RALEIGH — Calling it a “landmark that will position Raleigh as the gateway to the South,” the nation’s top railroad official on Friday announced $22.3 million in federal support to fully fund a Grand Central-style train station in the warehouse district.
The latest federal aid means local and state officials have now assembled more than $60 million to make track improvements and build the station, which will replace the city’s cramped, 50-year-old Amtrak depot on Cabarrus Street.
Joseph Szabo, head of the Federal Railroad Administration, said the project would give Raleigh a showcase public building while helping to modernize rail service along the East Coast. The goal is to open the station in 2016.
With some renovations and a few new elements – benches and a ticket counter, for starters – the vacant Dillon Supply building offers plenty of space for a large waiting hall, secured entrances to the platform and possibly restaurants and shops in the terminal, city officials say.
Earlier this year, Raleigh landed $21 million in federal money through the Obama administration’s TIGER grant program, intended to support transit projects that create jobs and spur commerce.
With the money, “Union Station was transformed from a possibility to a sure thing,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane told a gathering of 60 elected officials, transit planners and dignitaries on Friday.
McFarlane called Raleigh’s current train station “woefully inadequate” despite its status as the busiest rail stop between Richmond and Amtrak’s car-train depot in central Florida.
“There’s no question that with Union Station, the 192,000 passenger number that Raleigh posted in 2011 will grow,” she said.
N.C. Transportation Secretary Gene Conti recalled a visit to the Dillon building in the early planning stages. “We walked in, looked around and said, ‘Yeah, this could be it,’ ” he said.
Conti added, “We think people are going to look to Raleigh and say, ‘They got it right.’ ”
Szabo came to North Carolina last year to celebrate the opening of a new train station in Cary. At the time, Raleigh was still weighing options.
“It was a little undefined, (with) three or four sites under consideration,” he said. “A couple of months later, here’s Gene with these plans.”
Since 2009, the Obama administration has directed $600 million to improve the state’s rail network. “You’re going to see the rail service strengthen from New York all the way down to Florida,” Szabo said.
During his visit to the building Friday, Szabo was quick with a quip when the horn from a passing freight train rang out in the middle of his speech: “That’s the sound of the economy in motion.”