The Washington Post

The Harry S. Truman Union Station? Senators want to rename D.C.’s train hub.

Pedestrians walk past the front of the building as construction on the plaza at Columbus circle in front of Union Station is nearly complete on February, 14, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)

Ronald Reagan’s name is already on a Washington area airport, so why not also name the train station for a former president?

That’s what Missouri Sens. Claire McCaskill (D) and Roy Blunt (R) proposed Thursday in a bill that would rename Washington’s Union Station for former president Harry S. Truman, who would have marked his 130th birthday on Thursday.

Naming the District’s train hub for an out-of-towner might give pause among locals, but Union Station, like many other large buildings in the city, is owned by the federal government, so Congress has naming rights. McCaskill and Blunt serve on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over such proposals.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who has fought Congress for greater budget and governing autonomy, issued a statement saying the District ought to have some say.

“Any name change should be made in collaboration and consultation with the residents and government of the District of Columbia,” he said.

But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) issued a statement applauding the idea to add Truman’s name to the station so long as “Union Station” remained a part of it.

“From integrating the armed forces and the Marshall Plan to the Fair Deal and the creation of the United Nations, Harry Truman was one of our nation’s greatest presidents and deserves recognition in the nation’s capital,” she said in the statement.

McCaskill said she wanted to give Truman the honor because no site in Washington carried the Truman name. “I hear Republicans all the time comparing themselves to Harry Truman. So I figured, with so many people wanting to grab Harry Truman’s mantle, this could turn into a great bipartisan effort,” she said.

She may have forgotten that the main building housing the State Department in Washington is named for Truman.

The proposal is an especially important one for McCaskill, whose office is decorated with a Truman bust, photos of the late president and even a name plate of Truman’s oft-quoted slogan, “The Buck Stops Here.”

She cited several reasons for giving Truman the honor: Union Station once housed U.S. Car No. 1, or the presidential rail car, which Truman used for campaigning and other out-of-town trips.

Acknowledging that some critics might be concerned about naming the train station for the first U.S. president to order the use of an atomic bomb, McCaskill said, “He saved thousands of lives by making that decision, it was a very difficult decision, it was obviously horrific that that happened, but I think most historians would weigh in and say that the decision was made to save lives, not take lives.”

The sprawling train station houses about 140 shops and restaurants and is undergoing a $35 million renovation that will allow for several more restaurants. In 2012, Amtrak proposed a $7 billion expansion of the station that it said could triple passenger capacity and transform the overcrowded site into a high-speed rail hub.

But the station and its manager, Union Station Redevelopment Corp., have not always enjoyed sound financial footing.

The nonprofit manager sued the city in 2011 over a tax dispute, and an audit by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general released last month found that a USRC maintenance fund was in danger of facing a $5 million shortfall by this fall.

Norton, who requested the audit, said it showed that USRC “has many major problems for which solutions have not been developed.”

Beverley Swaim-Staley, president and chief executive of USRC, said the capital maintenance fund was just one source of revenue for the organization and that the shortfall resulted from a long-term lease USRC had signed years before.

Swaim-Staley declined to comment on the name proposal on Thursday. “Since the building is owned by USDOT, it is really a discussion for them,” she said in an e-mail.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.

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