DC’s $8.8B Union Station upgrade moves forward

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Dive Brief:

  • Washington, D.C.’s historic Union Station, the nation’s second-busiest train hub, is a key step closer to an $8.8 billion overhaul. The project’s final environmental impact statement and record of decision are complete, the Federal Railroad Administration announced in March.
  • Now the project moves into the design and engineering phase, which could take several years and will likely result in changes to the timeline and cost. The nonprofit Union Station Redevelopment Corp. is helming the effort in coordination with Amtrak. 
  • Passengers traveling via Amtrak, MARC, VRE, Metro and Greyhound all use the station, which is the main multi-modal hub for the region as well as a key terminal on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. It was formerly a shopping, dining and entertainment destination but it was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Washington Post, and now many storefronts stand empty.

Dive Insight: 

Just blocks from the U.S. Capitol building, Union Station first opened to passengers in 1907, but in recent years it has been plagued by poor maintenance and lack of investment, according to Amtrak. A tunnel that runs under the station is in serious need of repair, and the existing facilities aren’t big or modern enough for current or future needs, especially as the federal government invests in rail.

Planning for the makeover began nine years ago with goals to improve rail capacity, reliability, efficiency, accessibility and security, as well as customer experience, according to the project website. More specifically, it aims to support current and future rail service and operational needs, facilitate intermodal transportation, preserve and maintain the historic station and better integrate it with surrounding neighborhoods.

London-based Grimshaw Architects is leading the project design, along with New York City’s Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners, London-headquartered Arup and Watertown, Massachusetts-based VHB. No construction contracts have been announced.

Next steps

According to the most recent plans, the historic main hall will be joined by widened rail platforms. There will be a new train hall, modernized tracks and platforms, a new bus facility and an underground garage and pick-up/drop-off area. The new additions would be built behind the historic main terminal. The goal is to finish the project by 2040, meaning construction would need to begin by 2027. 

The project is a complicated one in part because there are so many entities involved. The Federal Railroad Administration owns the Union Station complex, but it is managed by a private company, Union Station Investco. Amtrak subleases about 13% of the building and also owns the station’s platforms and railroad tracks, according to The Washington Post. 

In a lawsuit filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia in September 2022, Amtrak argued that it should be granted full control of the station via eminent domain in order to proceed with its redevelopment plans. 

However, in November 2023 Union Station Investco and other companies challenging the takeover said they have cooperated and not impeded any of the improvements Amtrak seeks to make, according to WTOP. The case has not yet been resolved.

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