“Make no little plans,” said the great American architect Daniel Burnham. “They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized."
Burnham certainly held true to this sentiment in the work he
And yet, current residents living and working in the area, of
which I am one—NARP headquarters are about two blocks east of Union Station—know
that the present-day station has become something of a grand, awe-inspiring stumbling-block
planted in the heart of
With a steadily growing population in the region, along with steadily increasing ridership figures, these problems are only going to get worse. That’s bad news for Amtrak’s national network, since eight long-distance and regional train lines are served by the station, in addition to the Acela Express and the Northeast Corridor routes.
So the unveiling of Amtrak’s Master Plan to bring Washington Union Station into the 21st Century should come as a great relief—not just to D.C. residents, but to passengers everywhere.
[Click through for more conceptualizations of the modernized station]
In partnership with Akridge real estate firm, Amtrak released a $6.5 to $7.5 billion station development plan that would double train capacity and triple the number of passengers the station could accommodate by 2030. The Master Plan would preserve the historic character of Union Station-proper, expanding north to create broad, airy new concourses for passengers; expand and add platforms; and cover over the northern tracks to create a new, transit-accessible neighborhood in central D.C.
While the potential cost is
daunting, the potential benefit is great, as well. The Master Plan—along with the complimentary commercial
and residential real estate development plan—will have an impact on the
A Necessary Step for the Future
It should go without saying that trying to overhaul the second busiest intercity train station in the nation while moving millions of passengers is going to be a challenge. To provide a little context: the station hosts 100,000 passenger trips per day, and struggles to accommodate 8,000 rail passengers each hour during weekday peaks. But numbers alone don’t tell the full story, because these aren’t just Amtrak passengers. The station serves commuter passengers on Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) trains, as well as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Metrorail trains. All told, Amtrak and Akridge will need to coordinate work with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC), the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, VRE, the Maryland Transit Administration, and WMATA in transforming this Union Station Master Plan from vision to reality.
The head of Amtrak is adamant that his company is committed to preparing for the ongoing surge in demand for passenger rail.
“The problem that we have is that we’ve got a lack of balance and investment in a mode that moves a lot of people, that is an environmentally responsible mode, and that changes the way that people are going to be able to travel in the future with the technology that is available today,” Joseph Boardman, Amtrak president and chief executive, told the Washington Post.
To minimize impact on operations, the plan will implemented in four phases over a 15 to 20 year period:
· Phase 1 (2013 - 2018): existing concourse improvement; two new tracks & platforms; crew base relocation;
· Phase 2 (2018 - 2022): east side thru track & platform reconstruction; new below grade parking; added track capacity;
· Phase 3 (2023 - 2028): demolish existing garage; stub-end tracks & platform improvements; train shed construction;
· Phase 4 (2028+): lower level tracks & new concourse; new Metrorail line.
Developing the Air Rights
While Amtrak hasn’t created a detailed plan to finance the
project, a big piece of that puzzle will be supplied by the private sector work
Akridge is doing in this public-private partnership. In addition to the money spent on the
Washington Union Station, Akridge will spend $1.5 billion to develop Union
Station’s “air rights”—that is, the land that will be created when the tracks
north of the station are covered.
Akridge has identified a 3-million square-foot mixed use development
that will create a brand new neighborhood just north of Capitol Hill. Named
A Grand Vision, and a Malleable One
Amtrak’s Union Station Master Plan is an important step for
a passenger railroad trying to come to terms with 40 years of fighting for its
survival, and reorient itself towards the aggressive growth the
It’s too early to say, however, if Amtrak’s will be the definitive vision for the station’s long-term future. The USRC is expected to come up with its own draft, informed by Amtrak’s Master Plan. And until there is a financing plan, it’s impossible to say what parts of the Master Plan will ultimately be acted upon.
But whatever the final design, Amtrak did something important this week—it made a big plan. It thought on a 100-year scale, and it came up with a vision for a station that is a worthy legacy to pass on to future generations. Just like Daniel Burnham and his original station. Amtrak’s President Boardman understands something important: “If you don’t have a vision for the future, they’re not going to give you the dollars to develop that view of the future.”