Union Station: an $8.8 billion project to revitalize Washington D.C.’s historic station

Railway hub for 37 million travellers, the new plan over the next 20 years will triple passenger capacity and double trains capacity

Washington D.C.’s historic Union Station is gearing up for a complete makeover. Inaugurated on October 27, 1907, and completed in April 1908 from a design by architect Daniel Burnham, also known for the famous Flatiron Building, the station has received environmental impact assessment clearance for a renovation estimated at $8.8 billion. This was announced by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) at the end of March.

The program for transforming the second busiest railway hub in the United States after New York City’s Penn Station now enters the design and engineering phase, led by Amtrak, the public company managing rail transport in the country, along with the non-profit Union Station Redevelopment Corp (USRC). The latter, in fact, has been entrusted by Congress since 1981 with the task of preserving the historical-architectural integrity and future development of the station, which attracts one hundred thousand visitors per day and serves as the main multimodal hub of the capital and the region.

Washington Station is a key terminal along Amtrak‘s NorthEast Corridor (NEC), the busiest passenger rail corridor in the United States, with connections to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The station is also the main terminal for intercity buses in the district. The project, which has been discussed for at least nine years and has now received environmental clearance, according to the federal administration, will allow further urban development of Washington and the railway hub that serves 37 million travelers annually.

A futuristic project without losing the historic soul of the station

The expansion project is coordinated by the London-based Grimshaw Architects, along with the firms Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners from New York, Arup London, and VHB from Massachusetts, and it includes various alternatives still under consideration. The expansion will involve adding new railway concourses alongside the current elegant main atrium and constructing more modern and secure access points to the platforms, which will be expanded, as well as accommodating bus and vehicular facilities, with underground garages and parking areas, and spaces for freight handling and delivery.

The building currently housing Union Station was renovated in 1988 and once again will not alter its neoclassical appearance. It will be extended by creating a new complex that integrates with the surrounding areas, including the proposal to build Burnham Place, a new district with shops, offices, public spaces, hotels, and residences, partly constructed above the new expanded station. According to the plans approved by the FRA, which lists the main elements of the project on its website, construction should begin in 2027 with the aim of completion by 2040.

Movies and concerts, the cultural charm of Union Station

Union Station has seen numerous uses throughout its life besides railway services. The Beaux-Arts-style structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, overlooks Columbus Circle and handles the flow of people working in the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and various Senate and Congressional offices. It is tradition for the President-elect to deliver a speech under the large clock in the central atrium. The building’s popularity is also due to the 150 films shot inside and major cultural events such as the concert organized by Webuild in 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of Arturo Toscanini‘s birth. The concert, the first of its kind within the station, served to celebrate, along with the beloved Italian musical genius, the 110 years at that time of Webuild group’s involvement in infrastructure construction, with particular attention to railway transportation systems worldwide.