The ultimate purpose of a railroad station


Jacquielynn Floyd, a columnist for The Dallas Morning News, wrote an essay printed in the June 28th edition of the paper which outlined her top ten suggestions for the city's new mayor.

Item number three (impressively high on the list) concerned Dallas' downtown. A "bonus hint" involved her recommendation for our Union Station (historically Union Terminal) facility. Since "Union Station is the first and last place a lot of guests/commuters see, "she is in favour of making it a more "user-friendly" place. Her proposals included the establishment of "a pub, a newsstand, a coffee house."

Certainly, it's nice our local depot rates at all, especially near the top of such a short menu. I have no problems whatsoever with her advice, only with the building's shortcomings. The fact that our train station currently doesn't even possess a simple newsstand or offer any light snacks or beverages (apart from a couple of vending machines in the Lobby) should be considered a disgrace! Floyd was absolutely right to highlight the issue.

Unfortunately, as reasonable as her ideas might be, they barely skim the surface of Union Terminal's myriad problems.

I'll admit, regarding the care and feeding of D.U.T., I am quite possibly more biased than anyone else alive today. I was born and reared in Dallas and the station has remained a constant part of my life. I have very definite ideas concerning its ongoing use.

I'll also admit that amenities such as magazines, souvenirs and fresh-brewed coffee can be purchased at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, easily accessible through a climate-controlled passenger concourse tunnel.

Still, what should be a public gathering place of significance - purchased by Dallas taxpayers in 1974 as a transportation centre and civically owned-and-operated since that time - has been demonstrably underutilised, with its purpose misunderstood, its properties mishandled, and its potential marginalised.

Sadly, these facts aren't unique, either to Dallas or railroading. So often, while working to save an historic building from destruction, a political jurisdiction will move too quickly toward what is now known as "adaptive reuse." Their apparent goal becomes filling the structure with something as soon as possible so gainsayers will have no reason to scream "white elephant " or "boondoggle."

This routine becomes increasingly evident when dealing with train stations, since the concept of restored and revitalised railway passenger service seems so difficult for many to grasp. Unfortunately, the disconnect regarding historic depot properties tends to remain true even when discussing future transit, commuter/regional, conventional intercity and high-speed operations! The assumption is usually either "we'll never need passenger trains, anyway" or "no matter what might be done to alter the facilities, they'll still be available for railroad use."

Both of those assumptions are incorrect, of course. The need for trains of all types should be increasingly evident to all but ideologues of a Libertarian bent (who, if consistent, would also oppose all other public transportation expenditures - even for roadways). Furthermore, it has been proven time and again that substantive alterations create insurmountable operating challenges with surviving depots, to the point where a "union station" building may be extant, yet bereft of all railroad traffic.

It's not too late for Dallas. Since our "Union Station" is already municipally owned and occupies the most logical location for a true "union" passenger train facility, we've been given additional time to renew interest, properly plan and invest in its long-term health and welfare. We only need to begin making those plans and investments now!

First of all, we must understand there is a logical, justifiable need for a single central location dedicated to arriving, departing and connecting passengers using various modes of rail-based transport. At the same time, we must admit that Union Terminal's potential modern-day role as THE gateway for Dallas is in serious danger, transcending Jacquielynn Floyd's coffee house dilemma and affecting the site's ability to serve tomorrow's travelers and visitors.

An example: both DART's new Green Line and upcoming Orange Line have been designed to by-pass the station, thereby effectively eliminating the opportunity to establish direct, frequent, single-seat service between Dallas' main, downtown railroad terminal and either one of our two major airports! If intermodalism is ever going to be anything more than a catchphrase, we MUST plan for efficient air/rail connectivity!

We must also address pedestrian control. Did you know that arriving and departing passengers are not required to enter the station building at all? How would dining and shopping establishments within the depot generate business if the structure is simply seen as another obstacle for travelers to circumnavigate whilst walking between the C.B.D. and the several platforms? In addition, how many realise it is no longer possible to freely negotiate all areas of the ground floor or, often, even walk from the main Lobby to the concourse without first going outside?! ALL public areas of the terminal should remain open and accessible.

The City of Dallas is responsible for removing most of the depot's infrastructure (tracks, platforms, yards, etc.). The station's current - and future - use as a railroad passenger facility has been severely compromised. Therefore, Union Terminal will require both a major interior redesign and serious expansion in order to support prospective transportation customers. These multi-layered projects could be completed in phases, over time, without greatly inconveniencing users.

I understand that much-needed renovation activities have already been accomplished, modernising various structural and electromechanical systems, making the changes necessary to embrace Wolfgang Puck catering operations and a new generation of wedding receptions. The past 37 years of control by the Woodbine Development Corporation has certainly helped protect the building, and that company should be sincerely commended for its work. However, the needs of a major urban area for an efficiently functioning downtown railroad passenger terminal should easily outweigh the structure's current primary use as a hotel banquet room and corporate meeting centre.

The political commitment to rededicate the "Union Station" facility as a RAILROAD STATION will require the City of Dallas to renegotiate its existing long-term contracts with Woodbine Development and the Hyatt Regency Dallas for use of the depot building. It will also require local elected officials to do something which, potentially, will be even more difficult: accepting train travel as an integral part of our transportation mix and making the essential physical and mental transformations necessary for our society's future.

This coming October, dear Union Terminal will celebrate its 95th anniversary of service to the citizens of Dallas. Wouldn't it be wonderful if that occasion could be marked by an official decision to invest in the property and adequately prepare it for another 95 years of operation? Isn't it nice to contemplate the possibility that, in 2106, our children's children will still be enjoying Big D's Beaux-Arts gateway...and using it when taking trips by train?!

It's great to have a good cup o' Joe to go with my copy of the News! Far better is coffee and a paper within the confines of a properly functioning railroad station which, as a natural extension of itself, provides me with everything else I might require to comfortably complete a journey - including some trains to ride!

After all, serving trains and the passengers who travel upon them should be a railroad station's ultimate purpose.



  • Dismantling railway stations was a big part of the building up of the suburban automobile based rat maze that many of us navigate on a daily basis!

  • The usual ideological claptrap, Railwayist.  The automobile and the growth of the suburbs after WW II came about because fule was cheap and plentiful, land was cheap, and developers developed.  No one forced Americans to buy cars or build boxy little houses in the suburbs.  They did that of their free will and because the new lifestyle suited their desires.  Then, when people had virtually stopped using rail passenger service - both commuter and long-haul - the once palatial passenger stations and terminals fell into disuse and ruin.  But, what are a few facts when we can blather all we want about things that never really happened?

  • Larry,

    The original idea for this piece - entitled "Railroad stations should be for trains!" - actually revolved around the status of Denver's own Union...a station which, operationally, has been undermined as badly as any depot I know.

    The worse thing to happen even predated the current redevelopment project. I can still hardly believe the facility was ever allowed to lose its direct route southward, connecting with the Joint Line to Colorado Springs and Pueblo. That's especially troublesome since the most popular local proposal for future intercity service has consistently been a corridor along the Front Range!



    As frustrating as things may seem at times, I still believe there's hope!

    I just want to be ready when people decide, of their own free wills, to seek out transportation alternatives.


  • Garl:  The Denver station, with its iconic "Travel By Train" electric sign, is being redeveloped into the hub of the Denver regional transit district system.  When finished, it will have a bus depot as well as light rail and commuter rail service.  One line will go east to Denver International Airport, one nearing completion now will come west to the foothills at Golden, another will also go west into the Arvada, Wheat Ridge suburban area.  Lines will radiate to the northeast and northwest, and a line to the south along the I-25 corridor is already open as is the line parallel to the joint line along Santa Fe Blvd.  They even had a derailment a year or so ago when a coal train derailed and a light rail train ran into the piled up coal.  Denver Union Station is being rehabbed intelligently so far, so be of good cheer.  As for connection to the south, the track will come to the station although at present they have to back trains in from the north.  I wouldn't worry about future passenger rail operations to the south.  While there has been some rail fan blather about a service From Cheyenne through Ft. Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, over Raton Pass, and on toe Albuquerque and even El Paso, there is no density that would justify such a service.

    I cannot resist being just a bit snarky (who me?), but Denver region voters in six counties voted a few years ago to pay a sales tax to fund FasTracks, as the multi-billion dollar system is known.  Dallas, it appears, just may miss the boat, but that's what happens in a free society; sometimes people decide foolishly not to spend money.

  • Larry, snarky is just fine, you nailed it the last paragraph...and as a person gets older, one finds way too many examples demonstrating just that fact of life!

  • Use your free will today for the vast selection of transportations available in the USA---

    Fly/Drive---Drive/Fly---rent-a-car/don't rent-a-car---take a taxi/don't take a taxi---hitch hike/don't hitch hike---ride-a-bike/don't ride-a-bike---walk/don't walk---fly in a zeppelin/hot air balloon/Space Shuttle/Soyuz Rocket---try to find a bus stop/train station near where you live or work.

  • And your point is?  You truly have one of the most closed minds I have seen.  You don't get a vote when I and others make our choices for traveling for business or pleasure.  I make the choice that best suits my purposes.  It is not based on someone else haranguing me about my choice of mode.  I suspect - just a bit - that most others have the same approach.

    And just for the record, others here seem to understand that a railroad station exists to provide a place where people can board and leave trains.  When railroads dominated passenger travel, palatial stations and terminals were built to accommodate the customers.  Today, those stations that still exist are kind of seedy and certainly underused, with a few notable exceptions.  This is pretty much the passenger rail version of what happened with palatial ocean liners.  They were marvelous but few wanted to spend five days getting from New York to London when an airliner could do it in about 7 hours.  The S.S. United States looks kind of sad and dingy docked down there in Philadelphia.

  • Actually, I see a grain of sanity in his comment.  He's acknowledging the fact that there are choices to be made and that those choices can be based on many factors, cost, speed, location, schedule, and so on.


  • You are being logical - and accurate - John.  My problem with the comment was that it was based on ideology, which often has virtually nothing to do with the subject at hand.

  • Let us get back to "the ultimate purpose of a railroad station" by Garl B Latham.

    A railroad station is the undisputedly the most efficient system ever devised for the transfer and transport of passengers and heavy cargo. Railway engineering is at the pinnacle of the engineering sciences===the presently existing USA surface transport system is a result of heavy subsidies supporting an inefficient(bordering on the stone age) 4 million mile concrete and ashphalt maze of sprawl serving only automobiles, monster trucks and motorbuses, that barely crawls along slurping up 20 million barrels of creamy crude a day--1/4 of the total global petro output.

    ZURICH BANHOF transfers 2,000 trains per day.

    UK moves more as many passengers in 2 weeks as AMTRAK moves yearly.

    China moves millions hourly on CNR high speed lines.

    Railroad stations are the very economic and social core of prospeous cities, countries and regions, without railroad stations, there is nothing to build upon.

    If the USA wants to prosper again---it's time to get back on the right track: the iron road.

  • I have tried to ignore you and your blather, Railwayist, but if you are going to live in a fantasy world, I see it as my duty to remind you and others that it is a fantasy world.

    First a railroad station is not a place to transfer heavy freight, efficiently or any other way.  Railroad stations were built to handle arriving and departing passengers, and where the volume dictated to handle efficiently the movement of passengers from one train to another.  That you are unable to articulate - if you simply choose to ignore realiyt, then shame on you - the ultimate purpose of a railroad station, tells us just how little you really know.  As for your inchoherent comments about highways, I suggest you read "An American Transportation Story: the Obstacles; the Challenges; the Promise" by David J. DeBoer and yours truly.  It was written some years ago when Congress was considering another renewal of the highway program.  Our intent was to help them make better decisions by helping educate them.  Unfortunately, Congress had no interest in being educated, and I'm sure it still doesn't.  The book is quite simple, quite factual, and it puts all modes of transportation into perspective.  As the United States is not Switzerland, nor China, nor the UK or anywhere else, your enumeration of their appreciation and use of passenger trains is of no consequence - like most of your comments.  You refuse to recognize that passenger trains declined in this country because people stopped paying the fares to ride them.  Is that simple enough for you?

  • I am someone who arrived in Dallas by train and yes, I did find the station surprisingly shabby.  I was not impressed with downtown Dallas and the station definitely was a big part of this.

    I would gently suggest that the best solution would be to use it as a significant train station again, with frequent service to Houston, Austin and San Antonio and longer distance departures to LA via the T&P and to Oklahoma and New Orleans.

    I would make the case that such a network would be successful, garner riders and could be self-supporting even.  But that's another conversation.