm • linkreport

So rather than install a few LCD panels with info on them and pipe in some announcements,

Do LCD panels somehow fix ADA issues?

Jim's comment above was spot on:

If I have the dependencies right, on the east side Akridge can't build that piece of Burnham Place until Amtrak has realigned the tracks and platforms (because they can't put support columns where tracks are today or where tracks will be in the future), Amtrak can't realign the tracks and platforms until the existing concourse is expanded so as to provide vertical accesses to the new platforms. On the west side it's worse: Akridge can't build until Amtrak's realigned; Amtrak can't realign until the garage is demolished (support columns again); the garage can't be demolished until new parking is in place. Those dependencies drive the schedule.

The takeaway is this: if you want to make the platforms ADA compliant, you need to re-align the tracks. If you want to build on the air rights, you need to re-align the tracks. If you want to add more vertical circulation and access to the platforms, you need to re-align the tracks.

So far, all we've seen is an executive summary. I'd love to see the more detailed planning and cost estimates, but I think you're seriously short-changing the need for some of these improvements and the dependencies of those smaller improvements on one another.

by Alex B. on Jul 26, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

There are so many ways to count the number of people. Some statistics use the number of rail passengers, others count the total number of people who come into the station for purposes other than transportation (like shopping), tour groups, others count bus and tram traffic in addition to rail, etc. Most statistics put out by the station will count as many people as possible ("butts in the door") while the total number of traditional rail passengers may be much less.

by Adam L on Jul 26, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

@silver springer:
That is incorrect. The federal government does own Union Station. The USRC maintains and operates it, but the government retains the title.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 26, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

@Paul S, do a search for Metrorail in the Master Plan document. You will see specific references to reserving space for a New Metro line serving Union Station in the future. Page 15 has the paragraph discussing this.

by AlanF on Jul 26, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

If they're going to bury (have to excavate) a future SEHSR station, it seems to me they should put that *south* of the current station (under Columbus Cir and the park) and at least put *those* tracks closer to the front taxi stand.

by Kevin C on Jul 26, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

I think when people are looking at the cost of this project they aren't considering two things (and this may be mentioned in the document having only skimmed it myself): 1) I'm sure they're taking into account inflation as some of this work won't happen for a decade or longer and 2) It's super hard to keep a station, road, airport, etc running at full capacity and expand/renovate it especially when that involves excavation around or under existing infrastructure. Just look at the big dig. That severely limits the scope and pace of the work that can be performed at any one given time.

by jj on Jul 26, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

Without modernizing our rail system, modernizing the stations makes no sense. it's the cart before the horse.

Currently, it makes more sense, financially and time-wise to take a Bolt Bus if you are traveling from say, DC to NYC.

While I agree that Union Station could def. use a remodel, I think more importantly, AmTrak needs to be totally overhauled and the rail system totally rebuilt to allow for "speed trains" like the ones in the rest of the World.

It's a disgrace that it takes almost 5 hours to get from DC to NYC by train. In China or virtually any country in Europe you could do that same trip in 2 hrs.

I'd much rather see $7B spent on the U.S. railroad system itself than 1 station. Take it and rebuild at least the DC to NYC line, at the very very least and make the trains faster and more efficient and yes CHEAPER tickets!

If you do that, who cares if the station might not be the most up to date architecture in the World..at least I got there quickly and efficiently, and cheaply.

by LuvDusty on Jul 26, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

Well, at least this explains why Amtrak was being so pedantic and irritating when it came to connecting to the H Street streetcar line...

by rusty on Jul 26, 2012 2:51 pm • linkreport

Great analysis @jim.

Can anybody figure out how according to this plan pedestrians from H st. (Streetcar riders, or just folks walking along the lovely new avenue envisioned) are to get to the platforms from there? It looks like all the H st. pedestrians (pictured on p. 7) will need to access the platforms by taking the single long escalator (pictured on p. 9) down to the main concourse and then escalators back up to the platforms from one of the e-w concourses.

One hopes that by the time the build this, plans include an H st. concourse for direct platform access from the H. st. level.

by egk on Jul 26, 2012 2:56 pm • linkreport

@LuvDusty, 5 hours from DC to NYC on Amtrak?? Maybe on the bus, but not Amtrak. The Acelas have a trip time of around 2:45 to 2:50, the Northeast Regionals around 3:20 to 3:30 from Union Station to NY Penn Station depending on the number of stops.

There are plans and projects to improve trip time on the NEC as well. The upgrades to DC Union Station are likely to mostly be funded by the developers, bonds to be paid off by retail & parking revenues, DC, MD, VA, WMATA, Amtrak, and some direct federal funding. Most of these funding sources will not be available for NEC projects. The revenue stream from the DC retail stores and parking garage can't be used to pay for NEC projects in NJ. It is not an either or situation.

by AlanF on Jul 26, 2012 3:09 pm • linkreport

@Frank "This is almost surreal. It was within my lifetime that rail travel had declined and Union Station had fallen into disrepair—was even in danger of caving in. And now rail travel has become so popular that the station can't accommodate all the travelers."

Acid flashback: The 1976 Bicentennial Visitor's Center.

by Jack Love on Jul 26, 2012 3:23 pm • linkreport

@LuvDusty, 5 hours from DC to NYC on Amtrak?? Maybe on the bus, but not Amtrak. The Acelas have a trip time of around 2:45 to 2:50, the Northeast Regionals around 3:20 to 3:30

The times I've taken the bus it's been about 4hrs total, depending on traffic and whether or not the driver makes any stops.

I've taken the Acela 3x to NYC from DC and back..each time it was more like 3:30-4hr total and Regionals were from 4-5 depending on delays. So yeah, what I said earlier.

by LuvDusty on Jul 26, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

And that's not even factoring in PRICE! When you consider that the Acela costs like $250 dollars versus a $20-$25 Bolt Bus ticket..you should expect to arrive 10x faster right?

And instead you shave like 1-2hrs max if that, off your trip? EPIC FAIL Amtrak! EPIC!

by LuvDusty on Jul 26, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

Dusty,

You can't really account for delays and make and apples to apples comparison. Scheduled time is best, and the scheduled rail times for DC-NYP are no where near 5 hours.

Bolt: 4:15
Regional: 3:23
Acela: 2:45

by Alex B. on Jul 26, 2012 3:44 pm • linkreport

And that's not even factoring in PRICE! When you consider that the Acela costs like $250 dollars versus a $20-$25 Bolt Bus ticket..you should expect to arrive 10x faster right?
And instead you shave like 1-2hrs max if that, off your trip? EPIC FAIL Amtrak! EPIC!

Yep, it's such an EPIC fail that every Acela trip is 80+% booked!

by MLD on Jul 26, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

@LuvDusty: You have apparently had exceptional luck on the bus and horrible luck on Amtrak. For the sake of other Amtrak passengers, please stay off the train from now on.

FWIW, Bolt's schedules the run from D.C. to NYC at 4:15 or 4:30, depending on the time of day. It would be difficult to beat that without a generous interpretation of the speed limits (speaking from my experience getting from NYC to D.C. in 3:45 many years ago).

by Rob Pegoraro on Jul 26, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

@ LuvDust:Acela costs like $250 dollars versus a $20-$25 Bolt Bus ticket..you should expect to arrive 10x faster right?

Euhm, no.

And instead you shave like 1-2hrs max if that, off your trip? EPIC FAIL Amtrak! EPIC!

There is failure here, it's not epic though. And it's certainly not by Amtrak.

by Jasper on Jul 26, 2012 3:56 pm • linkreport

@LuvDusty

4 hours on Mega or Bolt bus DC - NY is exceptional. The scheduled time is usually around 4:20, and the average trip is probably a little over 4 and a half hours. And even in the middle of the night there's no guarantee you'll arrive in less than 5 and a half hours

by Thaddeus Bell on Jul 26, 2012 4:36 pm • linkreport

@LuvDusty:
The Union Station rebuild is just one part of the larger plan to rebuild and modernize the Northeast Corridor. When the entire plan is finished, trains will be capable of running between Washington and New York in 94 minutes.

This is not an either/or project. It's one part of a much larger one which will raise speeds and increase capacity on the Northeast Corridor.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 26, 2012 4:39 pm • linkreport

@luvdusty

I am going to agree with the others. I have ridden the Acela between here and NYC over 100 times in the last 3 years and only once did it take more than 3 hours due to some other train broke down in front of us.

I do agree that it is expensive, but I take it for work and use my points earned for fun travel. Beats the bus for me- plug in, Internet, and can walk around- I love train travel. Make it even faster and Union Station and Penn Station nicer it would be perfect.

by Sally on Jul 26, 2012 7:54 pm • linkreport

The WaPo piece could have provided more historical perspective. How is Union Station overcrowded today if it handled twice as many passengers in 1944? To what degree did the tracks ripped up to make room for Metro contribute to the current squeeze?

by Turnip on Jul 26, 2012 8:23 pm • linkreport

To some of the comments talking about the money for the station for the ride. Personally I think that this investment is needed for the station. And I'd rather see this dream floated, than spend 2/3 the money and shave 16 minutes off my trip from WAS-NYC.

by Graham on Jul 26, 2012 9:07 pm • linkreport

Like NCPC's proposals this is grand and a good target. Of course at close to DC's annual budget it would have to have a lot of federal funding (which it should as an example of what can be done).

However politically HSR etc. to the northeast doesn't appeal. A transit center geared toward Virginia, today's epicenter of politics, would be a different matter. Emphasize it as a VRE station.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 26, 2012 9:21 pm • linkreport

I would be happy if just one leg of my DC to NY trips was on schedule.

by Nickyp on Jul 26, 2012 9:37 pm • linkreport

Last time I took a bus to NYC, we lost over an hour just in the last mile and a half leading into the Lincoln Tunnel. NO time to eat before heading over to Lincoln Center for a concert. The buses are cheap, but hardly on a par with the trains for speed. On the other hand, HSR would make it almost as quick from DC to NY as it can be to travel from, say RFK to Rockville on a Saturday night on Metro. If you want to hand out raspberries, aim at Metro.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jul 27, 2012 12:08 am • linkreport

This will be a wonderful project if it's combined with major upgrades and expansion for MARC and, I guess for VRE, too.

The idea of a new Metro line sounds great. Does anyone have a clue what they're imagining -- from where to where?

I am excited about seeing some planning for HSR move forward, but I'm a little thrown by the idea that there would be 6 platforms for HSR in the NEC (and it seems 3 more in the SEC). Do they need so many tracks? Even if HSR really catches on, I could see up them running every hour or even every half hour. Presumably, there will be the one track going north and one going south. If they're running as often as every half-hour -- and who thinks that will happen? -- at any one time you probably need 2 platforms for trains going south and ending at Union Station and 2 more for those going north (though the tracks will be interchangeable) -- and maybe one more each way for the SEC. Are they overplanning for HSR?

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jul 27, 2012 12:23 am • linkreport

So what is going to happen with the front of Union Station more precisely the Metrobuses are they going to be over on Mass Ave permanently

by kk on Jul 27, 2012 1:37 am • linkreport

@Turnip
The WaPo piece could have provided more historical perspective. How is Union Station overcrowded today if it handled twice as many passengers in 1944? To what degree did the tracks ripped up to make room for Metro contribute to the current squeeze?
Judging from aerial imagery in Google Earth it looks like maybe 1/4 of the total track space was given up not just for Metro tracks but also a bit of infrastructure there.

by MLD on Jul 27, 2012 7:58 am • linkreport

The Union Station Master Plan is a tremendous first step including creating initial public dialogue. Like most " plans" it will likely have significant variations over its proposed gestation. What is important, Amtrak critics and infrastructurists pay attention, is that there is now the srious recognition that the present facility needs to be modified. For too long both Amtrak and infrastructure were derided, mocked and shunted around. Hey gas prices are still high and infrastructure needs significant attention. Infrastructure projects do add jobs; workers pay taxes. Yes, of course, money shouldn't be thrown around un-necessarily and the granular details, such as how much parking is enough, should have a full public vetting. It is true, as written, that this is the opportunity of a lifetime to get it right. So let's talk to each other about this...not over each other. It remains a project of true national importance. Thanks to all.

by Jon Fostik on Jul 27, 2012 9:07 am • linkreport

Great plan! The Alkridge project has been in the works for many years now. Hopefully, this project and its sister at NYP (Moynihan station) will be complete within the timeframe (although my gut feeling and experience tell me it won't, especially with the economy the way it is).

While this really is the ultimate vision for Union Station, I wish the plans were scaled back a little. It would make the plan more feasible, compress the 15-20 timeline, make it an easier sell, and price tag--the notion that Congress will provide $7b (even if it is over 20 years) in funding for a single station is almost laughable.

I'm not sure if a dedicated level for future HSR is entirely necessary. Also, the Southeast Corridor will probably never happen. First of all, not a single state in the wingnut South, except maybe North Carolina, would probvide funding. Not to mention the relatively low population among nearly all of the route would provide little return in investment. HSR investment should be focused on the NEC (upgrading the current one not building a new one), California, and Florida (when they kick out the current neocon gov).

by King Terrapin on Jul 27, 2012 9:41 am • linkreport

@Fischy, there have been a number of posts on GGW over the past few years on possible new Metro lines. The PlanItMetro website under the TAG (Technical Advisory Group) link has a series of presentations of potential passenger traffic analysis of various possible new Metro routes and extensions.

The possible new or re-routed lines that might connect to Union Station include:
-Blue Line re-route splitting off with a new station at Rosslyn, under the Potomac to Georgetown, M street to the Convention Center, then SE to Union Station and reconnecting to the current Blue Line near the Anacostia (the most widely discussed alternative in the blogosphere).
-Silver Line re-route variant that splits off at East falls Church, new tunnel? to Rosslyn, then to Georgetown, M Street, Union Station.
-Blue line re-route at Rosslyn, to Georgetown, and then SE to Constitution Ave, NE to Union Station, then west to connect back to the Blue Line.
-Split Yellow line with a new north-south line to Union Station
-Brown Line that splits off from the Red Line to Georgetown, SE to the Mall area, NE to Union Station and north from there to WHC, Silver Spring and MD.

These possible new lines were only studied at a potential passenger traffic level. Don't know if there has been any substantial preliminary engineering analysis to determine the feasibility of these routes. Might be useful for GGW to re-start discussions on new Metro expansions in the wake of the Silver Line Phase 2 being settled and the new Union Station Master plan.

What other routes that were studied by the TAG that might run through Union Station am I overlooking?

by AlanF on Jul 27, 2012 10:37 am • linkreport

Burnham stole his "Make no little plans. They do not have the magic to stir men's blood" line from Goethe, who put it better: "Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men."

by Berin Szoka on Jul 28, 2012 2:47 pm • linkreport

To second Alan, the most widely-accepted plan is the blue splitting from the orange at Rosslyn, crossing the Potomac through a new tunnel or bridge, serving Georgetown and then running down M St., connecting with Union Station, serving H St., and then passing through Stadium and resuming its current route. The Rosslyn tunnel is at capacity, so this is a pressing need for Metro and would be more likely than realignments of or splits from the red or yellow, which do not press the capacity of Rosslyn. Moreover, this option expands core capacity and acts as a pressure valve for Metro Center and Gallery Place. Service levels to the big downtown stations (Metro Center, Gallery Place, and L'Enfant) would remain the same with the silver running. The area that gets shortchanged the most is PG county, but given my experience as an east-DC commuter, PG county routes are doing okay on capacity (if not coverage) and can wait for the next round of Metro development. Central DC (east of the green and west of red) is also under-served, but I, personally, feel like that area is going to end up the focus of street cars and Circulator routes rather than new Metro lines and stations, at least for the foreseeable future.

by Ms. D on Jul 29, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

@ Ms. D

The biggest way to solve most of the problems you state is to simply have a rerouted Blue Line travel further north ( Foxhall, Westchester, Palisades, Cleveland Park or even further north) then cut across the city by stop at a Red, Green/Yellow stations then south.

This would not allow for stops at many of the downtown stations but it would be able to serve unserved areas of DC which would be a better use of the money instead of duplicating already present coverage or the other solution to send the Yellow Line across the western portion of the Red Line making it an mirror image of the Green line.

by kk on Jul 30, 2012 8:42 pm • linkreport

@kk

There aren't enough people trying to cross the city in those places to warrant a Metro line. It's better served by a streetcar. Also, considering the attitudes of those areas you mentioned toward development (that is, they don't want any), I don't see why they should get additional Metro capacity.

Core capacity is the issue - it's where the jobs are, so it's where congestion in the transit system exists during peak periods. I think eventually there will be a need for a line up Georgia Ave through Ward 4 to serve that part of DC, though streetcar will help there too.

by MLD on Jul 31, 2012 8:00 am • linkreport

@ MLD

Have you ever been on a bus that crosses Rock Creek they are always full and there are only a few options from north of Mass Ave.

Even if it does not support the argument of its where the jobs are does not make it wrong. Half of the system should not have been built by that logic. Just because it is not right from an economic perspective does not make it the wrong thing to do.

Plus the Red Line between Metro Center and Shady Grove is a problem waiting to happen. There is no other line close by or any transfer station located along that portion so everyone has to go to Metro Center or Gallery Place to transfer. If something happens everyone who relies on that line is screwed; when the accident happen a few years ago you atleast had other options to get nearby such as the Green Line but in this case there are none, and even by bus almost every line runs either one side of Rock Creek

The logical option would be to send the Yellow Line across Rock Creek to either Cleveland Park or Van Ness (from there who cares) to lessen the crowds on the H and E bus lines but to also get travelers out of downtown who dont have to go there. There have been many times I have been on the train going to places outside of downtown DC but have to go through it due to there being no other options there is no other major system like that

by kk on Jul 31, 2012 5:31 pm • linkreport

Have you ever been on a bus that crosses Rock Creek they are always full and there are only a few options from north of Mass Ave.

True, they are often crowded and there are few options because there are few crossing points. The problem is the E buses carry like 6100 people a day and the H buses (H2,3,4) about 6100. And presumably some of those aren't going across the park. So there is not remotely enough traffic to support a Metro line. Good thing there are incremental upgrades that you can do - streetcars. They can be faster if you give them lane space and carry more people than buses, and they cost much less than a metro line.

You can't spend billions building redundant lines that you don't really need just in case you ram trains into each other. The solution to that problem would be to not ram trains into each other.

by MLD on Jul 31, 2012 6:20 pm • linkreport

I'm not seeing justification for the costs here. 100,000 people a day is relatively low ridership and the majority are less frequent, longer distance customers who are less concerned with a slightly less efficient trip than commuters. Amtrak's priority should be to continue to upgrade the NEC tracks so Acela can hit its high speed which will outweigh some boarding time savings and fixing the disaster that is Penn Station New York.

by Alan on Aug 2, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

Destroying the current beautiful facade and interior barrel-vault ceilings of the main Union Station concourse and replacing it with the pictures glass monstrosity would be an architectural crime.

And, seeing as how the current architectural Station consistently ranks in the top 20 "favorite architectural sites in America", that part of the project will never happen. The American public simply would not allow it. They would complain to their representatives until the congressmen either pressured the construction company or cut off funding altogether. That's politics ; Sorry.

by Jason on Aug 8, 2012 1:24 am • linkreport

@Jason:
Nobody is talking about destroying the historic building.

The glass structure you see will be behind the current building, north of where the parking deck is currently. It will include a new north entrance at H Street (the historical headhouse is on Massachusetts Avenue).

To reiterate, the historic building will continue to exist and be a part of the station. The glass stuff pictured will be an expansion of the station, not a replacement.

by Matt Johnson on Aug 8, 2012 7:49 am • linkreport

The roofs are a beautiful fiction. They are a lie. They have 2 feet of vegitation growing off of 4-6" of structure depth. Totally mythological.

When the engineers and waterproofing consultants get done with this thing it will be hideously solid and unfortunate.

The undulating planes will end up being half the proportion of the glass walls on the sides of each of the planes

Where are the massive HVAC ducts required for all of the heat gain? Idiotic.

Now this would be fantastic if it wasn't conditioned and just an open-air shed, like european stations. Then this roof form would make sense.

The above ground plane is laudable, however, the plans for the station are worse than those of the Ronald Reagan Building. Barely better then Penn Station NYC. Completely non-intuitive.

HOK/PB is filled with corporate architects/engineers andmediocre middle level designers which shows.

Definately needs to go back to the drawing board, hopefully with a better design team.

by Pamela D on Aug 11, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport

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