Sunday, March 23, 2014

Three new rail stations opening this spring

Three new major intercity rail stations are opening in the U.S. this spring. The three stations are in Denver, CO, St. Paul, MN, and Miami, FL.

Denver Union station (map) reopened for rail service on February 28, when Amtrak began using the new station. Amtrak was using a temporary platform for several years while construction of the modern multi-track facility proceeded. The new station features 8 tracks: 2 tracks with low-level platforms for Amtrak and tourist/special trains and 6 tracks with high-level platforms for future regional/commuter trains, which will begin serving four lines radiating from Union station in 2016. The track layout of the new station is as follows (the dead-ends are on the left):

(PLATFORM) Track 8 (Regional Rail - High Level)
Track 7 (Regional Rail - High Level)
(PLATFORM) Track 6 (Regional Rail - High Level)
Track 5 (Amtrak - Low Level)
Track 4 (Amtrak - Low Level)
(PLATFORM) Track 3 (Regional Rail - High Level)
Track 2 (Regional Rail - High Level)
Track 1 (Regional Rail - High Level)

There is also an underground bus transfer facility with 22 bus bays, which will be used by various RTD bus routes and will replace the existing Market Street transfer center a few blocks away. The bus portion of the station is opening on May 9, and the renovated station building is opening on July 11. Thus, by the middle of this year Denver Union station will be in full service - except there will be no trains (apart from two Amtrak trains a day) until 2016, when three of the four regional rail lines (including the line to the airport) are expected to open. Denver is implementing one of the most ambitious transit expansion programs in the nation, and so far they seem to be on track and on schedule.

One of the major design flaws of the new station is in the inconvenience of future transfers between regional rail and light rail. The light rail station has been moved two city blocks (200 m) away from the regional rail/Amtrak station. Being a terminal dead-end station, it would have been very simple to build the light rail stop near the end of the stub tracks, so that transferring passengers would have only a short walk to get to the connecting train. Yet the light rail station was moved to the furthest corner of the development, thus maximizing the inconvenience of rail-to-rail transfers.

Another new rail station opening soon in the U.S. is the renovated St. Paul Union Depot (map). The present "Midway" Amtrak station will be taken out of passenger service, and all Amtrak operations will be moved to Union Depot. Overall, it is a good idea, because public transit connections at Union Depot are so much better, while at the current location they are simply non-existent. The stop at Union Depot will be more convenient not only for St. Paul, but also for Minneapolis, because there will be a direct light rail line from Union Depot to Downtown Minneapolis beginning this June. And it will also be possible to get to the soon-to-be-closed Midway station by taking the same light rail line to the rough vicinity of the current station. I see no loss in abandoning the old station.

The new St. Paul station will not be as large as the one in Denver. There will be only two tracks and one low-level island platform between them. Passengers will not have to cross any tracks though - there is vertical access from the new platform to the Depot building above, which is already a great improvement over many other station designs on the Amtrak system.

The Union Depot project is delayed by more than a year now, and it is currently estimated that Amtrak will be moving to the new station in early May - and hopefully before the light-rail Green line begins serving Union Depot in June.

Finally, yet another major rail station opening soon is the Miami Central Station next to the current terminus of the Metrorail Orange line in Miami International Airport (map). The new dead-end station is expected to open for the Tri-Rail regional rail service in June. It will be connected to the airport terminal by the MIA People Mover. The track layout includes four tracks and two low-level island platforms, which will be arranged as follows:


Just like in Denver, this is going to be a pretty major station by the U.S. standards, as very few rail stations have more than only one or two tracks with boarding platforms.

Amtrak will not move to the new Miami Central Station until 2015 though. Station design did not take into account the length of the locomotive and the "slack" distance needed to trip the grade crossing signals. As a result, if a long Amtrak train is stopped at the new station, it will be blocking a street at the north end of the station. Florida DOT will now have to spend $25 million to build a "bypass" road, so that automobiles could use the next grade crossing a few blocks north while an Amtrak train is blocking the grade crossing next to the station. Intelligent, isn't it?

Update 1: St. Paul Union Depot reopened for train service and the Amtrak station moved to Union Depot on May 7, 2014.

Update 2: After long delays, Miami Central Station opened for the Tri-Rail regional rail service on April 5, 2015. Amtrak service to this station is now expected to begin in 2016.