NC DOT advances plans for new Raleigh Amtrak station

Recycled warehouse to house Union Station in 2017

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comNovember 9, 2012 

DOTBOARD04.NE.110712.ASR

The Viaduct Building at the western end of Martin Street in Raleigh will be part of the city's planned Union Station Amtrak depot to open early 2017. It's seen here on Wednesday, November 7, 2012.

SHAWN ROCCO — srocco@newsobserver.com

  • Heavy traffic Raleigh has outgrown its 62-year-old train depot on Cabarrus Street. The Raleigh station serves more passengers than those in bigger cities such as Orlando and Atlanta, but has a smaller waiting room than stations in towns such as High Point and Selma. Amtrak ridership at busy southeastern stations (fiscal year 2011) Richmond, 20 daily trains: 320,239 passengers for the year Raleigh, 8 trains: 192,434 Charlotte, 8 trains: 181,566 Orlando, 4 trains: 179,142 Alexandria, 20 trains: 161,687 Atlanta, 2 trains: 114,938 Miami, 4 trains: 94,556 Source: NCDOT

— Amtrak passengers will enter Raleigh’s new Union Station by walking or driving beneath old freight train tracks, and they will use the state’s first elevated boarding platform designed to let wheelchair users and others roll on and off the train.

State Department of Transportation engineers are fleshing out their plans for the $60 million passenger train station, to be housed in a recycled warehouse at the foot of Martin and West streets in downtown Raleigh. Architects and design engineers will be hired later this month, and the new station is expected to go into business in early 2017.

It will replace the cramped Amtrak depot a few blocks away on Cabarrus Street – one of the busiest train stations in the southeastern United States, but one of the smallest in North Carolina. And it will serve as the first phase of a transit hub expected in coming decades to serve riders on fast interstate trains, regional commuter trains, and local buses and light-rail trains.

City and state leaders say Union Station will accelerate the recently renewed urban vitality in Raleigh’s old warehouse district at the west side of downtown.

The neighborhood is already home to assorted eateries and nightclubs, the Contemporary Art Museum and other newcomers. Florida-based Citrix systems is converting another warehouse into offices for 250 workers, a block away from the planned Union Station entrance.

“What’s emerging in this area is a really neat mix of a creative-class hub,” said David A. Diaz, president of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. “In other cities, there are transit stations that are built almost in urban deserts, … and they hope investment follows. What’s unique about this area is that it’s already emerging as a destination for technology companies and entrepreneurs.”

The Amtrak depot will be housed in the old Dillon Supply Co. Viaduct Building, a 30,000-square-foot warehouse built inside a triangle-shaped confluence of railroad tracks known as the Boylan wye.

“It doesn’t look like much now, but we’ve got great plans for it,” Craig M. Newton, a DOT rail engineer overseeing the project, told members of the state Board of Transportation on Wednesday.

Passengers arriving on foot will step down into a new pedestrian plaza in front of the building, walk beneath a freight track and enter a basement foyer with stairs, escalator and elevator to the main floor.

The 4,000-square-foot waiting room will feature a 30-foot ceiling and clerestory windows along the north wall. A mezzanine floor will be added at the rear of the building to make room for Amtrak offices and other facilities.

Drivers will enter the station parking lot by turning off West Street and under the freight track. Beneath the parking lot, a 370-foot passenger tunnel will link the depot building to an 800-foot platform between two new passenger rail tracks.

In future years, if Wake County agrees to join Durham County to launch a separate rush-hour rail service between Durham and Garner, Raleigh passengers will reach the commuter train platforms from the parking lot – without having to enter Union Station itself.

Most Amtrak platforms are built just eight inches above the rails. Wheelchair users rely on mechanical lifts to get on the train, while other passengers clamber up narrow steps with their luggage.

Under new requirements that accompanied $43.3 million in federal funds for the Union Station project, the new Amtrak platform must be built 48 inches above the rails to allow for level boarding. DOT officials said the high-level platforms will make boarding easier for all riders, reducing station delays and trip times.

“Lugging a kid and a stroller and luggage, and you’re trying to get up those stairs and into the rail car, it’s pretty hard,” said Nina Szlosberg-Landis of Raleigh, a member of the state Board of Transportation. “Being on an elevated platform where you can just walk on, it’s going to make the travel experience more convenient. The easier you make it on people, the more people use it.”

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

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