Raleigh's Union Station picks up steam

Raleigh’s $60 million Union Station gets more funding

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comSeptember 20, 2012 

— The city will move a step closer to replacing its dinky Amtrak train depot Friday when state and federal officials announce more money to help build the 34,000-square-foot Union Station in a renovated brick warehouse on West Martin Street.

The news of a $21 million federal grant in June gave local officials the confidence to declare that construction will start in fall 2013 on the new passenger train station.

But it isn’t all paid for, not yet.

The cost, pegged by the city at $60 million, includes renovation of the old Dillon Supply Viaduct Building with new tracks and platforms and a parking lot – and the extension of nearby West Street in a new tunnel beneath a CSX railroad track.

The city has pledged $6 million. Triangle Transit says it will contribute the red-brick warehouse building and land, valued at $1.5 million. We’ll learn Friday how much more of the cost is covered in an announcement at the Viaduct site by Joseph Szabo, the federal railroad administrator.

Szabo’s visit comes as North Carolina begins to spend more of the $545 million in economic stimulus money that the Obama administration pledged in 2010 for improvements on the Southeast High Speed Railroad Corridor from Charlotte to Washington.

The state Department of Transportation will open bids in October on a $20 million project in Research Triangle Park to straighten a rail curve and drop Hopson Road beneath the tracks, eliminating a deadly rail crossing and allowing faster train speeds. Fourteen more rail contracts worth $140 million, mostly for track upgrades between Greensboro and Charlotte, are to be awarded by July.

North Carolina travelers on several Amtrak routes also stand to benefit from $74 million in rail stimulus money that the U.S. DOT released this week in Virginia. The money will build new tracks north of Richmond, where clogged freight traffic regularly puts passenger trains hours behind schedule on their trips up and down the East Coast.

“If you’re in Raleigh and you’re waiting for the Amtrak Carolinian or Silver Star, and it’s running late, the problem is usually coming from that space north of Richmond,” said Paul G. Morris, state DOT deputy secretary for transit. “When the bottlenecks are freed up in that section, that will be helpful for us.”

City and state officials predict that whatever dollar figure Szabo comes up with Friday will just be money reallocated from North Carolina’s $545 million federal stimulus package.

Raleigh’s Amtrak station is long overdue for an upgrade. The little building on Cabarrus Street has parking for only 54 cars and a waiting room of just 1,800 square feet. But it was busy with 192,000 riders on eight daily trains last year – more passengers than at any other rail stop between Richmond and Amtrak’s car-train depot in central Florida.

Union Station will be two blocks north of the current Amtrak depot, between Boylan Heights and the fast-changing Warehouse District at the western edge of downtown.

It is envisioned as the first phase of a $150 million transportation complex to serve light rail, commuter rail and stepped-up bus service outlined in local and regional transit plans. Union Station also would serve a proposed new fast-train route that would cut two hours from trip times between Raleigh and Richmond.

A recent upgrade for Cary’s train station is credited with a 50 percent increase in rider counts there. State and city officials say Amtrak will see a lot more business in Raleigh with a new train station expected to serve as a growth magnet for downtown residents and workers.

Just one block from Union Station in another old warehouse, Florida-based Citrix Systems will open new offices next fall for 250 workers.

“It was encouraging to hear the Citrix CEO say that one of the big attractions for his employees was that they will be able to walk to a train station nearby,” Morris said.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/

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