Saint Paul Union Depot
|Address||214 E 4th St
Saint Paul, MN 55101
Empire Builder planned 2014
Green Line planned 2014
|Opened||Original depot: 1881
Current structure built 1917–1923
|Owned by||Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority|
|Operator||Jones Lang LaSalle|
|Location||214 E. 4th St., St. Paul, Minnesota|
|Architect||Charles S. Frost|
|Architectural style||Classical Revival|
|Part of||Lowertown Historic District (#83000935)|
|NRHP Reference #||74001040|
|Added to NRHP||December 18, 1974|
At one time the Saint Paul Union Depot Company controlled 9.24 miles (14.87 km) of St. Paul trackage and terminal facilities, including the depot building. The company was operated in tandem with the Minnesota Transfer Railway Company, with effective control of both properties exercised by the same board, composed of representatives of the nine joint tenants. Later, passenger rail service in was restructured in the 1970s, with Amtrak taking over most passenger service in the United States.
The entrance to Union Depot, the headhouse, is considered a somewhat severe example of neoclassical architecture, with a number of tall columns in front. However, the concourse and the waiting room that extends out to platforms where trains once rolled in is considered to be one of the great architectural achievements in the city. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It is also a contributing property to the Lowertown Historic District.
In 1971, Amtrak consolidated all passenger rail service for the Twin Cities at the Great Northern Station in Minneapolis, and in 1978 moved to the Midway Station about halfway between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In February 2014 Amtrak is expected to move to the Union Depot.
- 1 History
- 2 Restoration and return of passenger service
- 3 Planned Services
- 4 Local significance
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Original Union Depot
There actually have been two Union Depots in St. Paul. The first was completed in 1881, and combined the services of several different railroads into one building (hence the "union"; see Union station). In 1888 the old station had its peak year, handling eight million passengers. That year, about 150 trains departed daily. Around this time, the building was remodeled with a taller central tower and other alterations to the roofline. This station burned in 1915.
The current structure was started in 1917, although it was not completed until 1923 because World War I caused construction to halt for several years.
During its heyday, the depot hosted the passenger trains of nine railroads, and more than 20 million pieces of mail passed through the station to the neighboring St. Paul Central Downtown Post Office annually. At its peak in the 1920s, there were 282 train movements daily. The waiting room stood atop 9 platforms serving 18 tracks; the eight northern ones closest to the headhouse were stub-end tracks, while the other ten ran through. However, track ownership and trackage rights west of the station meant that most trains operated as though the station was a stub terminal. These trains, when they were intended to continue beyond the station, instead backed up to a wye just to the east to get to other main lines.
Train ridership began to erode in the 1920s as the automobile took hold and airlines began to operate. The railroads sought ways stem the flow of passengers and compete with these new forms of transportation. As the Great Depression unfolded, more aggressive moves were required. The streamliner era in the United States began in 1934 with the introduction of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy's Zephyr. After making a "Dawn-to-Dusk Dash" from Chicago to Denver, Colorado, the CB&Q's interest soon turned to the Twin Cities run. A demonstration run was completed in 6 hours and 4 minutes, including six one-minute stops. Other railroads were soon busy investigating how to run faster trains to Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
The first locomotive to run in Minnesota, the William Crooks, was displayed at the depot from 1955 until the station's 1971 closure, after which it was moved to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, where it currently resides.
Early high-speed trains
On January 2, 1935, high-speed express service to Chicago was introduced on the Chicago and North Western Railway's 400, cutting the scheduled time between the two cities from about 10 hours down to 7. At its inception, Time dubbed the 400, "the fastest train scheduled on the American Continent, fastest in all the world on a stretch over 200 mi." The C&NW had beaten two other railroads to the punch, which had been planning 6½ hour service to begin in the spring. The Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha and the Burlington Route's Twin Cities Zephyr were introduced with 6½ hour service a few months later at the same time, and C&NW sped its trains to match the same schedule.
The Burlington Zephyrs were the first streamlined diesel-electric trains to serve the Twin Cities, and originally ran in an articulated configuration. The 400 (now renamed the Twin Cities 400) followed in 1939, but using more conventional couplers to link passenger cars together. The Hiawatha had always been powered by a streamlined (or, in the terminology of the Milwaukee Road, "speedlined") steam locomotive. The Twin Cities Zephyrs added a second set of trains daily in 1936, becoming known as the Morning Zephyr and Afternoon Zephyr, respectively. The Hiawatha added a second set of trains in 1939, each known as the Morning Hiawatha and Afternoon Hiawatha.
The Morning Hiawatha may hold the record as the world's fastest steam train on two or more measures: The 78.3-mile (126.0 km) run from Sparta to Portage, Wisconsin was scheduled for 58 minutes—an average of 81 miles per hour (130 km/h). Speeds up to and above 100 mph (160 km/h) were achieved on a daily basis, and the powerful Milwaukee Road class F7 engines (designed for a "reserve speed" of 125 mph (201 km/h)) likely ran more miles at or above 100 mph (160 km/h) than any other steam locomotives in history.
Burlington's diesel Zephyrs were also very fast, and they had to be—the Zephyr route was about 20 miles (32 km) longer than the competition. In southwestern Wisconsin, a stretch of track between stations required an average speed of 84.4 miles per hour (135.8 km/h).
Eventually, the Hiawathas, Zephyrs, and the 400 ran 6¼-hour service between St. Paul and Chicago, and for a time the Morning Zephyr from Chicago reached St. Paul in six hours flat. In the 1950s, the federal government began imposing stricter rules for high-speed operation, and expensive advanced signaling was installed along the routes to the Twin Cities, though trains generally travelled a maximum of 90 to 100 mph (140 to 160 km/h). Unable to keep up with an increasing automobile speeds on an improving road network and other factors that kept passengers away from trains, train ridership declined and the five daily fast trains became unprofitable.
The end of service
The Twin Cities 400 was the first victim, ending service on July 23, 1963. The Burlington (later Burlington Northern) Zephyrs ended service on April 30, 1971, the same day the depot closed. The Afternoon Zephyr was the last train to serve the depot when it departed that evening bound for Minneapolis. At this time, this train was normally combined with the Empire Builder and North Coast Limited from Chicago to St. Paul, except on Fridays when it ran as a separate train. Since April 30 was a Friday, the Zephyr had the "honor" of being the last train to depart the station. Amtrak began operating the next day and changed the remaining Twin Cities trains to stop in Minneapolis instead, including the Hiawathas, which existed in various forms until the late 1970s.
The original expensive signaling enabling high speeds was later removed, and the Empire Builder respects a speed limit of 79 miles per hour (127 km/h), and currently takes 8 hours or more to travel from Midway station to Chicago (although it does take about 20 minutes longer to go from Midway than it will from the Union Depot simply due to urban speed restrictions).
Restoration and return of passenger service
Area boosters had long hoped that trains would return to the Union Depot, and plans gathered steam as the Hiawatha Line light rail project in Minneapolis drew toward completion. Planners envisioned the depot being used for a restored Amtrak service along with Metro and Jefferson Lines Buses.
A few businesses had occupied the headhouse since the halt of train service in 1971, while the United States Postal Service took over the rear of the building. The concourse and waiting room were used for some postal service activities and storage. After lying dormant for several years in the 1970s, the train tracks were removed from the train deck and it was paved with a flat surface. It began to be used for staging semi-trailer trucks carrying mail to and from the neighboring Downtown St. Paul Central Post Office as well as USPS employee parking. A driveway ramp was sliced into the train deck at the intersection of Kellogg Boulevard and Broadway Street for USPS vehicles. During the restoration, the USPS moved most of the truck operations to a bulk mail processing center in Eagan, Minnesota, making way for rehabilitation of the depot as a rail hub.
In 2005, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority secured funding to renovate the station as an intermodal transit hub served by Amtrak trains, Metro Transit light rail, and intercity bus lines.
In June 2009, the Ramsey County Board approved purchasing the depot headhouse for $8.2 million, to serve as a METRO Green Line light rail station and for future passenger rail use. Demolition of the Postal Service building that blocked track access to the station began in mid-March 2011. The USPS ramp cut all the way across the train deck and blocked the ability for tracks to be installed, so the ramp was modified during restoration to make a roughly right-angle turn to access new bus platforms on the north end of the train deck while freeing up room for a few tracks to be restored on the south end.
The renovation was completed in late November 2012 at a cost of $243 million, of which $35 million was provided by the US government through the TIGER program. The renovated station re-opened to the public on December 8, 2012.
The Empire Builder will be the first passenger train to return to the depot, since it is the only intercity line serving the Twin Cities today. Service is expected to start in early February 2014, after completion of track connections to the existing line and the construction of new complex signals.
The METRO Green Line light rail line will have its eastern terminus at the station when it opens in 2014, though its final eastern stop will be in front of the headhouse rather than at a platform under the waiting room. Utility relocation work in preparation for the Green Line began in front of the depot on 4th Street in August 2009, well before the line received final funding or approval. Track was laid in 2011–2012. While the Union Depot will be the eastern terminus of service, the tracks will continue beyond the station to the line's maintenance facility.
Future service could include commuter trains of the Red Rock Corridor, and the Rush Line and Gateway Corridor if commuter rail and/or light rail are chosen for these corridors. In 2010, the Minnesota Department of Transportation also released a plan for regional rail stretching out from the Twin Cities to rural Minnesota and neighboring states, and at least some of the lines would run to Saint Paul.
New trains running at speeds above 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) to Chicago have also been discussed since at least 1991, though plans have not moved very quickly. The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI), led by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, has proposed a link to the Twin Cities running at up to 110 mph (180 km/h). While not true high-speed rail—conventional trains in neighboring Canada run at up to 100 mph (160 km/h), and it does not exceed the top speeds of historical trains—the MWRRI plan does suggest that the top speed would be maintained for significant distances, resulting in higher average speeds: The planned schedule time to Saint Paul would be just 5½ hours. Others including the French national railway SNCF, which operates the TGV network, have proposed trains running at up to 220 mph (350 km/h)
Prior to the station's reopening in December 2012, Josh Collins, a spokesperson for Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, referred to the potential of the station to be "the living room of Saint Paul."
The entrance to Union Depot, the headhouse, is considered a somewhat severe example of neoclassical architecture, with a robust aesthetic. A series of tall Doric columns line the front façade. However, the concourse and the waiting room that extends out to the platforms, where trains once rolled in, is considered to be one of the great architectural achievements in the city. The waiting room also has sentimental value as a location for first meetings and goodbyes. The building was designed by Charles Frost.
Milepost for rail lines that originated in Saint Paul use the depot as milepost 0. This is still evident in timetables and mileposts used by the BNSF Railway.
Other notable trains to serve the depot
Other train stations in the Twin Cities
- Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Depot Freight House and Train Shed - Minneapolis destination for Milwaukee Road, Soo Line, and Rock Island passenger trains
- Chicago Great Western Railway Station on south Washington Avenue
- Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway Station on north 5th street
- Minneapolis Great Northern Depot - Former Minneapolis destination for Chicago and Northwestern, Great Northern, and Northern Pacific passenger trains
Regional and enhanced-speed train proposals
- "These routes will change on Dec. 8". Connect. Metro Transit. December 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- "Contract with Jones Lang LaSalle for services at Union Depot approved". Ramsey County Regional Rail News. Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority. July 25, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15.
- Saint Paul Union Depot Company papers
- "Lowertown Historic District". Minnesota National Register Properties Database. Minnesota Historical Society. 2009. Retrieved 2013-01-09.
- Nelson, Tim, Deal reached to bring Amtrak to downtown St. Paul, Minnesota Public Radio (November 13, 2014)
- "Saint Paul Union Depot Analysis Final Report". Retrieved 2010-02-04.
- Scribbins, Jim (2007) . The Hiawatha Story. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816650039. OCLC 191732983.
- "400". Time Magazine Archive. January 14, 1935. Retrieved March 8, 2007.
- Scribbins, Jim (2008) . The 400 Story. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816654499. OCLC 191760067.
- Benn, Bryan. "Fastest Steam Locomotive?". Retrieved 2010-02-08.
- Heritage from the Gods: Burlington’s new 8 car Twin Zephyrs, Burlington Route (1940)
- Steve Glischinski, eyewitness account at depot on April 30, 1971.
- "St. Paul Union Depot purchase approved". Railway Age. 2009-06-04. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
- "USDOT approves TIGER grant agreement for Minnesota's Union Depot". Progressive Railroading. 18 November 2010. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
- Laura Yuen (August 20, 2010). "St. Paul's Lowertown dealing with light rail construction headaches". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
- "Construction Update: Downtown St. Paul - Week of September 20, 2010". Central Corridor Light Rail Transit. September 2010. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
- "Central Corridor LRT construction schedule at a glance". Central Corridor. Metropolitan Council. July 20, 2010. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
- Cambridge Systematics, Inc., Kimley Horn and Associates, Inc., and TKDA, Inc. (December 2009). "Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan (Draft Final Report)". Minnesota Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2010-02-08.
- "Midwest". SNCF. September 14, 2009. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- Yonah Freemark (September 19, 2009). "SNCF Proposes Development of High-Speed Rail in Midwest, Texas, Florida, and California Corridors". The Transport Politic. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- Duchschere, Kevin (4 December 2012). "A new day is coming for St. Paul's Union Depot". Star Tribune. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
- Black, Sam (December 10, 2009). "Mortenson team picked for $150M St. Paul Union Depot transit hub". Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal. Retrieved 16 December 2009.
- Diers, John (1913). St. Paul Union Depot. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978 0 8166 5610 3
- Mack, Doug. (August 11, 2004). Goodbye Mail, Hello Rail. Professor Yeti. Retrieved June 12, 2005.
- Nelson, Tim (June 7, 2005). "Post office proposes Eagan move". Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved June 12, 2005.
- Saint Paul Union Depot at the Minnesota Historical Society
- uniondepot.org: The website for the current renovation of the station
- Steve Glischinski photo of the Empire Builder and the depot – A good view of the concourse as used by the USPS