It has been said that a train station is more than just a place where rail passengers rush to and from trains. A well-planned train station is one of the best investments a community can make as it seeks to expand its appeal for greater tourism and business opportunities. Whether used by tourists or local residents, well-planned train stations have proven to be fertile economic ground.
Cincinnati, OH, developed its abandoned train station into a vibrant tourist attraction that houses an Amtrak ticket office, waiting room, the city of Cincinnati’s reference library, a multiple story museum, an Omni Max Theater, gift shops, ice cream parlor and restaurants. In addition, the Great Hall serves as the site for many local choir concerts and school trips.
The once nearly empty rail passenger station in Memphis, TN, is being turned into apartments, restaurants, shops, corporate offices and an Amtrak facility that includes a waiting room, ticket office, baggage room and an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant platform with canopy. This project was the key piece in an extensive downtown revitalization.
The city of Joliet, IL, with help from the state of Illinois, took what was once a decrepit structure and turned it into a vibrant transportation center that connects Amtrak with Metra commuter trains and city buses. The rehabilitation of this grand old railroad station was the cornerstone of a downtown redevelopment that included the addition of several floating casinos.
The state of Illinois also assisted the city of Glenview with construction of a new rail passenger station that is served by both Metra and Amtrak trains. The new station construction included new ADA compliant platforms, passenger canopies and a brick station that was a great improvement over the old concrete block station that it replaced.
Meridian, MS, built a new station in 1997 similar to the landmark station demolished in the 1950s. This beautiful structure now houses Amtrak, Greyhound and city offices. The cities of Holland, MI, Warrensburg, MO, Mendota, IL and Walnut Ridge, AK purchased their rail stations and turned them into Chamber of Commerce offices or museums and Amtrak waiting rooms. The Port Authority for Toledo, OH, rehabilitated its station for Amtrak and city offices. The city of Bangor, MI, renovated its depot in 2005 and it now houses Amtrak, a café and offices.
On a grander scale, the city of Lafayette, IN, with state and federal funds actually relocated all the rail lines that ran through city streets and consolidated them into one area and then moved their old station a few blocks and turned it into a multimodal transportation center.
Other cities such as Birmingham, AL; Jackson, MS; Syracuse, NY; McComb, MS; St. Louis, MO; Kansas City, MO; Lynchburg, VA; Raton, NM; Plano, IL; Charlottesville, VA; Hammond, LA; Hastings, NE; Fort Madison, IA; and Oklahoma City, OK; either completed their station renovations, are in the process of, or have plans to redevelop their train stations or build new stations as economic, cultural and historic centers of their communities.
The following photographs depict some before and after shots showing what can be achieved with active community involvement.
This is Mendota, IL, in 1994, prior to the city purchasing the station from the BNSF Railway. The roof had several holes, the heating system was antiquated and the platform condition was poor. The parking lot was an adventure in itself.
Today this totally remodeled station houses the Mendota Railroad Museum and Amtrak waiting room. With a new roof, new ADA compliant platform, new parking lot and a donated steam locomotive with caboose on site, there is increased civic pride in the Mendota community. The depot is now the focal point for every major community event.
Where to Begin?
So where does one begin? Here are some basic steps or guidelines to use in determining if you have a feasible project:
- Advise Amtrak that this process is in place. Our working relationship with the railroads can prove beneficial. Under the enabling legislation that created Amtrak, we retain the right to remain in the depot at a level of utility no less than what we have at that time any agreement between the community and the railroad is executed. Amtrak must agree with any sale, lease or changes to the depot.
- Contact the owner of the depot. Most railroad stations are still owned by a freight railroad such as the BNSF Railway, Norfolk Southern (NS) and Union Pacific (UP). Railroads are usually willing to work with a community. Our experience is that the railroad may sell, donate or lease the depot to the community. Cost will depend on the property in question and the railroad involved.
- Contact your state Department of Transportation (DOT). In most states there is a rail section within the DOT that deals with Amtrak and the host railroads. They may assist with funding and/or show you how to obtain additional funding. For example, there may be Federal Transit Administration (FTA) or DOT funding for intermodal facilities where multiple modes of transportation are housed within the same building.
- A full building inspection (i.e., structural, electrical) is a good idea for any rehabilitation project.
- Amtrak will provide a team of experts who can inform you as to what Amtrak will need in the renovated depot. Requirements differ by staffing levels (staffed/unstaffed), size of station and ridership level. For example, unstaffed stations would include a platform and either a canopy, waiting room or both. Higher volume stations may need a Quiktrak machine and/or a crew sign-up room with a small locker room. All stations need ADA compliant signage and parking.
- Hire an architect. An architect experienced in train station renovations would be an asset as such projects are inherently unique.
- Teamed with Amtrak and other project partners, the architect will develop a scope of work and an estimate from which funding sources and amounts can be determined. You or your architect will be provided with Amtrak approved standards and shown how to apply these standards to your project. First and foremost will be an ADA compliant platform. As plans are being developed, Amtrak will continue to work with your design team.
- When plans have been completed and approved, your next step will be to send them to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in Washington, DC for final approval.
What to Expect:
- Under the current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), access to the station and all major interior elements (i.e., ticket counter, restrooms) of that station and access to the train must be ADA compliant. You should expect to include an ADA compliant platform.
- All platforms need to be accessible to people with disabilities. The height of the platform is the subject of ongoing rulemaking. If there are two platforms, there must be ADA compliant access between platforms. Amtrak will assist with defining the best possible length and height of the platform(s). Platform costs will vary depending on the construction method and the materials used. Costs can range from $200 to $300 per lineal foot for most platforms. The type of ADA compliant tactile edge chosen by the community will also impact this cost. Again, Amtrak can assist in this process.
- The FRA may require that a platform be long enough to hold the longest train serving your station in one single stop. Each Amtrak car is 85 feet in length. Amtrak will work with your design team to determine the required length.
- The time frame of your project is dependent on many factors
including the real estate negotiation process, plan approval and the
funding process. A project can take one to two years before the first
shovel hits the ground. Larger projects may take several years.
Patience and perseverance are keys to a successful project.
What May be the Requirements of the Host Railroad?
- The railroad will expect that the city has proper liability insurance in place. Your contractor will be required to have railroad protective insurance and other insurance policies as may be required by that particular railroad.
- The city or its contractor is required by law to have railroad flagman protection anytime anyone is working within 25 feet of the track. This cost will vary by the operating railroad and is paid for by the project. Costs typically average around $600 per day per flagman. One flagman is typically required except for difficult site conditions.
- For the good of the project, it is best that the railroad perform track surfacing and repairs prior to the installation of a platform(s). Though rare, some railroads will expect that these improvements be charged to the project.
- Most railroads will allow pedestrian crossings between platforms. Such crossings must be ADA compliant and will be installed by the railroad and charged to the project. Costs are minimal and depend on the particular railroad.
- Some railroads will require tunnels or overhead bridging. These items must be ADA compliant and will add to the overall cost of the project. Sturtevant, WI, for example, installed an overhead bridge with elevator towers in their new station project.
The key to any successful project has and will always prove to be the partnership developed between the city, the state DOT and Amtrak. Remain focused, patient and persistent. These traits, along with developed partnerships, are valuable assets for any project. Your Amtrak team can suggest site visits to other successful and similar projects and will provide standard plans and photos of other projects.