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On Time: A New Age of Passenger Stations


Until recently the future of Buffalo’s Central Terminal looked bleak. The masculine art deco tower stood like a ruin lingering from a by-gone era. The windows were broken, the building was stripped of everything that could be pilfered, with only high demolition costs preventing a complete loss of the structure.

 

But like a giant awakening from a slumber, Central Terminal returned to a golden age when picking up where they left off, electricity was restored and the huge clocks gracing each of the four sides of the The clocks on Buffalo’s Central Terminal have been restored and lighted, but there is a long way to go. © Eric Millerbuilding began to run again.

Though a monumental feat, the effort to save Central Terminal is part of a much larger renewal of the relationship between America and its railroad stations.

Central Terminal was erected in 1929 at a time when the age of the passenger train was nearing its peak. With passenger rates fixed by the Interstate Commerce Commission, the railroads had no financial way to compete for passenger dollars, so they lavishly furnished trains and built monumental stations to lure passengers. Those days of luxury train travel before the stock market crashed later that year have yet to return.

But many grand stations like Central Terminal stand as a testimony to the era that was and provide a symbol for the one that could be.

Not only New York and Chicago, but Buffalo, Cincinnati, Toronto, Nashville, St. Louis and countless other cities were home to the magnificent cavernous spaces where passengers said their greetings and farewells, moving from town to town and train to train. Even smaller towns put themselves on the map by building sizable stations to signify that these stops along the mighty railroad were rather destinations.

But somewhere along the way America lost her fascination with train travel and railroad stations. Famous trains, The Twentieth Century Limited, The Congressional Limited, The Red Arrow, The Super Chief, The City of New Orleans, The Empirebuilder, The Empire State Express and The Daylight with inspiring connotations stopped running.

The railroads which had seen the building of cities, the industrialization if the country and the opening of the West fell on hard times and began to merge. Stations across the continent closed. Soon many of the grand stations became liabilities and were soon looked upon as decaying relics of a bygone era. Some sat boarded up and others met the wrecking ball.

 Inside Central Terminal, years of neglect await new hope. © Eric MillerIt would seem wasteful in many countries to have a building of unprecedented size, cost and grandeur, like New York’s Penn Station, to be built, used for a few decades and then demolished. But it was. Today the station is no more than a nondescript waiting area one story below the street surface.

But the City of New York knows now what it lost and is attempting to undo the mistake by building an echo of the fabled station that had been a gateway to the world’s greatest city.

The project will involve renovating an adjacent post office built as a companion to the now demolished landmark and construct a shed which will recall, rather than recreate the old station.

While Penn Station was lost, many other stations can be and have been restored to the delight of passengers and visitors. Surviving the era of air travel and highways, these great buildings from long ago also stand ready to embrace a new era of railroads.

Union Station in Washington D.C. has been restored to its original design after undergoing disrespectful adaptations in the 1950s and 60s.

While the crossroads of North American Railroads, Chicago, lost the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Station, La Salle Station, Grand Central Station and a part of Union Station, the handsome Dearborn Station enjoys a new life as a shopping mall on the hip Dearborn Street. The main concourse of Union Station remains one of the busiest concourses anywhere and not long ago gained notoriety after it was used for the staircase scene in the feature film The Untouchables.

In Baltimore Pennsylvania Station appears almost the same today to railroad passengers as it did on any given day of its 100 year history. The early Camden and Mt. Royal Stations still overlook the city and the country’s first railroad station still entices visitors even though it has long since been distanced from rail passengers.

 

Two of the most acclaimed stations ever built, the beaux arts Grand Central Station in New York and the art deco Penn Station in Philadelphia not only remain, but have been meticulously restored and echo the taps of nearly as many footsteps today as they did 50 years ago.

Daniel Burnham’s classic Penn Station in Pittsburgh.© Eric MillerWhile Pittsburgh lost the eccentric Wabash Station and the romantic Federal Street Station, the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Station has been restored to house one of the city’s finest restaurants. Daniel Burnham’s masterpiece, Penn Station, is now home to a luxury apartment complex, even though the building’s grand waiting room is still uneasily off-limits to railroad passengers who are instead confined to a basement waiting room.

Cleveland’s Terminal Tower hovers over a lake city with a renewed energy, houses one of the country’s best shopping malls and resounds with the buzz of passengers using the city’s mass transit system.

Cincinnati Union Terminal is now home to a science museum, Nashville’s Union Station is a restaurant and the Lackawanna Station in Scranton, Pennsylvania has a new life as a hotel.

An organization called the Great American Station Foundation has been created to help cities across the rust belt and heartland reclaim railroad stations. Amtrak carries record numbers of passengers, and a few states are preparing to launch a new age of railroading with high-speed trains designed to compliment long-distance air travel and compete with commuter-flights and the automobile.

Small but no less significant stations still know daily trains and familiar faces. The Southern Pacific stations in San Jose and Sacramento, Union Depot in Los Angeles, the B&O Station in Youngstown, OhioRecently restored station at Greensburg, PA still sees passengers and will soon be home to a restaurant. © Eric Miller and Pennsylvania Railroad Stations in Greensburg, Johnstown and Harrisburg are still warm with regularly arriving trains and hurried passengers.

In other cities not so fortunate to survive the last 50 years with a station intact, new ones have been built. A town which had been home to the Pennsylvania Railroads repair and erection facilities, Altoona, is putting the final touches on a new station and Oakland, California is home to one of the country’s most visible stations in Jack London Square.

Despite the losses, there are still enough railroad stations in North America to reward and welcome growing numbers of train travelers. St. Paul, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Montreal and cities too numerous to list are all home to magnificent stations.

But from the little Romanesque passenger depot in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania to the massive Michigan Central station in Detroit, there remains a lot of work to do preserving America’s great railroad stations.

The lights and the clock on Central Terminal though provide promise. Despite what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, when one of the biggest railroad stations ever to get in such a state of disrepair is restored, Buffalo will stand as a symbol of the possible and eagerly look toward what could be the second great age of passenger travel.

Amtrak: 1-800-USA-Rail

Great American Station Foundation 202-906-2112

For more information on Buffalo’s Central Terminal visit http://intotem.buffnet.net/bhw

In Baltimore Pennsylvania Station appears almost the same today to railroad passengers as it did on any given day of its 100 year history. The early Camden and Mt. Royal Stations still overlook the city and the country’s first railroad station still entices visitors even though it has long since been distanced from rail passengers.

Two of the most acclaimed stations ever built, the beaux arts Grand Central Station in New York and the art deco Penn Station in Philadelphia not only remain, but have been meticulously restored and echo the taps of nearly as many footsteps today as they did 50 years ago.

Daniel Burnham’s classic Penn Station in Pittsburgh.© Eric MillerWhile Pittsburgh lost the eccentric Wabash Station and the romantic Federal Street Station, the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Station has been restored to house one of the city’s finest restaurants. Daniel Burnham’s masterpiece, Penn Station, is now home to a luxury apartment complex, even though the building’s grand waiting room is still uneasily off-limits to railroad passengers who are instead confined to a basement waiting room.

Cleveland’s Terminal Tower hovers over a lake city with a renewed energy, houses one of the country’s best shopping malls and resounds with the buzz of passengers using the city’s mass transit system.

Cincinnati Union Terminal is now home to a science museum, Nashville’s Union Station is a restaurant and the Lackawanna Station in Scranton, Pennsylvania has a new life as a hotel.

An organization called the Great American Station Foundation has been created to help cities across the rust belt and heartland reclaim railroad stations. Amtrak carries record numbers of passengers, and a few states are preparing to launch a new age of railroading with high-speed trains designed to compliment long-distance air travel and compete with commuter-flights and the automobile.

Small but no less significant stations still know daily trains and familiar faces. The Southern Pacific stations in San Jose and Sacramento, Union Depot in Los Angeles, the B&O Station in Youngstown, OhioRecently restored station at Greensburg, PA still sees passengers and will soon be home to a restaurant. © Eric Miller and Pennsylvania Railroad Stations in Greensburg, Johnstown and Harrisburg are still warm with regularly arriving trains and hurried passengers.

In other cities not so fortunate to survive the last 50 years with a station intact, new ones have been built. A town which had been home to the Pennsylvania Railroads repair and erection facilities, Altoona, is putting the final touches on a new station and Oakland, California is home to one of the country’s most visible stations in Jack London Square.

Despite the losses, there are still enough railroad stations in North America to reward and welcome growing numbers of train travelers. St. Paul, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Montreal and cities too numerous to list are all home to magnificent stations.

But from the little Romanesque passenger depot in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania to the massive Michigan Central station in Detroit, there remains a lot of work to do preserving America’s great railroad stations.

The lights and the clock on Central Terminal though provide promise. Despite what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, when one of the biggest railroad stations ever to get in such a state of disrepair is restored, Buffalo will stand as a symbol of the possible and eagerly look toward what could be the second great age of passenger travel.

Amtrak: 1-800-USA-Rail

Great American Station Foundation 202-906-2112

For more information on Buffalo’s Central Terminal visit http://intotem.buffnet.net/bhw