HSR and Historic Stations
In a recent post, Yonah Freemark and Jebediah Reed over at the Infrastructurist lament the loss of 11 once-famous landmark grand stations around the country to strictly utilitarian underground platforms, arenas, office towers, strip malls, highways and parking lots. Case in point: Penn Station in NYC.
Fortunately, California has managed to preserve at least some of its own railroad history in the shape of historic passenger stations, e.g. LA Union Station, San Diego Santa Fe Depot, Sacramento’s Depot, San Jose’s Cahill Street (aka Diridon) station and many smaller ones as well. Built in the age of steam, before freeways, buses and private cars even existed, these buildings remind Californians of the importance of railways in their own history.
Now that state voters have approved $9.95 billion in GO bonds to kick-start a rail renaissance, visions of brand-new, ultra-modern stations have become the centerpieces of urban planners’ ambitious plans to revitalize city centers and make using public transportation attractive again to a population that has become hooked on gas-guzzling cars. For practical reasons, many of these stations will feature run-through tracks, electronic displays and other aspects of modern rail technology. In particular, the 19th century notion of maintaining waiting rooms separate from the platforms makes little practical sense in the fast-paced 21st century, in which trains run very frequently and on time with just a minute or two of dwell time.
Should California’s historic passenger rail stations
- remain in daily use for the sake of continuity in spite of the associated passenger flow inefficiencies plus wear and tear,
- be preserved in-situ as museums of a bygone age or,
- be carefully relocated elsewhere for the sake of maximum convenience for passengers at the new transit hubs?
What would you prefer in the case of your own city’s existing train station, and why?
Note: SF’s Transbay Terminal is arguably a special case in that it was a station for electric trolleys, then a bus depot and now slated for wholesale replacement to meet seismic code. Since we’ve already covered the SFTT ad nauseam, I’d like to keep the focus on the issue of architectural/cultural heritage vs. utility where above-ground structures are expected to be preserved. Discussion of what you’d like to see happen at Caltrain’s 4th & King property after electrification is of course fair game.