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Amtrak Relocates to Saint Paul Union Depot

Union Depot

Union Depot, completed in 1923, features a soaring colonnade.

SAINT PAUL, MINN.—On May 7, 2014, Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman joined Karen Hedlund, Deputy Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration; Charlie Zell, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Transportation; Chris Coleman, Mayor, City of Saint Paul; and Rafael Ortega, Chair, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, at Saint Paul Union Depot to celebrate the relocation of Amtrak service from the Midway Station to the historic depot in Saint Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood.

Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman

Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman speaks at the ribbon cutting.

“It’s a great day to welcome passenger rail back to Saint Paul, and no better place to do it than the historic Union Depot—a building that would have met the wrecking ball if not for the leadership of its many champions from the County Board to the White House,” said Mayor Coleman. “The Amtrak opening today and the Green Line opening in just a few weeks is proof that transportation investments are critical to economic growth and regional prosperity.”

The first revenue train to stop at Union Depot will be the westbound Empire Builder(Chicago-St. Paul-Seattle/ Portland) later this evening. The festivities continue on May 10, National Train Day, when residents are invited to tour the station and rail equipment, view model train displays and enjoy refreshments.

In the early 2000s, Saint Paul officials began planning for the establishment of a new multimodal center. A task force assembled by the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA) determined that Union Depot was the best site due to its downtown location, proximity to existing rail lines, good highway access and the potential to support mixed-used, transit-oriented development. Union Depot last hosted passenger trains in 1971. When Amtrak took over operation of the nation’s intercity passenger rail network that May, it shifted passenger services to Minneapolis. Seven years later, Amtrak opened the Midway Station halfway between the two cities.

Terracotta frieze

The terracotta frieze wrapping around the concourse depicts the history of transportation.

Constructed between 1917 and 1923, Union Depot was designed by noted Chicago architect Charles Sumner Frost. The building’s restrained neoclassical façade of tan Bedford limestone features an imposing colonnade. Interior spaces are dressed in light pink Tennessee marble, local Mankato-Kasota stone, Guastavino tile and terracotta.

Amid much fanfare, the $243 million station rehabilitation project broke ground on January 18, 2011. Work included restoration of historic features in the Great Hall and concourse; construction of new staircases, elevators and escalators from the concourse to ground level; installation of platforms with tactile edges and canopies; reconstruction of the plaza in front of the headhouse; and installation of the Green Line light rail tracks along 4th Street. Through the selection and use of environmentally friendly materials and design solutions, the building was awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification.

Ray King's Twin Waves.

Ray King’s Twin Waves.

The RCRRA allocated $1.5 million for public art throughout the facility, which includes 10 installations by local and international artists. The headhouse atrium features “Twin Waves” by Ray King. Incorporating glass, metals and other materials, two floating waves change their appearance in response to lighting conditions and the movement of people through the space. In the concourse, muralist Ralph Gilbert will create six canvases representing the history of the depot through topics including wartime, immigration and mail delivery.

Amtrak passengers wait in the concourse, whose barrel vaulted ceiling is interspersed with skylights. A repeating frieze runs around the entire room and depicts transportation over time, such as a covered wagon drawn by oxen, an early locomotive pulling carriages and a powerful steam locomotive racing into the distance. In addition to Amtrak, Union Depot is served by Metro Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority and intercity buses. Bicycle parking is also available, as are electric vehicle charging stations. The Green Line light rail will begin operations in mid-2014.