Designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert, Union Station is the third major rail facility to serve the city. Today, it is a bustling intermodal center with Amtrak, commuter rail and buses connections.
New Haven, Connecticut
50 Union Avenue Union Station New Haven, CT 06519
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||State of Connecticut|
|Parking Lot Ownership||City of New Haven, Connecticut Department of Transportation|
|Platform Ownership||State of Connecticut|
|Track Ownership||State of Connecticut|
|600 Long Term Parking Spaces||600 Short Term Parking Spaces||ATM|
|Accessible Payphones||Accessible Platform||Accessible Restrooms|
|Accessible Ticket Office||Accessible Waiting Room||Accessible Water Fountain|
|Checked Baggage||Dedicated Parking||Elevator|
|Elevator Accessible||Enclosed Waiting Area||Help With Luggage|
|High Platform||Parking Attendant||Pay Phones|
|Quik Trak Kiosk||Restrooms||Ticket Office|
- Acela Express
- Northeast Regional
(202) 906-3918 (ph)
Local Community Links:
- City of New Haven, CT
- Park New Haven
- MTA Metro-North Railroad
- Shore Line East Railroad
- Connecticut Transit buses
- Yale University Shuttle
Located in the Long Wharf area south of downtown, New Haven Union Station is not only the most used passenger rail facility in Connecticut, but it is also one of the busiest stations in the Amtrak national network. Travelers can board the high-speed Acela Express or the Northeast Regional trains to head toward Washington, D.C. or Boston. Select Shuttle trains terminate at Springfield, Massachusetts, while the Vermonter provides service to towns and winter resorts within the Connecticut River Valley.
New Haven is an important transfer point between Amtrak and commuter rail services such as the MTA’s Metro-North Railroad and the Shore Line East Railroad. The intermodal Union Station also accommodates intercity and local buses, taxis, rental car businesses, and a service that carries passengers from the station to the historic New Haven Green in the revitalized downtown.
New Haven is also a projected stop on the route of the proposed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Project, a partnership between the State of Connecticut, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration, as well as the states of Massachusetts and Vermont. At an estimated total cost of approximately $650 million, this multi-year effort is aimed at creating new commuter and enhanced intercity passenger rail services benefiting the cities along Amtrak’s Springfield Line. This 62 mile corridor is also considered essential to future plans for high-speed rail service in greater New England.
As of summer 2012, the NHHS project had received almost $191 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and other funding programs in order to double-track and upgrade portions of the route. The state of Connecticut has also approved the use of up to $286 million in state bond proceeds for other NHHS improvements. An assessment of the project’s environmental impacts was released in May 2012, and the commuter service is expected to launch in 2016.
Opened to the public in 1920, the current Union Station is the third major passenger rail facility to serve the people of New Haven. Commissioned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad—commonly referred to as the “New Haven,”—the building replaced a nearby station built in the 1870s that had become crowded and outmoded. Union Station was designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert, who had gained great fame for the 57-storey, steel framed neo-Gothic tower he created for the Woolworth Company. The tallest building in the world from its completion in 1913 until 1930, it remains an important landmark in Lower Manhattan. Gilbert also designed a series of passenger depots for the Northern Pacific and New Haven Railroads.
Charles Mellon, president of the New Haven, had previously met Gilbert while working for the Northern Pacific. He encouraged the architect to create a grand building that would symbolize the New Haven’s position as the primary passenger and freight carrier in lower New England. The architect worked out various designs for the new station, but the plans lay dormant until early 1918. Soon after breaking ground on the new $900,000 facility, the existing depot to the north caught fire and was ruined.
Gilbert’s station is a steel framed structure clad in masonry, and the overall design is a pared down version of Renaissance Revival architecture. Decoration is minimal in order to highlight the harmonious proportions and interior volumes. Visually, the four story building can be divided into three parts, giving a clue as to the arrangement of interior space. A center block marked by giant arches indicates the location of the main waiting room, while flanking, slightly recessed wings with vertical, rectangular groupings of windows hold subsidiary functions such as office space.
The primary façades facing Union Street and the tracks are dominated by the three story arches which accommodate walls of windows arranged into a tripartite division echoing that of the building. With an emphasis on the vertical, the arches and the rectangular window groupings, also three stories tall, act as a counterbalance to the horizontal lines of the building. A five foot high base of light gray crushed stone and concrete supports walls of red brick laid in a Flemish bond highlighted through the use of glazed headers. A prominent belt course between the third and fourth floors creates a smaller scale attic story that tempers the visual impact of the large arches and window groupings.
Facing Union Street, a wide marquee runs the length of the center block, and protects passengers from inclement weather as they enter or exit the station through the doors located at the base of the outermost arches. Passing through the archways, travelers enter the main waiting room, which rises to three full stories and is bathed in brilliant sunlight entering through the large expanses of glass. The first story of the room is covered in marble while the upper portions of the walls are coated in concrete scored and colored to resemble the more expensive stone.
Arrayed along the perimeter are the ticket offices and concessions, leaving the bulk of the floor area open. A line of wooden benches occupies the center of the space, and each banquette is topped by a model train display. Depicting various New Haven locomotives, cars, and color schemes, they delight travelers of all ages. Above, a coffered ceiling dominated by a bold pattern of octagons and squares is painted in soft tones of cream with gilded detailing such as guilloche bands and rosettes. Spherical glass and brass light fixtures provide basic illumination and highlight the luminous gold leaf. A gallery above the main floor allows one to survey the passage of travelers accompanied by the echoing of conversations.
Large archways at each end of the waiting room frame clocks and give onto enclosed courts. At the north end, stairs and escalators lead to the lower level where passengers can pass through a tunnel to access the platforms. Originally, the ground floor of the station housed separate waiting rooms for men and women, a lunchroom, a sit-down restaurant, and typical concessions such as a newsstand. Upstairs, the railroad maintained its principal offices. Over the decades, the form of the station changed little except for the enclosing of the gallery and the addition of a small lunch counter in the middle of the waiting room.
Railroads after World War II were in dire shape, facing challenges from new modes of transportation such as the personal automobile and the jet plane whose key support infrastructure—highways and airports—were generously funded through federal programs. The New Haven was absorbed into Penn Central in 1969, which then descended into bankruptcy. Amid these problems, New Haven Union Station was closed in the early 1970s, although passengers continued to use the platforms and the underground tunnels.
Talk of demolition followed, and concerned citizens worked to have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Its fate remained uncertain until the federal government agreed to fund extensive improvements to the Northeast Corridor in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Following a complete rehabilitation, Union Station reopened in 1985 through the efforts of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT).
In 2008, a study undertaken by Jones Lang LaSalle for the city of New Haven and the New Haven Parking Authority promoted the concept of using Union Station as an anchor for transportation oriented development. The plan calls for the construction of additional commuter parking garages that would be fronted by “liner” buildings containing retail and office space; the existing garage would be retrofitted to accommodate retail on the ground floor. A residential tower is also included as part of the overall plan. In the station, upper level office space would be refurbished and a new retail mix instituted to attract customers beyond the core commuter base. In spring 2010, CDOT began a $4.4 million program at Union Station to upgrade essential mechanical, fire-protection, and passenger information systems, and to rehabilitate the elevators and pedestrian tunnel leading to the platforms.
When European explorers first investigated the southern coast of New England, it was inhabited by the semi-sedentary Quinnipiack American Indians who belonged to the Algonquian language family. They took advantage of the natural riches of the area, which included three rivers that converged to enter Long Island Sound, creating an estuary capable of supporting various seasonal birds, fish and shellfish, and other animals. Dutch navigator Adriaen Block passed by the area in 1614, calling it Rodeberg, or “Red Mount Place” in reference to the two prominent, rocky outcroppings of reddish stone that are presently known as East and West Rocks.
The present site of New Haven, with its small natural harbor, was settled by 500 English colonists in April 1638. Led by the Reverend John Davenport and his prominent backer, London merchant Theophilus Eaton, the small band of Puritans had arrived in Boston in 1636, but soon set out to find a place where they could establish their own community. Having heard about the coast of Connecticut, Davenport, Eaton, and a small party made an excursion the next year to explore the area. The harbor offered possibilities for trade, important to Eaton and his associates, and the Quinnipiack were generally welcoming, viewing the English as a bulwark against hostile tribes such as the neighboring Mohawk and Pequot. The colonists quickly traded a collection of coats, utensils, and other goods with the Quinnipiack in exchange for the land around the harbor.
By 1640, the settlement was known as Newhaven after a port in Sussex, England. The settlers committed themselves to creating a community of God untainted by non-believers. Rather than follow the statutes of English common law, Davenport and his associates declared that the “Word of God” would govern daily life. Only members of the church were allowed to vote or hold office, and non-Puritans were not welcome to settle in town. To maintain their vision and keep others out, New Haven soon became the head of its own eponymous colony. This independence lasted only a generation, as power struggles in England placed pressure on New Haven to join the seemingly liberal Connecticut Colony in 1664. As a result of the merger, a system of dual capitals—New Haven and Hartford—was born that lasted well into the 19th century.
Education became vital to New Haven’s identity when the Collegiate School, formed in 1701 to train ministers and laymen, relocated to the town in 1716. In response to a generous donation by Welsh merchant Elihu Yale of 417 books, a portrait of King George I, and the proceeds of the sale of nine bales of merchandise, the school was renamed in his honor. The college established its campus to the west and north of the Green, and the oldest building to survive to the present day is Connecticut Hall, erected in 1752.
Luckily, New Haven escaped the physical destruction of the Revolutionary War; invaded by British forces in 1779, it was left intact whereas its neighbors went up in flames. Post-war, New Haven blossomed as a mid-sized industrial city with an emphasis on fine technical goods such as clocks and hardware. The town also supported a healthy carriage industry.
Yale graduate Eli Whitney developed the cotton gin, essential to the profitability of southern cotton farmers, but later turned to the manufacture of firearms. About two miles north of downtown, in what is now East Rock Park, the inventor constructed a factory in 1798 to produce guns. Whitney helped revolutionize manufacturing by implementing standardization, including power machines, to create mass-produced goods that were of fairly equal quality. Toward the end of the 19th century, the Whitney property was purchased by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, manufacturer of the gun that “won the West.”
Although raw materials and finished goods moved into and out of the city by ship and wagon, neither mode could live up to the speed promised by the new railroads that were just coming onto the nation scene in the 1830s. As one of the most industrialized and wealthy regions of the nation, New England early participated in railroad building, and by 1871, New Haven could boast of 6 rail lines. The first railroad to break ground in the city was the Hartford and New Haven (H&NH), chartered in 1833 to link the two capitals, and in full operation six years later. The line extended to the shores of the Quinnipiac River and the Belle Dock where passengers and freight could be loaded onto steamships to New York City.
A rail route to New York City, which was quickly growing into the East Coast’s dominant commercial center and international port, was initially stymied by geography. The Connecticut coast, which contained many of the state’s oldest cities, was a trial for railroad builders as it was marked by numerous streams and rivers that would have to be bridged. The challenge was not undertaken until the New York and New Haven Railroad (NY&NH) was chartered in 1844; by 1849, the line had opened between the two named endpoints, with access over the New York and Harlem Railroad into eastern Manhattan. In 1848, the NY&NH leased the New Haven and Northampton Company (NH&N), whose line, constructed in a former canal bed, linked New Haven and Plainville, Connecticut. The NY&NH gained access into the state’s interior and thereby threatened the dominance of the H&NH.
In 1848, the NY&NH opened a Union Station on Chapel Street east of downtown that was also later serviced by the NH&H. Designed by local architect Henry Austin, the $40,000 depot was considered quite innovative and introduced elements—such as a clock tower—that were soon found in stations constructed by other railroads. Using the NH&N right-of-way in the depressed canal bed to his advantage, Austin located the main passenger areas one level above the tracks, confining the noise and grime of the steam engines to the lower level. The eclectic, asymmetrical Italianate facade dazzled travelers with its exotic decorative references, which included a low central tower whose roof was likened to a Chinese pagoda or an Indian stupa.
Realizing the value in helping one another and shutting out rivals, the H&NH and the NY&NH agreed to merge in 1872, resulting in the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, or the “New Haven.” The recently consolidated railroad chose to construct a new Union Station in 1874 near the NY&NH rail yard a few blocks south of the old Chapel Street facility. The swampy land between the tracks and the riverfront was filled in so that it could support the depot. Designed in the then-fashionable French Second Empire style, the $106,000, three-story brick building featured prominent mansard roofs dotted with dormer windows.
The New Haven quickly became the dominant freight and passenger line in southern New England, absorbing smaller lines in order to control the route linking Boston and New York City. In the first decade of the 20th century, a group of investors headed by J.P. Morgan gained control of the New Haven and went on a buying spree to acquire steamship lines and trolley companies in an effort to completely monopolize regional transportation. Electrification of the main line between New York and New Haven also took place since it was busy with both through and commuter trains. By the 1920s, the New Haven had more than 2,000 miles in its portfolio and it was estimated that it carried 10 percent of American passenger rail traffic.
An influx of immigrants in the late 19th century brought sizable Irish and Italian populations to the city, so that by 1900 almost one-third of New Haven residents were foreign born. One of the lasting contributions of the Italian immigrants was the introduction of diverse cuisines from various parts of the peninsula. In New Haven’s Little Italy, a handful of pizza shops date back to the 1920s and 1930s. From their coal or wood burning ovens, they produce a local favorite that continues to draw crowds: white pizza topped with clams. Interestingly, another culinary claim to fame is made by Louis’ Lunch, a small café opened in 1895 that is credited with inventing the hamburger.
The “Elm City” is known for lush tree canopies that shade downtown streets and beautify numerous National Register Historic Districts. Many of those sun dappled roadways lead to the central campus of Yale, considered one of the most beautiful in the country. Numerous buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly the residential colleges, were designed in a romantic Collegiate Gothic style, but Yale also holds a few modern masterpieces designed by architects such as Louis Kahn. Residents, students, and visitors often take advantage of the university’s numerous museums, such as the Yale Center for British Art and the Peabody Museum of Natural History, as well as its year round roster of musical, theatrical, and art shows.
Amtrak provides ticketing and baggage services at this station which is served by 41 daily trains.
Springfield Shuttle service between Springfield and New Haven is financed primarily through funds made available by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The Vermonter is financed primarily through funds made available by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.