‘Failure is not an option’: Bringing life back to Union Station

A year and some change — that’s how long Doug Carr, CEO and president of the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, has been at the helm of the D.C. region’s largest transit hub and the effort to redevelop it.

In recent years, Union Station has become a shell of its former self — a once bustling and booming place for transportation, shopping and dining. The pandemic didn’t help.

But Carr hopes to change that with a major redevelopment project that promises to make Union Station “cool and enjoyable again.”

A tall order, but Carr said he’s been here before.

He recently oversaw the redevelopment of the old General Post Office in New York City, which sits in the shadow of Penn Station. He turned the space into Moynihan Train Hall, expanding capacity at the nation’s largest transit hub — on budget and early, according to The New York Times.

“I guess maybe I’ve become a train station guy, but I really started in real estate,” Carr said. “My background is in development, project management and really focused on public-private partnerships.”

While on the DMV Download podcast, Carr said the Moynihan Train Hall project has prepared him to take on the recreation of Union Station in the District.

“There [are] many similar ingredients to what the future of Washington Union Station has comparable to the Moynihan train project — just starting off with a beautiful, historic, one-of-a-kind building,” Carr said. “But they’re not statues, they’re not monuments. They’re living, breathing buildings that need to serve (a) current function and purpose.”

The recently proposed redevelopment project would increase train capacity, with ridership on Amtrak projected to increase by 95%, VRE by 250% and MARC by 150%, according to the USRC. A proposed bus facility is also projected to increase bus ridership by 50%.

Carr said adding more exits and entrances to the station will also reduce wait times for ride-share and taxi pickups.

“The vision is bold. It has a grand vision,” Carr said. “But I think it’s also a needed vision, in terms of adding capacity, reliability, to mass transportation and train travel.”

New Union Station
Multilevel rendering of the new Washington Union Station. (Courtesy Union Station Redevelopment Corporation)
New Union Station
Rendering of the new Washington Union Station. (Courtesy Union Station Redevelopment Corporation)
New Union Station
Rendering of the hall at the new Washington Union Station. (Courtesy Union Station Redevelopment Corporation)
Rendering of the new Washington Union Station. (Courtesy of USRC)
New Union Station
New Union Station
New Union Station

Despite the glossy renderings, the region is far from seeing a new Union Station.

“It’s incumbent upon my team, Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, working with our partners to translate that vision, that concept, really into reality,” Carr said. “We’re at a 10% concept level. So we have a long road ahead of us.”

But that doesn’t mean riders and visitors won’t see improvements in the short term, Carr said, adding that the team is focused on solving problems at the station like long traffic lines right now.

“I want to emphasize that we’re not waiting for the station expansion project to make improvements,” Carr said. “No, we’re looking at improvements to deliver now. We want to enhance the passenger experience. That includes traffic improvements in the front of the building.”

Crime is also an immediate concern for Carr. Last year, the Washington Post reported that Amtrak police saw a nearly 50% increase in crime at Union Station in 2022. And just last week, Fox 5 interviewed a man who was the victim of a violent assault at the station.

When asked about crime and homelessness at the station, Carr acknowledged the issues but didn’t provide any specific solutions.

“There is no single solution. It requires compassion. It requires care,” Carr said. “But it also requires an emphasis on safety and security. Those are top priorities.”

Carr said solving these short-term issues is key to convincing people that a redevelopment of Union Station is worth it.

“Delivering incremental benefits along the way, I think, is a very important strategy for us to maintain public support, political support,” Carr said. “Candidly, I think it’s going to be challenging to get people excited for a decade plus of construction.”

Ultimately, Carr believes it’s worth it and that the public will get on board.

“Failure in many senses is not an option,” Carr said.

Luke Garrett

Luke Garrett is a D.C. native dedicated to journalism. He is a reporter and the creator, host and producer of the original WTOP podcast, “DMV Download.” The podcast debuted in 2022. On the show, Garrett takes a weekly look at the biggest stories and ideas in the D.C. region.

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