Union Station (Washington, D.C.)

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For the subway station, see Union Station (WMATA station).
Union Station
Amtrak inter-city rail station
MARC Train commuter rail station
Virginia Railway Express commuter rail station
Union Station Washington DC 24 Sep 2013.jpg
Station statistics
Address 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington, DC
United States
Coordinates 38°53′50″N 77°00′23″W / 38.89731°N 77.00626°W / 38.89731; -77.00626Coordinates: 38°53′50″N 77°00′23″W / 38.89731°N 77.00626°W / 38.89731; -77.00626
Line(s) See services below
Connections Railway line Washington Metro Red Line
Local Transit WMATA Metrobus
Local Transit DC Circulator
Local Transit Maryland MTA Commuter Bus
Local Transit Loudoun County Commuter Bus
Local Transit PRTC Buses
Intercity Bus BoltBus
Intercity Bus Greyhound
Intercity Bus Megabus
Intercity Bus Peter Pan
Platforms 18
Tracks 20
Parking 2,448
Bicycle facilities 180
Baggage check Available for Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Northeast Regionals 66 and 67, Palmetto, Silver Meteor, and Silver Star services
Other information
Opened 1908
Rebuilt 1981–1989
Accessible Handicapped/disabled access
Station code Amtrak code: WAS
IATA code: ZWU
Owned by Union Station Redevelopment Corp. leased to Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation[1]
Operator Jones Lang LaSalle
Fare zone 1(VREX)
Passengers (2013) 5.033 million[2] Increase 0.4% (Amtrak)
Preceding station   BSicon LOGO Amtrak2.svg Amtrak   Following station
Terminus Acela Express
toward Chicago
Capitol Limited Terminus
toward Chicago
toward Charlotte
toward New Orleans
toward Savannah
toward Miami
Silver Meteor
Silver Star
Northeast Regional
Terminus Vermonter
toward St. Albans
Brunswick Line Terminus
Terminus Camden Line
Penn Line
toward Perryville
Virginia Railway Express
Manassas Line Terminus
Fredericksburg Line
Preceding station   WMATA Metro Logo.svg Washington Metro   Following station
toward Shady Grove
Red Line
toward Glenmont
Proposed service
Preceding station   Transdominion Express   Following station
toward Bristol
Washington-Bristol Line Terminus
Former services
Baltimore and Ohio
Main Line
Pennsylvania Railroad
Terminus Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad
toward Philadelphia
Washington D.C. Union Station
Built 1908
Architect Daniel Burnham
Architectural style Classical, Beaux-Arts, among others
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 69000302
Designated  March 24, 1969

Union Station is a major train station, transportation hub, and leisure destination in Washington, D.C. Visited by 32 million people a year, Union Station is one of the busiest train stations in the country and is served by Amtrak, MARC and VRE commuter rail services, the Washington Metro, and buses. It is also the headquarters for Amtrak. The station opened in 1907 and at its height during World War II some 200,000 people passed through it every day; [3]in 1988 a new headhouse wing was constructed to the north and the original station renovated for use as a shopping mall.


Predecessor terminals[edit]

Before Union Station opened, each of the major railroads operated their own stations: Baltimore and Ohio Railroad trains arrived and departed from the New Jersey Avenue Station, while the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad (a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad) operated from its own station at 6th and B Street, NW—the current location of the National Gallery of Art.[4]

Opening and operation[edit]

Train concourse, Pennsylvania Station ca.1915
Trains at the station shortly after its completion, ca.1908

When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad announced in 1901 that they planned to build a new union terminal, the city had two reasons to celebrate. The decision meant that both railroads would soon remove their trackwork and terminals from the National Mall. Though changes there appeared only gradually, the consolidation of the depots allowed the creation of the Mall as it appears today. Secondly, the plan to bring all the city's railroads under one roof promised that Washington would finally have a station both large enough to handle large crowds and impressive enough to befit the city's role as the federal capital.

Union Station opened on October 27, 1907, with the arrival of a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad passenger train from Pittsburgh. The terminal quickly became the portal to the Capitol. At no time was it busier than during World War II, when as many as 200,000 people passed through in a single day.

For most of its existence, Union Station served as a hub, with service of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad, and Southern Railway. The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad provided a link to Richmond, Virginia, about 100 miles (161 km) to the south, where major north-south lines of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Seaboard Air Line Railroad provided service to the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.


Further information: National Visitor Center
South entrance, 1974

In 1967, the chairman of the Civil Service Commission expressed interest in using Union Station as a visitor center during the upcoming Bicentennial celebrations. Funding for this was collected over the next six years, and the reconstruction of the station included outfitting the Main Hall with a recessed pit to display a slide show presentation. This was officially the PAVE (Primary Audio-Visual Experience), but was sarcastically referred to as "the Pit". The entire project was completed, save for the parking garage, and opening ceremonies were held on Independence Day 1976. Due to a lack of publicity and convenient parking, the National Visitor Center was never popular. Following a 1977 General Accounting Office report indicating Union Station was in danger of imminent structural collapse, the National Park Service closed the presentation in "the Pit" on October 28, 1978.


As a result of the Redevelopment Act of 1981, Union Station was closed for restoration and refurbishing. Mold was growing in the leaking ceiling of the Main Hall, and the carpet laid out for an Inauguration Day celebration was full of cigarette-burned holes. In 1988, Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole awarded $70 million to the restoration effort. "The Pit" was transformed into a new basement level, and the Main Hall floor was refitted with marble. While installing new HVAC systems, crews discovered antique items in shafts that had not been opened since the building's creation.

The station reopened in its present form on September 29, 1988.[5] The former “Pit” area was replaced with an AMC movie theater (later Phoenix Theatres), closed October 12, 2009, to be replaced with additional restaurants and a large food court in the former baggage-mail level. The food court still retains the original arches under which the trains were parked as well as the track numbers on those arches. A variety of shops opened along the Concourse and Main Hall, and a new Amtrak terminal at the back behind the original Concourse. Trains no longer enter the original Concourse but the original, decorative gates were relocated to the new passenger concourse. In 1994, this new passenger concourse was renamed to honor W. Graham Claytor, Jr., who served as Amtrak's president from 1982 to 1993. The decorative elements of the station were also restored. The skylights were preserved but sunlight no longer illuminates the Concourse because it is blocked by the newer roof structure built directly overhead to support the aging, original structure.


The grand, central interior of Union Station

Architect Daniel H. Burnham, assisted by Pierce Anderson, was inspired by a number of different architectural styles. Classical elements included the Arch of Constantine (exterior, main façade) and the great vaulted spaces of the Baths of Diocletian (interior); prominent siting at the intersection of two of Pierre L'Enfant's avenues, with an orientation that faced the United States Capitol just five blocks away; a massive scale, including a façade stretching more than 600 feet and a waiting room ceiling 96 feet above the floor; stone inscriptions and allegorical sculpture in the Beaux-Arts style; expensive materials such as marble, gold leaf, and white granite from a previously unused quarry.

In the Attic block, above the main cornice of the central block, stand six colossal statues (modeled on the Dacian prisoners of the Arch of Constantine) created by Louis St. Gaudens. These are entitled "The Progress of Railroading" and their iconography expresses the confident enthusiasm of the American Renaissance movement: Prometheus (for Fire), Thales (for Electricity), Themis (for Freedom and Justice), Apollo (for Imagination and Inspiration), Ceres (for Agriculture) and Archimedes (for Mechanics). The substitution of Agriculture for Commerce in a railroad station iconography vividly conveys the power of a specifically American lobbying bloc. St. Gaudens also created the 26 centurions for the station's main hall.

Burnham drew upon a tradition, launched with the 1837 Euston railway station in London, of treating the entrance to a major terminal as a triumphal arch. He linked the monumental end pavilions with long arcades enclosing loggias in a long series of bays that were vaulted with the lightweight fireproof Guastavino tiles favored by American Beaux-Arts architects. The final aspect owed much to the Court of Heroes at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, where Burnham had been coordinating architect. The setting of Union Station’s façade at the focus of converging avenues in a park-like green setting is one of the few executed achievements of the City Beautiful movement: elite city planning that was based on the "goosefoot" (patte d'oie) of formal garden plans made by Baroque designers such as André Le Nôtre.

The station held a full range of dining rooms and other services, including barber shops and a mortuary. Union Station was equipped with a presidential suite which is now occupied by a restaurant.


Food court in Union Station

Today Union Station is again one of Washington's busiest and best-known places, visited by 40 million people each year and has many shops, cafes, and restaurants.

Passenger services include Amtrak’s high-speed Acela Express, Northeast Regional, and several of Amtrak's long-distance sleeper trains (including, among others, the Capitol Limited, Crescent, Palmetto, and Silver Service trains); the MARC and VRE commuter railways, linking Washington to Maryland and West Virginia (MARC) and Virginia (VRE); and the Washington Metro Red Line. From Union Station Amtrak also operates long-distance service to the Southeast and Midwest, including many intermediate stops to destinations like Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Miami. Over 13,000 passengers boarded or detrained Amtrak services daily in FY2011.[6] It is also Amtrak's busiest train station capable of handling Amtrak's Superliner railcars.

The station is at the southern end of the Northeast Corridor, an electrified rail line extending north through major cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.

The track area of the station is divided into upper and lower levels. The upper level contains tracks 7–20 (tracks 1-6 no longer exist), which are served by high-level bay platforms at the door level of most trains. These tracks are used by all MARC commuter rail services on weekdays, all Amtrak Acela Express trains, and some Amtrak Northeast Regional trains that terminate at the station. All of the tracks on the upper level terminate at the station and are only used by trains arriving from and departing to the north.

The lower level contains tracks 22–29, which are served by low-level platforms at the track level. These platforms are served by all VRE trains, all Amtrak long-distance trains that serve the station except for the Capitol Limited, and some Amtrak Northeast Regional trains that are continuing south to Virginia. Unlike the tracks on the upper level, the lower level tracks run through under the station building and Capitol Hill via the First Street tunnel. Electrification ends at the station, and all trains continuing south through the tunnel must have their electric engines swapped out for diesel locomotives. For example, a southbound Northeast Regional train arrives on a lower level platform, on its way to Newport News, Virginia. Its EMD AEM-7 or HHP-8 engine is removed and set aside. A GE Genesis engine that was earlier removed from a northbound train is coupled to the front of the southbound, and it continues through the tunnel toward Virginia. The electric engine is now placed on the northbound train, which then departs north towards Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and eventually Boston.

The Red Line Metrorail station is located underground beneath the western side of the building, and is the busiest station in the Metro system. The station exits to the street outside of the station and has direct access to the high-level Amtrak and MARC platforms.

On August 1, 2011, John Porcari, the United States Deputy Secretary of Transportation, announced that Union Station would begin serving intercity buses operated by Greyhound Lines, BoltBus, Megabus, and Washington Deluxe later that year from a new bus facility in the station's parking garage.[7] By November 15, 2011, BoltBus, Megabus, Tripper Bus, and Washington Deluxe were operating from the new facility.[8] On September 26, 2012, Greyhound and Peter Pan Bus Lines relocated all of their Washington, D.C., operations to the facility.[9] Buses of the Georgetown-Union Station route of the DC Circulator system stop within the facility every ten minutes during operating hours.[10]

Columbus Circle has been rebuilt to address the severely deteriorated roadbed, realign the passenger pickup/dropoff locations, streamline the taxi stand, and to better accommodate the popular tour bus attractions.

The Ivy City Yard, just north of Union Station, houses a large Amtrak maintenance facility. This includes the new maintenance facility for the Acela high speed train sets. Amtrak also does contract work for MARC's electric locomotives. Metro's Brentwood maintenance facility is also located in the southwest corner of the Ivy City Yard. Riding the Metro Red Line between Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue Station provides an aerial view of the south end of the Ivy City Yard.

Union Station is owned by the non-profit Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, but an 84-year lease of the property is held by New York-based Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation and managed by Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle. It houses the headquarters of Amtrak and carries the IATA airport code of ZWU.[11]

Amtrak announced in July 2012 a $7 billion plan to revamp and renovate the station over the next 15–20 years, broken down into four phases. The proposed conversion would "double the number of trains and triple the number of passengers in gleaming, glass-encased halls". Amtrak President and CEO Joseph H. Boardman hoped the federal government would finance "50 to 80 percent" of the project.[12]

1953 overrun[edit]

On the morning of January 15, 1953, the Pennsylvania Railroad's Federal, the overnight train from Boston, crashed into the station. When the engineer tried to apply the trainline brakes two miles out of the platforms, he discovered that he only had engine brakes. He radioed a warning ahead, and the concourse was cleared as the train coasted downhill into track 16. The GG1 locomotive, No. 4876, hit the bumper block at about 25 miles per hour (40 km/h), jumped onto the platform, destroyed the stationmaster’s office at the end of the track, took out a newsstand, and was on its way to crashing through the wall into the Great Hall. Just then, the floor of the terminal, having never been designed to carry the weight of a locomotive, gave way, dropping the engine into the basement. The 447,000-pound (202,800 kg) electric locomotive fell into about the center of what is now the food court. Remarkably, no one was killed, and passengers in the rear cars thought that they had only had a rough stop. An investigation revealed that an anglecock on the brakeline had been closed, probably by an icicle knocked from an overhead bridge. The accident inspired the finale of the 1976 film Silver Streak.[citation needed] The durable design of the GG1 made its damage repairable, and it was soon back in service after being hauled away in pieces to the PRR's main shops in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Before the latter action was undertaken, however, the GG1 and the hole it made were temporarily planked over and hidden from view due to the imminent inauguration of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the thirty-fourth President of the United States.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, Union Station - DC
  2. ^ "Amtrak Fact Sheet, FY2013, District of Columbia" (PDF). Amtrak. November 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Amtrak Fact Sheet, Fiscal Year 2008 District of Columbia." Amtrak. Retrieved 2009-09-16.
  4. ^ Goode, James W. Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington's Destroyed Buildings. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2003. ISBN 1-58834-105-4.
  5. ^ Amtrak History and Archives. Accessed March 8, 2013.
  6. ^ "Amtrak Fact Sheet, FY2011, District of Columbia" (PDF). Amtrak. December 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  7. ^ Thomson, Robert (2011-07-30). "Union Station to become intercity bus center". PostLocal. The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2011-08-01. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  8. ^ Associated Press (2011-11-15). "Officials to inaugurate revamped bus departure zone at Washington’s Union Station". PostLocal. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  9. ^ "Greyhound and Peter Pan Bus Lines Relocate all Washington, D.C., Service to Union Station". News Release. Dallas, Texas: Greyhound Lines. 2012-09-19. Archived from the original on 2012-11-24. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  10. ^ "Georgetown-Union Station". Bus Routes and Schedules. Washington, D.C.: DC Circulator. Archived from the original on 2012-11-24. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  11. ^ LastUpDate.com – Help – Three Letter Airport Codes
  12. ^ http://transportationnation.org/2012/07/25/pics-heres-what-a-revamped-d-c-union-station-would-look-like/

External links[edit]