Multimodal Station Will Be Raleigh Union Station, Report Summarized

Last week, the city released a draft report about the multi-modal transit center planned for the intersecting tracks west of downtown known as the Boylan Wye. Giving a nod to what once was Raleigh’s Union Station on Dawson Street, the multi-modal transit center will eventually become the new Raleigh Union Station. If you want to dive right into the report yourself, jump over to the city’s website and download the pdf.

I combed through the 109 page document to look for some good information as to what we might expect over the next decade or so as transit services start traveling through the Boylan wye. I’d like to just remind readers that the city’s document and this information I pulled from it below are not final and still under review, intense review.

For a formal presentation and an opportunity to get questions answered, there’s this information from the city’s website

A public open house will be held on May 12 to present the report findings and answer questions. The Raleigh Urban Design Center (133 Fayetteville Street) will host two opportunities to attend:

12:00 to 1:30 p.m. – Informal information session with City staff available to answer questions

6:30 to 8:00 p.m. – Formal presentation followed by question & answer

After the open house, a 30 day comment period will be provided followed by the preparation of a final report. Comments must be submitted to Martin Stankus by June 11, 2010.

If you work downtown, make sure to get your questions answered during your lunch break. If not, I’ll see you in the afternoon. Let’s get to the details.

The Boylan Wye

The report describes the Wye as the most complicated section of rail crossings and junctions in the state. Current users of the Boylan Wye are CSX and Norfolk Southern carrying freight and Amtrak with passengers. The location was picked because of future transit services planning to come rolling through starting within the next decade or two. Studies for Triangle Transit regional and commuter rail, and Southeast High Speed Rail are currently underway and all will most likely run routes through the Wye with a downtown station right at this point. In response to these studies, Triangle Transit now owns some land in the Wye as well as the two warehouse buildings between the tracks and West Street; one between Morgan and Hargett and the other between Hargett and Martin Streets. This is the focal point of study for anything related to the future Union Station.

The Building

Planners for Union Station have been taking notes about the larger, successful train stations around the country and applying them to their vision for the Raleigh Union Station. Penn Station in New York (hopefully the old one, not the current one) and Union Station in Washington, DC are mentioned because of their large welcoming lobbies and grand architectural features. A quote from the report:

“Important guiding elements of the facility design include creating a landmark architectural statement with a dominant vista down Hargett Street visually linking the center to the heart of downtown Raleigh.”

With the previously mentioned transit services coming in the future, the recommended station size is about 45,000 square feet. Parking needs will also need to be addressed and a 1000 space deck is currently being explored for the center of the Wye.

Trains are not the only modes of travel going in and out of Union Station. Greyhound and Triangle Transit buses and downtown circulators will also be thrown into the equation. There is also a heavy focus on creating good connectivity to downtown and the surrounding districts, those being the Warehouse District and Glenwood South, with wide, attractive sidewalks. From the report:

“…some transit patrons will walk a half-mile to get to high qualilty transit service if the walk is along a pleasant path”

There is also a suggestion for accommodating cyclists, from as little as bicycle racks to as much as a full bike storage and repair shop with showers, similar to the shop outside DC’s Union Station.


We probably won’t get that much news coverage until real details start to come out about this piece. The report suggests that the city currently explore ways of funding the facility. Pretty vague right off the bat but the best suggestion given was to explore if any of the 1/2 cent sales tax for transit, if eventually passed, can be used for building Union Station.

Projected total costs as of today range from $151 to $212 million. The current plan to divide the tab is for an 80% federal, 10% state, and 10% city split. This means, assuming these projections are accurate that Raleigh would pay between $15 and $21 million. There are lots of factors that could affect these numbers so they are sure to fluctuate over the next decade.

Construction and What to do next

The report suggests a phased approach to improving the area and building the station. First off, it is recommended to get the environmental and engineering stamp of approval, referred to as phase 0. I thought this suggestion was interesting:

“the City of Raleigh should create a team whose sole responsibility would be to make the Union Station a reality”

If this team is created, we would have dedicated city employees living and breathing Union Station and taking it through each of the phases.

The next phase involves attacking a current need in our Amtrak services. They would be relocated with more parking available and a larger platform. Amtrak has grown out of its building on Cabarrus Street. This could not come any sooner, especially with more frequent service coming this summer and in the coming years.

Greyhound is part of phase two and will be relocated to the area next. There are a few proposals to incorporate them into one of the warehouse buildings for easy transfer from one mode of travel to another.

The last phase, phase three, includes building out Union Station. There are lots of factors to take in here, especially since it has not been designed yet. Many of those design decisions will be based on the other rail transit methods as they come to design completion. One of the major obstacles mentioned was whether Triangle Transit’s regional rail would be Light Rail or DMU trains. The trains would run on the tracks but it’s possible that the light rail could run on the street and approach Union Station on Morgan Street. All scenarios seem to be considered and as the years go on, more details will be set.

Interesting Extras

The Raleigh Union Station is being described as a “gateway to the south” as visitors from up north travel to or through Raleigh.

There is a great picture of Raleigh’s Union Station in 1940 on page 23.

It is recommended to consider the possibility of connecting West street to South Saunders Street. They would be connected by going under the tracks and joining Cabarrus Street

Right now, it is suggested that Hargett Street be closed to vehicle traffic and Union Station be built on or around it. Pedestrian access will still be there but it looks like the easy solution here is to cut car access on Hargett.

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  1. Let me begin by saying that I am happy to see this vision moving forward, somehow. I have heard some valid criticism regarding this vision’s ability to accommodate future growth, but I will need to do a lot more research before I offer any kind of opinion. I assume that the city will listen to these concerns and address them properly.

    The thing that bothers me is the height limits that some people in the study group decided to place. 4-12 stories, depending on the location? Have they lost their minds completely? You can’t build a skyscraper here, you can’t build it there… Where can you build a skyscraper? I understand the transition we are seeking to create, but 8-12 stories just isn’t tall enough. 25-30 stories may be, especially for residential high-rises. For now, this is my only problem with the entire proposal. Otherwise, I like it.

  2. This is an excellent recap of the recently released draft report that many will find to long long and detailed to read. Thank you Leo, for making this important information so accessible to your readers.

    I believe the skeptics of this huge push towards mass transit in our city are slowly being won over. The opportunity is here and now to begin this push, and I’m sure Downtown residents will join together to become an important voice of support to make this project a reality.

  3. By the way, I’d have to go back and double check, but I think on some of the plots of land, the report recommended 12 story structures at the minimum. But I would even be careful with this height because I would hate to build an iconic building and have it dwarfed all around by adjacent buildings.

    The last thing you want for a transportation hub is to not be able to see if from a distance. The goal should be to make it a visible landmark to encourage people to use it (i.e. walk from 1/4 – 1/2 mile away to use it).

  4. What are the chances that the federal government will actually pick up 80 percent of the tab? Didn’t Triangle light rail stall last time because the feds didn’t think Raleigh’s ridership estimates were feasible?

  5. Mike, I’m not sure the goal of a transportation hub is to be seen from the outside. Grand Central is a nice building on the outside but it’s surrounded by skyscrapers. Inside, in the main hall, is the image we always see when there are programs, pictures, etc. of it. I’m not sure people use transit because there’s a nice building, people use transit if it’s convenient to do so. Since the goal seems to be mostly inter-city transit (commuter buses/rail, Amtrak and possibly light rail and Greyhoud) I think the focus on the “image” of the center should be inside the great hall. isolating a transit center because you want people to see it, doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. I’d think that building around it, densely, and improving the streetscape, i.e. building big around it and putting stores and restaurants on the ground floor, would be better than trying to make it stand out. The rail depot in Detroit is isolated, it’s big, it’s iconic and it’s falling apart. Penn Station is mostly underground, it’s not much to see from the top floor and it’s bustling with people.

  6. Jenna, what stalled wasn’t any light-rail proposals but the regional rail vision. Unfortunately, the local wizards asked for 61% of an already over-priced project, so I don’t expect them to pick up 80% of the costs even for a light-rail line. We may get promises, but nothing will materialize for another 5-10 years.

    Mike, currently there are two locations where the draft calls for buildings taller than 8 floors. Personally, I would not really like to call the proposed Union Station an “iconic” building, nor would I care to see it from half a mile away. In fact, I hope it will be dwarfed by skyscrapers, which are far more iconic – if built right – and more defining from a distance than any station could be. I think that Steve said it nicely, but let me add that I am more concerned about the loss of parcels to lower densities. If the proposed station is to work, then let’s make sure we do not limit heights and densities. We can still get a pleasant and comfortable environment, similar to Pearl District (Portland, OR). There are buildings around 15 floors (i.e. The Wyatt) which contribute a lot without overwhelming their surroundings. It’s not as if we are going to level everything and build skyscrapers.

    Now, if we want to turn the new hub into a landmark, then build a 30-40 story building above and make sure it is iconic enough to make the location stand out. That would be the only way to guarantee that people can see Union Station from a distance. Portland’s convention center has a couple of spires that make it stand out, but it is located across from downtown, which makes it easier to identify.

  7. I will elaborate… In my opinion, Raleigh’s two most distinguished buildings are Memorial Auditorium and the Capitol building. What makes them stand out I think is that you can see them from looking down a street from a distance (Fayetteville and Hillsborough streets). Seeing something iconic or grand from a distance is much more inviting and more likely to attract visitors to it that wouldnt otherwise go there, whether it be for transportation or for shopping/food/etc.

    Like you mentioned, streetscapes play a huge role in this. No matter how cool something looks from a distance, if the route is not very pleasant to walk to get there, people wont. (Think Dix from downtown.)

    I’m picturing avenue-type streets lined with retail and restaurants leading up to the main entrances of the station from maybe 2 directions. To me, no big deal whats on top, 8 floors or 18 floors, I’m happy either way.

  8. Mike, you just described one of the problem that Raleigh, and most Sunbelt cities have: Lack of landmarks and distinguished structures. This is why many of our planners look at European cities, but fail to grasp that we are not a European city, with hundreds, or even thousands of years of history. In Raleigh, we can accomplish something if we let ourselves think outside the box, but for our own standards.

    Also, you made a great point about landscapes and vistas. Fayetteville Street can definitely be more than its current self, but Hillsborough Str has even more potential, IMO. I love the tree-lined downtown sections of Hillsborough Str and I hope we can do something similar with Capital Blvd, some day, although at a grander scale. It is important to have a street-level experience that makes visitors and residents admire DT Raleigh, not only for its transformation, but also for its completeness. Not that I anticipate the latter in the next 10 years, but I surely hope that the proposed Union Station will be an integral part of DT Raleigh’s fabric and will attract more projects nearby – with no ultra-restrictive height limits, of course ;)

  9. I think iconic buildings can come from all sorts of layouts. What are the two most iconic buildings in New York, for example, since I won’t include the Statue of Liberty as a “building” I’ll say the Empire State and Chrysler buildings are the two most iconic. The twin towers were also extremely iconic. What did these three have in common? All three were, however briefly for two of them, the tallest buildings in the world at one point. All three tower(ed) over their neighbors and all three could be seen from all over the city (well, you did have to see them down the avenues in Manhattan). But not only that, they all represented something. Chrysler is, in my opinion, the most elegant of all skyscrapers, the ESB is famous for being the tallest and the symbol of New York, for 40 some years, and the twin towers represented the might of the New York financial sector and the rebirth of the city in the 1970s. Another iconic building is the Flatiron building, it’s famous for its interesting design (though it’s not the only and wasn’t even the first building to look like that).

    I agree that the State House is the most iconic building, both because of its location and because of its age and design, as well as its function. I’d much rather someone build an iconic skyscraper, in the Art Deco-inspired style of the Key Tower, than create lines of sight to show off a train station.

    I’d also like to see all the rail lines in the city covered some day so we don’t have railways (and highways, at some point) cutting through the city.

  10. Once more, I will agree with Steve. Major U.S. cities are usually identified with something major, something that stands out. Even international cities, like Rio, Paris, London, Athens. All of them either have tall structures or statues and buildings that overlook the rest of the city. Of course, we also have landmarks that serve at the street level and they help people identify one area in relationship to its surroundings. When you stand in front of George Washington’s status, outside the Capitol Bldg, you can find the state government complex, or the center for performing arts and the convention center. We need a good mix of landmarks visible from both a long distance and the street level.

    Back to the topic, I would love to see a unique design that raises the bar. I know that when you look at the existing fabric, it makes us ask: “Why?” Because we need to start somewhere. The new convention center is, in my opinion, a mixed bag, and now the city has a chance to do something better. Something like Milwaukee’s convention center. What a great design, IMO!!!

  11. Well, I have to study this some more. I agree with the idea of having a rail connection in this area. I think the plan is proposing to blow away the only place in downtown with any comfortable human scale and character. Most of the brick warehouses should be preserved and not bull dozed to move the bus center over to the west side of the downtown area which will bring with it the same problems they have at Moore Square to this area which is full of life and vitality. This area is an incubator for art, culture, urban housing and diversity. That will all be ruined by what is proposed. Who wants to spend time in a cold , windy, facility like in many other cities. It is a function of the use that people want to get from point A to point B. A “grand” union square is not needed at all. These were architectural products of the billowing smoke from trains polluting the passengers air. While they did become something beautiful, they were functional. A big train station is not necessary in today’s automated world.

    From what I have read so far it is an awful plan with little thought to what a good transit system provides and respects the current growth in this area. 23 persons or groups are all that has provided input? Time to start over!

  12. Ernest, your contention that a cities need a skyscraper or “tall structure” to be distinguished is a self serving argument, and frankly not true. The contention that Raleigh’s defining structure are the Capital and Memorial Auditorium is absoltuely correct. And many major cities American or otherwise do not have a skyscraper (IMO) as there defining iconic structure. Case and Point, look at Philadelphia…I think of Independence Hall, Rittenhouse Square, The Museum of Art. There are skyscrapers in Philly but they are not iconic and IMO actually detract from the character of the city. How about Boston? Yes there are some tall buildings, but are they iconic? When I think of Boston I think of Trinity Church, Faneuil Hall, the Commons, Beacon Hill. I could go on…Nashville, Indianapolis, Austin, San Antonio, Baltimore…sure there are skyscrapers in these cities as well but they are not what makes me want to go to any of them. What makes these cities interesting and exciting places is the urban fabric and activity the engender. You might benefit from Reading Kevin Lynch’s “Image of the City”. He talks about our visual understanding and memory of cities along with what makes them vital and exciting places to inhabit. You’ll find there are many ways a city can be iconic, and that there are a variety of ways that we understand the layout and form of cities.

  13. Since the artcile is about the transit center, I have to agree with David. This looks scrapped together without any vision. So do you have to walk through a parking structure to get to the Amtrak Platform? What a great way for visitors to be intriduced to Raleigh. Maybe that will be our Iconic Structure! Come on folks, let’s think big (and I don’t think that means a 20+ story tower)!

  14. Michael, please, collect your thoughts and don’t write with such, let us hope, haste. I have numbered your errors in just the first few lines of your 12:08 post and also put them in caps below. Comments on each numbered item are still farther below.

    “Ernest, your contention that (1)A CITIES need a skyscraper or “tall structure to be distinguished is (2)a SELF SERVING ARGUMENT, and franly not true. The contention that Raleigh’s defining (3)STRUCTURE ARE the(4)CAPITAL and Memorial Auditorium is absoltuely correct. And many major cities (5)American or otherwise do not have a skyscraper (IMO) as (6)THERE defining iconic structure. (7)CASE AND Point, look at Philadelphia…

    Let’s consider these numbered errors: (1)I suppose this signular abd plural catastrophe here is merely a typo. (2)”self-serving” are two words that here make up a compound adjective modifying “argument” and thus require a hyphen (which I’ve been happy to supply them). (3) We have a nasty plural and signular problem here. If it’s another typo, that makes two too many. (4) Raleigh is the capitAl city, but that iconic building is the capitOl. (5)These goofs are invisible, which is no excuse. Obviously, commas are required after “cities” and “otherwise.” (6) Please, “there” should be “their.” (7)The phrase is not “Case AND point; it is “Case IN Point.”

    Those may have ended your troubles, Michael. I’m not sure. I couldn’t go on to see if there were still more. Anticipating possible questions from you, let me assure you that I already have a life. Admittedly, though, I do have better things to do.

  15. One quick additional comment. I deliberately put an error in my post. I do hope you found it

  16. Wait, make that two…actually, I think three errors. Maybe one or two were not deliberate.

  17. Michael, you headed to the wrong direction. Nobody argues about the importance of a great urban fabric. However, I will not accept the frequently used argument about “badly designed skyscrapers” vs. “good urban fabric” – although you didn’t really bring this up directly. Currently, Raleigh has nothing at the street level to make a visit memorable. Our Memorial Auditorium and Capital Building are nice features, but not memorable. So, unless you visit one of those cities/towns which are filled with historic landmarks and great architecture (i.e. Boston, New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston) you are not likely to find in Raleigh the identity a visitor may seek from a city.

    Let me offer you a few examples of memorable landmarks and structures. Washington has the 555ft Washington Monument, besides the White House and the Capitol Bldg. Paris has the Eiffel Tower and Triumph Arch (both major buildings, standing 1063ft and 169ft, respectively). New York City has the Empire State Bldg, Chrysler Bldg and Statue of Liberty. Chicago has the Sears Tower. San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge and Transamerica Pyramid. All of these structures are directly associated with their corresponding cities. Cafes, museums and other destinations complete the experience and help the visitors remember those places, but they are not representative of those cities.

    Naturally, each person is different, so I have to speak from my own experience. Having visited world class cities, I must say that their urban fabric helped improve my overall experience, but it wasn’t the urban fabric that stayed in my memory. It was all those major structures, or the landscape. There are a few exceptions, such as the city of Toledo, in Spain. Sometimes, having to walk along tiny streets and enjoy great meals outdoors is a great way to remember a place, but Raleigh could never be one of those cities, and THAT is what I am trying to say. We can be memorable only if we combine a strong urban fabric with grand structures, provided the architecture is inspiring.

    Sorry for yet-another lengthy reply :(

  18. Chiming in a little late, but anyway…

    Iconic structure or not, my thought about the building(which I would have preferred Raleigh Central Station) is not about what has to be seen, but what it’s supposed to do. One of the things that killed Penn Station was that the site stopped being able to pay for itself by just being a transportation center. If it had been built with revenue-generating space over the top, it could have survived. Grand Central Terminal had spec drawings that showed the same thing as well as Chicago Union Station.

    It would make some kind of sense to be able to take the regional rail or bus or what-have-you to the site, and then do a vertical commute to the office. The original World Trade Center had that idea perfectly with the PATH line from New Jersey turning around in the basement. Every thing about the proposal for the Transbay Terminal in SF speaks to the same idea, of having a critical mass of employment and residence immediately on or adjacent to the site. Talk about carbon off-setting!!

  19. I have been reading the comments here,and would like to know the status of this “Union Station”,progress. It would be Raleigh’s crown jewel of Mass Transit for the Region.All the stalling and Red Tape only delays this Project. What A Shame, what a shame.

  20. The City Council toured the proposed Union Station site on June 6. The City’s portion of the $45M project is $2.5M. It’s one of the projects to be funded from the forthcoming transportation bond referendum — assuming it passes.

  21. I believe it’s a recent decision after that web page was posted (in early May), but I’ve emailed Eric Lamb for verification.

  22. I am now told that the Council has not formally acted to add the RUS funding to the referendum proposal.. but it will make its way to Council.

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