Rider Ranga Nathan wants to know why Metro doesn’t do something about crowding at Union Station. He takes a MARC train from his home in Maryland to Union Station before getting on the Red Line and then an Orange Line train to work in Rosslyn.
When he passes through Union Station again on his way home, the line for the escalator to get from the platform up to the concourse level to get his connection is “so large sometimes I have missed the connecting MARC train,” he told us in an email.
“What I don’t understand is how come the Metro management has not addressed this problem. Union Station is such an important place and one would think they would expand the entry and exits from Metro to Union Station,” he said.
Well, some relief is coming, though not as much as Metro and Amtrak consultants had said is possible.
A few days after Nathan wrote, Metro and Amtrak announced that Amtrak is seeking bids from contractors for a major renovation of the busy 112-year-old station. According to The Washington Post, Amtrak’s portion of the three-year project involves opening up the 70,000-square-foot Claytor Concourse to expand the area where the rail line’s passengers line up to board. New restrooms will be added, the area will be brightened with natural light, and the ClubAcela passenger lounge area will be expanded and rebranded as Metropolitan Lounge.
Metro’s portion of the project includes installing a new stairway connecting the mezzanine, where fare gates are located, to the concourse. A 2011 study on improving access and capacity at the station said the stairs would ease the backup of people like Nathan getting off trains and trying to go upstairs to the concourse.
The plan also calls for creating a bigger entrance to the station from First Avenue Northeast and more space inside. At the moment, a narrow entrance in a stone wall leads to a cramped area, where a people trying to get in and out of the station get tangled with people waiting to take backed-up escalators. The plan also calls for adding more fare gates.
Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said Metro could still decide to do more. But not included in the request for bids was the addition of two elevators between the mezzanine and the concourse. In addition to the stairs, the 2011 study said adding the elevators would reduce congestion even more and “provide multiple path choices for pedestrians traveling across three levels.”
Even in 2011, the study said Union Station had gotten too crowded and would get even worse. The transformation of surrounding neighborhoods like the thriving H Street Northeast corridor had increased daily train boardings from 5,000 when the station opened to 35,000. At that time, more than 5,000 pedestrians were using the north mezzanine by the First Avenue Northeast entrance in the mornings and another 6,000 used it in the afternoon rush hour.
However, more development in the area, the addition of the H Street streetcar, and other changes were expected to increase pedestrian traffic by 60 percent by 2031. The addition of more full-length, 10-car trains would also mean more people getting off on crowded platforms with each train, making the backup on the escalators even worse.
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