Trains Top stories for 2018: No. 9, Station Restorations

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Interior of the recently re-opened Cincinnati Union Terminal. 
David T. Rohdenburg
The year 2018 was significant for some of the grandes dames of America’s railroad past, present and future.

In Cincinnati, the art deco masterpiece Union Terminal reopened after a 30-month, $228-million restoration project. The building is home to several museums and is a nighttime stop on Amtrak's Cardinal.

“We have carried on and protected the legacy of the craftsmen who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the building during its original construction from 1929 to 1933,” said Cody Hefner, a representative of the Cincinnati Museum Center, the terminal’s caretaker.

The restoration work was extensive, going down to the building’s substructure, with the intent that the 85-year-old building will be able to last at least another 100 years. The classic murals in the rotunda were painstakingly restored to the way they appeared when the building opened to the public in 1933. Even the classic, neon-lined clock on the front of the building was given a complete overhaul.

The historic Great Hall at Chicago Union Station is awash in new light with the renovation of the iconic skylight, installation of improved lighting, and restoration of the palatial interior with new paint and plaster work, all part of a $22-million Amtrak-funded project.

The 93-year-old facility has been repainted in its original buff colors and plaster details have been repaired after decades of water damage. New lighting illuminates intricate designs for the first time. The 219-foot-long skylight had badly deteriorated over the decades and famously leaked. The 2,052 pieces of glass have been replaced. Natural light into the Great Hall is increased by about 50 percent.

In order to maintain the historic appearance of the skylight from within the Great Hall and to overcome the complications of the existing drainage system, the restoration team built a modern energy-efficient, skylight above the historic skylight. The new skylight will protect the historic skylight with a new drainage design and maintenance system.

Oklahoma City’s historic Santa Fe Depot, an Art Deco gem built by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway in 1934, reopened to the public after a $28.9-million restoration. The renovation helped restore original architectural and design elements of the station, improve the boarding platform and other passenger areas, and enhance the streetscapes.

The depot, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015, once boasted eight tracks. It served Santa Fe and Amtrak trains until 1979, when it sat dormant for 20 years until Amtrak’s daily Oklahoma City-Fort Worth Heartland Flyer began using it as its northern terminus.

Detroit’s Michigan Central station will become the centerpiece of Ford Motor Co.’s new mobility hub in Detroit’s Corktown community. Ford said it would spend more than $700 million to restore the long-abandoned facility and adjacent properties to house offices for its autonomous and electric vehicle teams and partners.

The company will restore the 104-year-old station’s grand hall to its original luster, featuring local shops and restaurants. Ford says the development of the Michigan Central Station is critical to its future as it examines how urban areas are changing the overall role of transportation and the revitalization of cities.

The Michigan Central Station has been abandoned since 1988. It features a train depot and 13-story office tower totaling 230 feet in height. The same architects that designed New York’s Grand Central Terminal were involved in the Michigan Central Station, which opened for rail service on Jan. 4, 1914.

A proposed hotel incorporating Salt Lake City’s former Union Pacific station is closer to reality after the city’s planning council approved, with conditions, a site review.

The project will leave the station exterior mostly unchanged, with a curving, eight-story structure behind the station housing 225 guest rooms, 26 suites, a coffee shop, and restaurant space.

New York City’s Grand Central Terminal celebrated a pair of important milestones that changed the course of the famous building's history: the 40th anniversary in June of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that saved the Terminal, and the 20th anniversary in October of a renovation that restored the iconic landmark and transformed it into a retail and dining destination.

The Terminal marked those moments with a series of events, including a concert by former Beatle Paul McCartney.

In November, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it was seeking to buy the Terminal along with the Hudson and Harlem Lines for $35 million.

New York State officials awarded officials with Buffalo's Central Terminal a $5 million grant to help revitalize the 89-year-old, 17-story art deco depot. A complete restoration of the building on the city's impoverished East Side is estimated to cost close to $100 million.

Plans include designating a part of the building to become a museum to expand and preserve its legacy while continuing restoration work. Most of the money will likely be spent on new glass and lights for the main concourse with a portion of the funds set aside to breathe life into the station's former Gateway Restaurant. Most of the old glass in the concourse was lost to neglect and vandalism. The goal is to return the concourse to its 1929 appearance while using modern technology.

For the number of cities revitalizing passenger stations throughout the U.S., and for the promise these restorations hold for the future, Trains editors name: Station Restorations the No. 9 story of 2018.

Read editors' other Top 10 stories of 2018 online:
Trains Top stories for 2018: No. 10, Giants of RAIL PHOTOGRAPHY pass on

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