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Massachusetts Resurrects Defunct Rail Station

Exterior rendering of Springfield's historic Union Station
The exterior of Springfield’s historic Union Station will be cleaned and restored and new windows and signage will be installed to update the building’s appearance without altering its original design. © HDR Architecture, Inc.

Vacant for 40 years, the former Boston and Albany Railroad station in Springfield, Massachusetts, is finally on track for $48 million in repairs and upgrades that will revitalize its role in the local and regional economy

December 4, 2012—The Historic Union Station in Springfield, Massachusetts, built in 1926 and vacant since 1973, will undergo restoration, renovation, and redevelopment to transform it into a modern multimodal transportation center. When completed, the Union Station Regional Intermodal Transportation Center will serve the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and Peter Pan bus lines, Amtrak, intercity light-rail, and a planned commuter rail service connecting Springfield to New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut. The hub will also serve taxis, pedestrians, and bicycle travelers.

The Union Station transformation is the first phase of a $78.5-million project that also includes the development of connecting retail and office space, and represents the culmination of nearly 40 years of attempts by the city to revitalize the station. This latest effort started to come together in 2009 when the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and the Springfield Redevelopment Authority (SRA) created a new entity to manage the redevelopment project. A freeze on federal funding for such projects was lifted in July 2010, removing the final barrier to the project.

Funding for this first phase comes from a combination of local, state, and federal monies totaling $48.5 million, including $17.6 million in a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation announced this summer. The SRA has selected HDR Architecture, of Boston, as the project architects and New York City-based Skanska USA as the owner’s project managers. In October 2012, Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, of Holyoke, Massachusetts, was selected as construction manager.

“When completed, this phase of the project will give us a fully functional intermodal transportation center,” says Kevin Kennedy, the SRA’s chief development officer. That should happen by late 2014, he says. 

Rendering displaying interior renovation of Springfield's circa-1926 Union Station

The interior renovation of Springfield’s circa-1926 Union Station will
overlay the Richardson Romanesque architecture with
contemporary amenities to create a unique passenger experience.
© HDR Architecture, Inc. 

The project will include restoring the main concourse, known as the Grand Hall, and renovating ticket areas and passenger platforms for Amtrak and existing intercity light-rail. The passenger tunnel that links the terminal building to the train-boarding platforms and to downtown Springfield will be repaired and reopened in this phase, and new street and elevator access to the boarding platforms will be constructed, Kennedy reports.

Union Station’s brick and stone exterior will be repaired and repointed, and a new roof and windows in keeping with the structure’s historic profile will be installed. Inside, the original main concourse, waiting area, and dining area were determined to be of historical significance and salvageable, according to Donald Warner, AIA, LEED-AP, a senior vice president of HDR Architecture and the firm’s principal architect on the project.

“The major details in these spaces will be restored or replicated,” he explains. “This will include repairing large portions of the ceiling that have fallen due to water damage and replacing the decorative ceiling moldings.” The SRA also hopes to preserve such historical interior elements as benches, ticket counters, and schedule chalkboards.

Preparations for demolishing the dilapidated baggage building adjacent to the terminal building began on November 20. Crews are securing an existing retaining wall adjacent to the site and a terminal building wall that is connected to the baggage building. Contaminated or hazardous materials found on the site will require disposal, and any historic artifacts found in the baggage building will be documented and photographed in place or removed before the actual demolition begins early next year.

Although the baggage building also dates from 1926, its condition and configuration precluded preserving and repurposing it, Warner notes. “A reuse analysis found that fitting bus bays or automobile parking into the baggage building would be inefficient and expensive, and no other financially feasible use of the building could be found,” he says.

“By combining the site with the adjacent former Hotel Charles site we will create an efficient bus terminal with parking, so the decision was made to sacrifice the one building for the sake of the total project.” The Charles Hotel burned to the ground in the early 1990s, leaving that lot vacant for the past 20 years. As part of this first phase, a 24-bay bus terminal, 200-car parking garage, and four additional surface bays will be constructed on the combined site.

The second phase of the Union Station redevelopment will emphasize transit-related restaurant and retail operations on the first floor of the terminal building and transit-related commercial space on the building’s upper floors, as well as an additional expansion of the transit center’s parking capacity. Before committing to final plans for this phase, city leaders are waiting for additional funding, progress in leasing existing downtown retail space, and more specifics about the space requirements of a proposed casino in the city.

Beyond the immediate benefits to the community resulting from the station’s redevelopment, Springfield city leaders are looking to the future when the Union Station Regional Intermodal Transportation Center will be the northern terminus in a regional rail transportation system. Some $650 million in improvements are planned for a 62 mi stretch of track through the so-called Knowledge Corridor that encompasses Springfield, Hartford, and New Haven. Current plans call for upgrades to the existing track bed to accommodate high-speed commuter rail and improvements to intercity rail service. The State of Massachusetts, the State of Vermont, Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration are partners in this multiyear endeavor, which eventually may include direct or connecting service to Boston, Vermont, and New York City.


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