D.C.’s Union Station featured at national rail summit

Amtrak’s ambitious plan to turn D.C.’s Union Station into a world-class transportation hub captured the national spotlight Monday afternoon during a three-day conference on high-speed rail prospects.

Amtrak representatives and developer Arkidge highlighted their plans to build new tracks, shops, homes and office space at the Northeast D.C. transit station during the U.S. High Speed Rail Association’s conference that began Monday.

The local project was just part of the event’s lineup, which featured a range of speakers including outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., founder and co-chair of the Bicameral Bipartisan Congressional High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus.

Amtrak plans to spend $7 billion to add platforms, tracks and retail space at the historic train station. The project will lay the groundwork to tie Union Station into a high-speed rail network along the Northeast corridor and allow Akridge to build 3 million square feet of mixed-use space above the tracks slated to cost $1.3 billion.

“We need one another, and there’s nothing like absolute necessity to create good partners,” said Akridge project manager David Tuchmann. “We’re trying to create something we can all be proud of, both from a commercial standpoint but also from a civic responsibility standpoint.”

Amtrak revealed its master plan for Union Station, along with the company’s companion Burnham Place project, in July. Amtrak and Akridge are still working through the details and financing, but both agreed Monday that upgrading Union Station’s capacity, and developing the mixed-use project above it, will take significant collaboration.

Several other organizations are involved in the process, including the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Amtrak’s Stephen Gardner, who moderated the panel discussion, said the current Union Station is operating well beyond capacity. The improvements, which include several new platforms beneath the existing tracks, are designed to handle three times as many passengers as now come through the station.

Planned upgrades also would provide up to nine new tracks, widen the current platforms from 16 to about 22 feet and increase the number of station entrances from three to nine.

D.C. Planning Director Harriett Tregoning said she expects an upgraded Union Station will have the same kind of transformative effect on the area as the NoMa-Gallaudet University Metro station had on NoMa when it was added a decade ago and as the District’s planned streetcar line is having on the H Street corridor. That line will also connect to Union Station, she said.

“This project is not really about transportation, it’s about economic development,” Tregoning said. “I can’t imagine a project that is a better fit.”

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