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Expanded mezzanine planned for Union Station Metro

The northern entrance to the Union Station Metro is probably one of the most cramped in the system. And during peak periods it becomes very congested. The District Department of Transportation is working with WMATA to greatly expand the capacity and utility of the mezzanine.

Because of the design constraints of the site, the northern mezzanine had to be shoehorned into a very small area adjacent to Union Station. With the large number of transfers between commuter rail and Metro, the space is no longer sufficient.

Images by the author.

The Metro station is not directly under the Union Station building. It's actually underneath the ramp that comes down from the parking garage. Two escalators and one elevator connect the northern edge of the Metro platform to the mezzanine. From there, an elevator and two escalators ascend to the concourse level of Union Station and a ramp descends to an exit to First Street NE.

North mezzanine. Photo by the author.
At the concourse level, passengers can walk down a corridor past the Post Office into Union Station or they can turn and head to the MARC platforms near Gate A. Because of this easy access, this entrance sees lots of commuter rail passengers. But the escalators connecting the concourse to the mezzanine also serve Union Station customers headed to and from First Street NE and NoMa.

A separate entrance to the Metro is located further south, toward the center of the platform. The southern mezzanine gives patrons access to the front side of Union Station, the Great Hall, Massachusetts Avenue, Senate and other office buildings, and direct access to the Union Station Food Court. No changes are planned for this mezzanine.

Proposed Solutions
One of the biggest problems with the northern mezzanine is vertical capacity. The two escalators at the north end of the platform have a difficult time handling the mass of commuters each day. To solve this problem, the project will remove the current elevator and replace it with a staircase in between the two escalators.

The new elevators would come down about where the middle pylon is.
To replace the platform-to-mezzanine elevator, the agencies will need to reconfigure the mezzanine level of the station. A passageway will be constructed inside the fare-paid area just to the east of the up escalator (above the Glenmont track). It will turn south, travel parallel to the escalators, and then turn west to move above the platform. There, two new elevators will connect the mezzanine to the platform. The elevators will pierce the part of the ceiling that is lower and flat (not the arched vault part).

The fare-paid zone will be expanded by closing the existing First Street entranceway. The current ramp will be filled in, which will allow new faregates to be added in that area. This will help to reduce congestion in the mezzanine.

To compensate for the loss of the current First Street entrance, a new, larger entrance will be constructed slightly further north, essentially on a line with the existing concourse-to-mezzanine escalators. A ramp and stairs will be constructed outside the station wall to connect to the sidewalk. The ramp will face southward and the stairs will face north.

Left: Existing First Street entrance. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
Right: Walled over passageway. Photo by the author.

Additionally, an incomplete passageway, built in the mid-1970s, will be completed and opened. The passage runs underground toward H Street alongside the Red Line. The passageway was never opened, and the entrance was walled over. You can see it directly across from the exit faregates. By opening this area, DDOT will be able to link the Red Line to the new streetcar line along H Street. The passage will head north until it reaches the H Street underpass (which predates the H Street bridge). There, it will connect to the temporary streetcar platform and to an exit to First Street.

Four elevators will be constructed to connect the new lobby at First Street (under H) to the bridge-level H Street. It is not clear whether DDOT will install cars and equipment in all 4 initially, but at least 2 will be put in service as a part of the first phase.

The new escalators will come up to the left side of the picture.
In addition, the area where the passageway intersects the mezzanine will be expanded. This will allow the construction of two new escalators which will ascend to the south, emerging on the concourse level of Union Station directly in front of the Post Office and liquor store.

Also to be constructed off of the passage are two new elevators. They will connect to the concourse level at the point where the corridor to the MARC trains meets the corridor toward the Post Office—essentially across the hall from the existing elevator. The current elevator will be removed once construction is complete.

There is not currently a timeframe for this project. DDOT estimates that it will take at least 36 months after money has been granted to complete construction.

DDOT and WMATA are currently working on funding the project. They are preparing to apply for a TIGER II grant from the US Department of Transportation. Another approach being considered is a 5 cent surcharge on trips beginning or ending at Union Station. The Metro Board has proposed this as a way to accelerate capital improvements at stations where they are needed.

All told, the improvements are expected to cost between $33 and $36 million.

In June, the Board's Finance Committee approved the option to allow 6 stations systemwide to implement this surcharge—2 each in the District, Maryland, and Virginia. The full Board has approved the concept, but has not selected which stations will see the surcharge. It is likely that it would be implemented at all 6 locations at the same time.

The surcharge idea would be an excellent way to get vital capital improvements on the fast track. While Union Station has been the only station named so far as a potential site, some other projects come to mind as potential candidates, including the proposed tunnels between Gallery Place and Metro Center and between Farragut West and Farragut North.

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. Heís a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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Im increasing skeptical about these timeframes for construction. 36 months? really. Is that design, mobilization and construction? Even so, I've seen large pipeline projects over 300 miles in length completed within a year. Why do we accept such incredibly long construction periods?

by Eric on Jul 29, 2010 10:47 am • linkreport

Much needed.

But it seems as if there are two projects here.

Open is the access to H streetcar line, and the other is opening up the first street entrance.

Can they be de-linked? The immediate need is to open up that area, get more people up the escalator to the Union Station level.

In the attached drawing I don't see the proposed staircase along with the two escalators?

by charlie on Jul 29, 2010 11:04 am • linkreport

The staircase is the yellow space between the two existing escalators.

by David Alpert on Jul 29, 2010 11:05 am • linkreport


The staircase is the yellow between the two existing escalators.

by MLD on Jul 29, 2010 11:07 am • linkreport

I often use my bike to "transfer" to the red line at Union Station (great for going from Capitol Hill up the east side of the red line) and so I'm often using the elevators here. This will be a great improvement and the additional elevators will make it more bike - and more importantly - ADA friendly. I wonder if we could convince them to put a bike trough on the staircase?

by David C on Jul 29, 2010 11:07 am • linkreport

@MLD, DA; ah, got it. Confusing at this station which level the "concourse" is!

Adding a third escaltor/stairway to the union station level would be helpful too...that gets really stuck during rush hour.

by charlie on Jul 29, 2010 11:13 am • linkreport

I will happily pay an extra 10 cents a day to make these much-needed improvements. Hell, since the feds pay my way, I'll pay an extra 20 cents. That's big of me.

Seriously, though, the 1st street entrance is just too small. These sound like good changes. Except that I can't for the life of me figure out where that tunnel is. What are those doors on the concourse level (to the left as you get off the escalator)?


by rdhd on Jul 29, 2010 11:14 am • linkreport

I should have read the caption on that photo. Now I see the tunnel. I had no clue.


by rdhd on Jul 29, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

Yeay, more price increases to fund things that should have been done years ago.

by Jasper on Jul 29, 2010 11:30 am • linkreport

About damn time. I was afraid someone would have to get hurt before this became a reality. I just fear that there will be years of discussion and planning before anything happens.

Speaking of expanding, can we get this additional capacity expansion built up at Shady Grove? I'd be more than happy to pay a surcharge if it meant I didn't have to fight my way out of that station during rush hour...

by Justin..... on Jul 29, 2010 11:45 am • linkreport

Gah another price increase. While I like the idea, 10 cents a day is going to add a lot to whatever the other increases are. Especially sucks since my employer won't pay my $110/month metro fare, despite being happy to pay $350/month to pay for employee parking spots. But I guess that's going off topic.

Yes, this would be a much needed improvement. Since my job has a shuttle going from Union Station to Children's Hospital, I frequently use the first street exit. I can spend several minutes a day just waiting to get up that escalator.

by Max D. on Jul 29, 2010 12:00 pm • linkreport

How much of this can be completed before the streetcar is done? Would they just do the whole project, then put a temporary wall just about where the green arrow is? If so, that'd still be a great help.

But if they have to wait to even knock down the current wall, they'd be able to get almost nothing done.

by Tim on Jul 29, 2010 12:12 pm • linkreport

Matt, Given your expertise on the subject can you give a likely best guess on the timeline ? Better yet, can you find out if WMATA is willing to delink the projects? Thereby creating multiple timelines? IMHO the new first street entrance appears doable in the shortest amount of time. And if they did de-link them, which projects are easiest and could be done the fastest.

by Mike on Jul 29, 2010 12:41 pm • linkreport

Matt: (cont)
The key estimate of course will be when do you think they can get the funding, are we talking a few months or years?

by Mike on Jul 29, 2010 12:45 pm • linkreport

The connection to the Hopscotch bridge and proposed underground streetcar station will be immediately beneficial to the residents living to the east of Union Station, as there is currently no easy route out of the Metro station in this direction.

I'm just curious about what DDOT plans to do about the replacement of the Hopscotch bridge, which will effect both this and the streetcar project.

by andrew on Jul 29, 2010 12:47 pm • linkreport

I don't think there are two projects here, nor would you want to de-link them.

The tunnel north to H St already exists. Regardless of where streetcars go long term, there will be more vertical circulation at H St (connecting the lower, 1st St NE and the Hopscotch Bridge level), which will offer substantially easier access to the Metro station from points north and east. This will also serve the Burnham Place development when that happens, as well as any improvements to the Union Station bus deck.

by Alex B. on Jul 29, 2010 1:13 pm • linkreport

The tunnel to H Street is almost complete, it would require more drilling to finish it.

by anonymous on Jul 29, 2010 1:32 pm • linkreport

Why did they begin work on the 1st and H passageway in the 1970s and never finish it?

by Jack on Jul 29, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

The more elevators the better - might I also suggest a sign indicating "Tourists, Travelers with Luggage, and Strollers this way" pointing to the new elevators?

by grumpy on Jul 29, 2010 1:44 pm • linkreport

This is the first I've heard of Metro imposing surcharges at stations to fund improvements - opens a whole range of possibilities I didn't know existed.

For example, Alexandria has been struggling to figure out how to fund the Potomac Yard station. A surcharge at the station would provide a revenue stream which would fund bonds for the building of the station.

Another idea would be geographic surcharges. If, say, Arlington wanted a new station (between Court House and Rosslyn, maybe? ;-) ), they could impose a surcharge on all stations in Arlington along the Orange line to pay for the new station.

Or, make it line-focused - new tracks on the Red line could be funded by a red-line surcharge.

I'm sure a lot of these ideas are dead in the water but lots of possibilities here.

by EZ on Jul 29, 2010 2:20 pm • linkreport

1. The surcharges would have minimal impact unless large. A ten cent surcharge at Union Station would generate less than $2MM year. But money is money.

2. A real problem with this proposal is the failure to add stairwells to complement the escalators to the concourse. It would significantly add capacity. It would also provide back up (redundancy) in the case of escalator failure.

by Richard Layman on Jul 29, 2010 2:28 pm • linkreport


The fare surcharge isn't meant to cover all the costs.

Also, though Matt's diagram does not show it, my understanding is that the new vertical circulation between the Concourse and the Mezzanine would be one escalator and one staircase.

by Alex B. on Jul 29, 2010 2:35 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.:
According to documentation I received from DDOT, the new mezzanine-to-concourse vertical circulation will be 2 escalators. It is possible, however, that this could have been changed or will be changed.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 29, 2010 2:42 pm • linkreport

I've seen your beautiful maps such as "What WMATA is Really Proposing," which shows a new, separate Blue Line that will run to Union Station along NJ Ave and H St. Any idea how that new connecting line would fit with the new station design?

by Mark Bardwell on Jul 29, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

I know that two banks of escalators will provide some redundancy, but not having stairwells reduces throughput generally in a station that is hard to use when MARC trains empty, and in the rare case when both sides are down--which happened once in June with the current configuration, so they directed people to the elevators or the south entrance (I know this is pushing it with 4 escalators)--prevents the entrance from being used in an efficient fashion.

by Richard Layman on Jul 29, 2010 3:13 pm • linkreport

re grumpy's point: s***, this reminds me of something I always forget but mention in my blog from time to time. I disagree that more elevators are a solution for luggage, as far too many people move luggage through this station for them to be able to be accommodated only by the elevators The escalators at this station need to be wider to better accommodate luggage. Same thing for National Airport station too.

by Richard Layman on Jul 29, 2010 3:15 pm • linkreport

I love it, I love it, I love it. I use Union Station daily and I will gladly pay my surcharge and put up with the construction in order to get the improved North exit that this station desperately needs.

by tom veil on Jul 29, 2010 3:17 pm • linkreport

Let's forgo the additional escalators... just build stairs and elevators.

A short flight of stairs is *better* than a broken escalator. And a short flight of stairs is *ten times* better than a broken escalator that Metro has removed some steps from.

Metro's new escalators at the New York Avenue station are frequently out of service. Who needs more of that? Especially if it costs money?

Let's just have stairs and elevators.

by Turnip on Jul 29, 2010 9:29 pm • linkreport

Isn't this basically the same problem as suburban roads and highways? The more and bigger you build, the more it'll encourage people to use it ... And you keep finding yourself back in a 'shortage of space' situation. Best just to leave it as it is. Isn't that what a lot of you advocate in terms of roads and highways?

by Lance on Jul 29, 2010 10:52 pm • linkreport

Lance; oh, come on. Get off the high horse. The answer is we need both types of investments. And we also need intelligent design to make sure it is being used effectively.

I'm still worried about the cost. We are talking 34 million. For comparison, rebuilding the entire springfield interchange was done for about $700 million. (according to the wiki, it was originally 200 million but blew up). There are about 430,000 cars a day on that interchange, compared to 33,00+ passengers at Union Station. So an order of magnitude less.

So let's say 70 million vs 35 million. Now we are talking far larger changes at the Springfield interchange vs. the proposed changes here. And somehow, magically, I'm sure the price will increase.

Serious chunk of change, and is Union Station even that important a stop? It is bad here, but how critical is the stop overall to WMATA's health?

by charlie on Jul 29, 2010 11:04 pm • linkreport

@ Jack:
The H street pedestrian tunnel was built as part the original station construction on the speculation that an arena or other performance venue would be built north of H Street west of First Street NE.

@ Matt Johnson:
What documents were used to compile your description and drawings?

The correct description of the location of the mid platform surface entrance is West Portico of Union Station or Union Station West Portico.

by Sand Box John on Jul 29, 2010 11:47 pm • linkreport

@Sand Box John:
I apologize if my description of the other mezzanine was somehow unclear. You are correct, of course, that it does ascend to the West Portico.

DDOT provided me with the proposed design. Those documents were not reprinted because they were very "busy". I created a new graphic just showing the public access areas of the new Mezzanine.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 30, 2010 8:34 am • linkreport

Union Station Redevelopment Corporation has some documents on their site, as well:

These improvements can be found here:

(Large PDF)

by Alex B. on Jul 30, 2010 8:39 am • linkreport

@Alex B:
Thank you.

That document shows what is being proposed in more detail and how it fits into what is there.

by Sand Box John on Jul 30, 2010 9:42 am • linkreport

This is desperately needed. In the morning and afternoon rushes, it can sometimes take five minutes to get up/down the escalators. Absolutely ridiculous.

In the meantime, would it be possible to run both escalators from the MARC platform level down to the mezzanine the same direction during the morning and evening rushes? People going the opposite way could take the elevator. Or you could run one escalator in the direction of the rush, and stop the other one, allowing it to be used as a staircase in both directions.

by Nick on Jul 30, 2010 10:50 am • linkreport

On another note: this sets up the possibility that the Blue Line may eventually run through Union Station under H St.

by Nick on Jul 30, 2010 10:52 am • linkreport

Well, after looking at the detailed plans posted I am starting to see how the bill adds up. There are some serious elevator banks on H st, and it looks as if the elevators at the station will go up to the parking level.

So I have to wonder how much of 35 million is for the streetcar/H st entrance, and how much is for the other improvements. I think you could knock down the wall, add a escalator, and build a new 1st st entrance for a lot less.

by charlie on Jul 30, 2010 10:56 am • linkreport


The H Street entrance is probably the least complicated part of the construction, and also makes the existing Metro station much more accessible to people currently living to the North and East of Union Station.

Calling it a streetcar entrance only is a bit misleading.

And yes, you could likely improve the flow at 1st Street, but that's of little consequence unless you also improve the circulation between the mezzanine and the concourse - which is where the real bottleneck is.

by Alex B. on Jul 30, 2010 11:00 am • linkreport

@Alex; good point about mezzanine/concourse.

And again, looking at the detailed plans, I think you may be underestimating the amount of work needed on the H st side.

Otherwise I'm still scratching my head where the costs are coming from...

by Charlie on Jul 30, 2010 11:30 am • linkreport

Just remember that 85% of that tunnel is already there. Punching a hole through in order to add a staircase and some elevator shafts should be pretty easy, considering that the proposed space is outside of both the existing parking garage structure as well as the Hopscotch Bridge superstructure.

by Alex B. on Jul 30, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

@Nick: The situation you describe (making Union Station North exit-only in AM rush and enter-only in PM Rush) is often used in AM Rush, but oddly not PM Rush, at Farragut North's K Street entrance. I usually use Farragut North in the AM rush (temporarily living in North Arlington, work in southern Rockville) and at times it can be a pain for entering customers as they either have to use the elevator or use the L Street escalators, then backtrack.

In fact, the idea of making Union Station North entry-only (and the Farragut North AM policy) was debated on another forum not too long ago (link below) and the debate came over that it would be "unfair" to many people. Link to that discussion is below.

by Jason on Jul 30, 2010 11:57 am • linkreport

I think it works at Farragut North. Sure, it's irritating to go around to the other escalators if I'm coming down from K Street (especially if my train's at the platform), but it's much less irritating than waiting two minutes to get up to the mezzanine on one escalator. I think they do it in the morning but not the afternoon because in the morning, people going up to the mezzanine come in large surges as trains unload, but in the afternoon rush, the flow is steadier. So instead of short, high-volume bursts, for which you need an extra escalator, you have a steady flow that one escalator can handle.

The big problem I see with doing that with Union Station is that even if you get both mezzanine-station escalators running one-way, you still only have one escalator down to the platform. Flow from platform to mezzanine is both ways at rush hour.

by Nick on Jul 30, 2010 1:49 pm • linkreport

Lance -- this is one of the times when I wonder if you are truly being provocative?

The Union Station subway station is the highest used station in the system. When commuter trains reach Union Station and empty, there is a massive continuous line from the train concourse to the fare gates and the ability to move people to and through the station is severely constrained and beyond the capacity of the present configuration.

(Plus there is the luggage-articulation issue as I discussed previously.)

If anything, it is this fact that makes BeyondDC's idea of adding additional train stations in the center city and Arlington--really the core of the region--very compelling.

Moving to that kind of train service paradigm, having multiple stations in the core of the region, comparable to Paris or Montreal ( or London, is pretty intriguing and a step beyond some of Dan's earlier ideas about creating a more integrated railroad passenger service for the region, which I took up and ran with in some other ways:

by Richard Layman on Jul 30, 2010 2:45 pm • linkreport

One nitpick, Richard:

Union Station is the busiest Metro station in the system in terms of entries and exits.

However, if you look at total passenger movements, the Big Three transfer stations (Metro Center, Gallery Place, and L'Enfant Plaza) are all busier, as they all have both heavy entry/exit traffic while also accommodating all of the transfer movements between lines.

That doesn't really matter a great deal, since we're talking about a station entrance/exit, so using entries and exits makes sense - but I just wanted to point that out.

by Alex B. on Jul 30, 2010 2:53 pm • linkreport

True, and I should have specified that.

Also, I should have written:

When commuter trains reach Union Station and empty, there is a massive continuous line from the train concourse in the back halls to and on the escalators and in the subway station concourse to the fare gates.

Plus there is extranormal need for additional farecard machines, as the lines for use of the machines can be formidable as well.

by Richard Layman on Jul 30, 2010 3:22 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman:
The designs do indicate that additional farecard machines will be added in several locations.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 30, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

yep. But STAIRWAYS need to be added as well, for redundancy, capacity, and throughput reasons. Having a system dependent on escalators and elevators hasn't worked that great so far...

by Richard Layman on Jul 30, 2010 5:02 pm • linkreport

The placement of the new platform elevators is horrible.

1 They face the tracks one way, why not face each other like at NY Ave station. It would be easier to get to the elevator from both sides of the platform this design causes people to walk around the elevators.

2 Takes up room from the platform

3 Will cause problems when people in wheelchairs have to turn around and go the other way to get to RED line Shady Grove side of the platform.

4 Unless they are widening the platform the placement of those elevators wasn't thought of and will create significantly less space to walk through.

New entrance

1 Why wasnt the 1st Street entrance put there in the first place ?

2 Takes up to much space on the sidewalk by creating what looks like steps and a ramp why not just raise the level of the street and sidewalk to the level of the station.

3 People walking up first street will have more traffic to go through because of the ramp and steps (some will take steps and others will take ramp) causing 2 sources of problems for people walking up the street instead of one.

by kk on Jul 30, 2010 5:14 pm • linkreport


If you look at the detailed PDFs linked above, you'll see that the Elevators will have two sets of doors - they will not open facing the tracks at the platform level, they will face down the long axis of the platform.

by Alex B. on Jul 30, 2010 5:33 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B.

What PDF, where is it linked at?

by kk on Jul 30, 2010 5:46 pm • linkreport


Next, improved Washington DC's NASTIEST PLACE: The Blue/Orange platform at Metro Center. Dark, dank, dirty. Add some neon, colored tile, better lighting. It's a claustraphobe's nightmare.

by Captain Hilts on Jul 30, 2010 9:28 pm • linkreport

Finally! I would also add to their agenda widening the Gallery Place red line platforms... they're a real hazard during rush hour. I can't remember how many times I've felt like I was going to be pushed onto the tracks by stampeding commuters.

by John on Aug 4, 2010 1:16 pm • linkreport

Just came upon this link for the study, since it looks like links used in blog posts from a week or two ago are now broken as documents got moved around the sites:

by Bossi on Aug 10, 2010 4:34 pm • linkreport

I've used the MARC to Union Station connection for 16 years by wheelchair. Can't count number of times that the vertical accommodations have been out of service. There presently is only one accessible path through to the platforms of Metro for someone who can't use stationary stairs. Everyone else has options.

Seeing this project phased in starting now would be better. Right now Union Station elevators are officially shutdown for a 3 month modernization. Actually as of this writing, they are still in operation. Anyone who feels that the station design at present is deficient should try doing it with a wheelchair.

by Itsall Tuna on Aug 20, 2010 2:50 pm • linkreport

Any update on this?

One question -- why there is no access to Union Station's food court from the station? Why should we go up the escalator and then go back down on another escalator?

by Dave on Apr 2, 2012 8:14 pm • linkreport

Amtrak is proposing a $7 billion transformation of Union Station, intended to triple passenger capacity and transform the overcrowded station into a high-speed rail hub for the Northeast.

The plan, to be unveiled Wednesday afternoon, calls for doubling the number of trains the station can accommodate and improving the passenger experience at what is the second-busiest Amtrak station in the country, with 100,000 passenger trips per day.

by Mike on Jul 25, 2012 10:56 am • linkreport

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