Moving forward with plans to renovate Penn Station, New York joins a growing list of cities that hope a major railroad station redevelopment can help revitalize the surrounding area.
Many plans share key elements: preserving and enhancing historic structures, improving connections between different modes of transport and taking advantage of nearby real estate potential.
The projects are notable because the country has focused much of its resources on building infrastructure for cars, while letting its rail system deteriorate, said Paul Angelone, senior director of the Curtis Infrastructure Initiative at the Urban Land Institute.
“As a nation, we need to regain the ability to really think about these big, transformative projects. It was very common before,” he said. “When you do things that are new, or do them again for the first time in a long time, it gets a lot of attention. These (projects) are going to have a huge impact on a lot of people’s lives, so I think that there is a lot of enthusiasm.
Denver and Miami
One of the rail hub’s most successful renovations took place in Denver in 2014, where the decade-long renovation of Union Station and related upgrades to nearby rail yards sparked a housing boom in the lower neighborhood. downtown.
The station is a hub for Amtrak, commuter rail, light rail, and buses. Local leaders kept the century-old granite building that long served as a train station, but, through a public-private partnership, converted most of it into a hotel, restaurants and other commercial spaces. Alongside the granite edifice, they added an open-air train hall framed by a white canopy stretched high over white steel beams.
The stunning architecture and reconfiguration of 50 acres of nearby real estate that made the station possible have reignited interest in downtown Denver. The $487 million project was at the center of a neighborhood reinvention. Local transit officials said it has helped develop 3,000 residential units, 1.9 million square feet of office space, 250,000 square feet of retail and 750 new hotel rooms within blocks. houses.
In Miami, a privately built passenger rail station has helped reinvigorate a neglected part of the city’s downtown. The MiamiCentral train station and related developments span six city blocks. It’s the southern end of a new passenger rail service, called Brightline, which connects to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with extensions to Orlando and Tampa underway. The resort includes 816 rental residences, 130,000 square feet of retail space, a food hall and entertainment venues.
The federal infrastructure law that Congress passed last year included $66 billion in various programs to fund new passenger rail service or upgrade existing facilities. Meanwhile, Amtrak’s financial situation had improved before the pandemic, allowing it to consider improvements that had long seemed out of reach. (Along with Penn Station in New York, Amtrak has stations in Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore. These are some of the busiest stations in the country and it plans to upgrade all of them.)
Chicago-area officials have unveiled an ambitious $418 million proposal to renovate the city’s Union Station and make related rail improvements around the rail hub. They want the federal government to pay $250 million of that total.
Some of the problems they’re trying to solve in Chicago’s historic but overcrowded Central Station are all too familiar to regular Penn Station users.
For example, they are trying to open up the concourse that passengers use to get to and from Amtrak and commuter rail lines. Currently, Chicago customers often have to navigate a maze of cramped hallways to get to their trains.
Two office buildings sit above the Union Station tracks, limiting options for new layouts. But Amtrak, which owns the facility, slowly cleared the space. He moved ticket counters, offices and a passenger lounge from the crowded concourse to the more spacious and iconic adjacent building.
Now Amtrak and local agencies want to move the escalators and raise the lobby ceilings, making it more open and easier to navigate. The Chicago consortium also wants to expand the platforms and reactivate platforms that were once reserved for mail transport. This would increase capacity and reduce overcrowding, especially at peak times.
Beyond station improvements, Illinois officials are calling for track improvements that would reduce delays on trains traveling to Detroit and southern Illinois, and they want to add the ability for some trains to cross the station.
“While these are big ticket items, the needs are great here in Chicago,” Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner said when the plan was announced in July.
Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
In Philadelphia, officials want to make improvements to the 30th Street station to accommodate projected growth in ridership as well as rejuvenate a part of the city cut off by nearby rail stations and an interstate highway.
“The vibrancy found within the walls of Gray 30th Street Station does not yet extend to the neighborhood around it,” the architects at SOM wrote of the plans.
The first step to improving the situation in Philadelphia was a 50-year agreement with an Australian infrastructure company to renovate, improve and maintain the station.
But the larger vision, developed after two years of public input, was a $10 billion effort to make the station the centerpiece of a neighborhood transformation. This included $2 billion for improvements to stations and other public amenities, $4.5 billion in private real estate investment on 88 acres of existing rail stations, and $3.5 billion for major development of the train station. ‘Drexel University just west of the train station.
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the Federal Railroad Administration wants to build above the tracks as part of an effort to improve Amtrak’s second-busiest station. The agency and its partners, however, ran into trouble with their first plan because local officials and businesses complained that the Union Station proposal included too much space for parking, which would limit the value of the station as an intermodal hub.
In June, the agency unveiled an updated plan, which would include less parking and put it underground. Other major improvements proposed included a new train hall, more tracks, better bus connections, expanded retail and new entrances around the building. And Akridge, a development company, could add a dozen buildings to 15 acres of existing tracks, in a $3 billion project known as Burnham Place.
Angelone of the Urban Land Institute said the changes to the Washington, DC plans were a “fabulous example” of how community input can improve a design. The parking lots were originally included because they would generate revenue, but the feedback helped clarify that the community had different priorities, he said. “Is your goal to move a lot of people and build a stronger community or is it just to generate revenue? ” he said.
Many rail station improvement plans have also demonstrated the importance of connecting them to neighborhoods, Angelone added. “It’s not just an open-air marshalling yard. It is a continuation of the city. I think that’s a powerful and important thing. Building these spaces is important, even if they are not self-funding,” he said. “There’s a lot of value beyond dollars and cents in how you structure these things.”
Dan Vock is a reporter for Route Fifty.