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Amtrak unveils $50 million solution to cramped conditions at Union Station

Amtrak says work will begin this year on a new concourse that would be double the size of the existing one. (Rendering courtesy KGP design studio/Grimshaw.)

Amtrak plans to begin building a new $50 million Union Station concourse this summer that it said would double the space for passengers and improve circulation throughout the station by 2019.

Union Station passengers have long complained that the waiting area for trains there, the second busiest in the country for the rail service, is dark, cramped and difficult to maneuver.

Despite the proximity to train tracks, some the station’s 37 million annual passengers have difficulty knowing which direction to head to catch their train or make connections to commuter lines, Metro, buses, taxis or the new D.C. Streetcar.

In a design Amtrak released Tuesday, the station’s north wall on the concourse level will be pushed back to add another 20,000 square feet of space and bring new restrooms, boarding gates, seating, an Amtrak police station and ClubAcela lounge. Passengers would be able to look out on the train tracks through a glass wall.

Built in 1907, Union Station was redeveloped in the late 1980s and is now subject of a long-term master plan that would dramatically increase rail capacity and create a new development above the tracks, called Burnham Place.

[Reimagining Union Station]

The concourse improvements represent a more immediate way to improve passengers’ experience that will work in concert with the bigger plans. Amtrak’s Stephen Gardner, executive vice president, said in a release that the new space will “vastly improve passenger comfort and accessibility with a modern and reconfigured concourse area benefiting Amtrak, VRE and MARC passengers.”

“This work and other planned improvements will transform Union Station’s capacity and performance, befitting the vital regional gateway and civic hub the Station has become since its redevelopment in 1988,” Gardner said.

Work will begin this summer, as crews begin to move mechanical systems that are located in the concourse area. Train service is not expected to be affected, said Amtrak’s David Zaidain, who oversees the project.

Construction on the full plan will begin in the spring of next year with completion in 2019 or 2020, meaning before passengers get to enjoy the new concourse they will have to endure two-to-three years worth of hard hats and dust. Zaidain estimated the price tag at $40 million to $50 million, most of the money coming from Amtrak’s budget.

A main reason for the cramped conditions in the first place is the concourse’s position beneath a parking garage and taxi access road, giving the station’s architects and engineers, from KGP Design Studio, Grimshaw Architect and ARUP, limited space in which to work.

“This space is extremely constrictive on all levels for what we’re trying to do,” Zaidain said.

But he assured passengers it would be worth the wait.

“We just want to provide a more pleasant experience for everyone,” he said.

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