PLANS for the multi-billion-dollar Washington Union Station Expansion Project, intended to modernise and revitalise what has been described as one of the most iconic and beautiful railway stations in North America, have been unveiled, including renderings of station tracks and platforms, a new train hall and mezzanine, and new entrances.

The plans were revealed on June 16 when Grimshaw Architects, the project’s architectural firm, gave a presentation to the US Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), which reviews and approves design proposals for public and private buildings in the capital.

Grimshaw Architects stressed the importance of creating a bright and roomy space that is more accessible for visitors, by adding a new train hall that would provide connections to the different modes serving the station, and new entrances providing access from different parts of the city, including the H Street Corridor.

“The hope is to take what is currently a less than ideal space for passengers, and open that up, and get on and off buses and trains in a straightforward fashion,” says Grimshaw Architects principal, Mr Nikolas Dando-Haenisch.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) owns Union Station and is leading the project, together with Amtrak. They are seeking federal funding through the IIJA infrastructure programme that was signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021. FRA director of communications, Mr Dan Griffin, told National Public Radio affiliate WAMU 88.5 that “it’s premature to estimate costs and the project timeline at this time.” An earlier estimate priced the renovation at roughly $US 10bn, with completion by 2040.

Based on the plans presented to the CFA, passengers and visitors will be able to enter the station through the original century-old structure designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, or through newly-constructed entrances on each side, to reduce vehicle traffic at Columbus Circle in front of the station. Dando-Haenisch said the redevelopment does not include changes to the original building.

A new train hall, “designed for daylight and for passengers to more easily spot where to catch their bus or train,” also connects to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metro Red Line and DC Circulator buses. Parking and a pickup/drop-off area will be on the lowest level, along with four concourses housing shops and restaurants. Escalators and lifts will connect with the railway station and the bus station.

“The project assumes increased use, so bus and train capacity has been added,” WAMU noted. “The highest level offers an outdoor deck where people can be dropped off or picked up, or simply [enjoy] some green space. Developer Akridge plans to create a mix of residential and commercial buildings next to the centre space with greenery, along the 15 acres of air rights north of Union Station. However, that $US 3bn project, called Burnham Place, is contingent on the redevelopment of the station.”

This latest proposal was developed on the basis of stakeholder feedback, including criticism from local government officials of the large car park contained in an earlier proposal. CFA officials “seemed to largely support the plan,” WAMU reported. “However, a few voiced reservations that the historic building would become just a passthrough to the new train hall.”

The next step is for the FRA to complete an environmental impact statement, after which final design and construction can then commence.