Train depot plan revived

Durham station is called too small

Staff WriterNovember 23, 2007 

— Plans for for a new, long-awaited Amtrak depot in Durham, which appeared to have been derailed earlier this year, are getting back on track.

"I think we have reached an agreement," said Mark Ahrendsen, director of the city's transportation division.

"There are a lot of pieces that are required to go together," said Joan Bagherpour, spokeswoman for the DOT rail division.

Some of those pieces are controlled by Blue Devil Partners, redeveloper of the former Liggett & Myers cigarette factory in downtown Durham, which the city has had an eye on since 1998 for a passenger station.

Blue Devil Partners did not respond to a request for comment this week.

But Ahrendsen said the city has offered to pay part of DOT's lease and donate the use of a city-owned vacant lot next to Blue Devil property for a parking lot.

"We're optimistic about working together," Bagherpour said.

Since passenger train service to Durham resumed in 1990, travelers have been accommodated in temporary quarters.

First there was a Plexiglas shelter dubbed the "Amshack." Since 1996, it has been a double-wide trailer on Chapel Hill Street paid for by the city, Durham County and DOT.

But since the mid-'90s, a permanent depot has been part of a planned "multimodal transportation center" serving buses, taxis, Amtrak and the Triangle Transit Authority's proposed commuter rail system.

The center's latest configuration put buses and cabs on a former motel site on Chapel Hill Street, TTA at the present Amtrak site and Amtrak in the Walker Warehouse, which has been under renovation since fall 2006 as part of Blue Devil Partners' West Village Phase II.

However, after expected federal funding fell through for TTA's commuter rail project, DOT reconsidered whether Durham needed a new station after all.

"We are looking at other options," Bagherpour said in January.

Ahrendsen said Durham tried to persuade DOT to alter plans.

"Although the TTA plan was put on hold, it's not killed," he said. "Our feeling was there still was a sense of urgency because we had a one-time opportunity to move into the Walker Warehouse before it was put to some other use."

The present "interim" station is too small for Durham's passenger traffic, Ahrendsen said.

In the 1995-96 fiscal year, a reported 22,000 travelers boarded or got off trains in Durham; according to Amtrak, in 2005-06 there were more than 39,000. Ticketing, waiting, baggage and parking space is tight, and there is no roof over the boarding platform to keep passengers out of the rain.

jim.wise@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2408

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