WASHINGTON — Union Station commuters could see a much more open, light-filled facility that aims to double ridership capacity and expand "clean, urban public transportation," according to plans released Thursday detailing the $10 billion transformation of "the nation's train station."
Immediate differences that passengers would notice include a renovated train hall, lofty and bright concourses with retail and restaurants, and refurbished entrances. Renderings show the historic station remaining intact, but with modern touches throughout the rest of the expansion.
The train hall also would provide improved ADA access. The station's bus depot would be revamped to align with the new train hall design.
The $10 billion Union Station expansion project is funded by a combination of public and private dollars.
Parking and passenger drop-off/pickup would be under the facility, rather than a previously planned six-level garage.
The six-story garage was under fire by D.C. officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser and Councilman Charles Allen, many of whom said having a large garage for cars ran counter to a goal of reducing automobile traffic in the area.
After viewing the new plans, Allen hailed the underground parking as a win in a tweet.
"When we fought the 1,500 vehicle parking garage at Union Station, this is why that win was so important. Now we will get the type of transit hub, development, & connections our community, city, and region needs for the next century. So much smarter; so much better," he wrote.
The Federal Railroad Administration asserted the project is needed to improve "rail capacity, reliability, safety, efficiency, accessibility, and security, for both current and future long-term railroad operations at this historic station." The agency says many of the station facilities are currently at or exceed their practical capacity.
FRA further said that passenger facilities such as platforms, waiting areas and customer support services are "not adequate to serve existing or projected future passenger demand for Amtrak and commuter rail."
"The passenger experience at WUS is not befitting of a central rail terminal in the nation’s capital and needs to be addressed," FRA wrote back in 2020. "The layout and siting of the Station restrict connectivity with neighbors and need to be enhanced. Finally, to provide for a sustainable future for (Union Station's) preservation and maintenance, the Station needs to remain financially viable."
DC Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio said he would expect the train station to double its train capacity and have better connectivity with H Street Northeast and the community surrounding it.
“It's so important that we make sure that [travelers] have a great experience because it's a gateway to the city,” he said.
Among other things, a new development containing park space and housing could be constructed on both sides of H Street Northeast as well as part of the project.
“If there is some kind of local contribution, it would be really kind of minuscule compared to what the federal investment would have to be,” Falcicchio said.
He added that $3 billion worth of federal infrastructure funding could also go toward the completion of the project.
WUSA9 spoke to people who use Union Station about the station’s future.
Eric Grima, who frequently travels between D.C. and his hometown of New York for work said the station could use an upgrade.
“The back part [of the station] is too low,” he said. “It’s a little depressing, to be honest.”
However, some locals, like Barbara Ann Moore, who use the station say they’re concerned about funding.
“It could go to other programs, such as medical and the youth,” she said.
Commuters shouldn't expect to see any changes immediately, though. If the plan is eventually approved after public comment and then the design phase, the Washington Post reports, it would still take perhaps a decade of construction, with a completion goal around 2040.
Union Station - a historic landmark that opened in 1907 - houses the Amtrak passenger railroad, commuter trains for Metro, Maryland and Virginia, plus buses and is the terminal for the D.C. Streetcar.