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The original design of all grand U.S. railroad stations fit the architectural design foundation “form follows function.” Unfortunately the years have not been kind to these railroad stations. Real estate developers have coveted the rail yard property for non-transportation development. In some cases these rail yards have yielded to interstates, highways, and streets. This has transformed the depot (waiting room, ticket offices, etc.) into just “a nice old building that used to serve the traveling public.”
With another set of renderings revealed for Florida‘s upcoming commuter rail service, it’s clear that SOM hopes to give the system a highly recognizable visual brand. After the firm unveiled plans for All Aboard Florida’s Miami Station, which floats the rails 50-feet above grade on trusses, SOM and Zyscovich Architects revealed its design for the smaller Ft. Lauderdale station, which clearly borrowed heavily from the first. The 27,500-square-foot hub is also defined by reinforced concrete trusses. And today, with images released for the West Palm Beach station, we know those trusses aren’t going anywhere.
In May, SOM released renderings for Miami Station—a 1,000-foot-long, multimodal transit hub that would anchor the Sunshine State’s impending high-speed commuter rail system known as All Aboard Florida. The firm floated the station 50 feet atop reinforced concrete trusses to allow for restaurants and retail, and an uninterrupted street grid. Now, with the Miami station getting underway, SOM has unveiled plans for the system’s Ft. Lauderdale station, and it appears that a design trend is emerging down in Florida.
Despite ongoing delays, lawsuits, and government holdups, it appears that California’s High Speed Rail (HSR) plans (and their associated stations) are ready to move ahead. Last week the United States Department of Transportation issued a “Record of Decision” for HSR’s initial 114-mile section from Fresno to Bakersfield.
Amtrak is out with a new promotional video, and it’s targeted right at millennials. As UrbanCincy reported, “On the heels of kicking off their new Writers Residency program, where writers can ride intercity passenger rail for free, Amtrak welcomed 30 prominent new media ‘influencers’ on a long-distance train ride from Los Angeles to SXSW in Austin.”
When Elon Musk makes plans he makes no little ones. And he feels California shouldn’t either. This is the rationale behind Hyperloop Alpha, a supersonic, solar-powered, air-cushioned transit system (and future “Never Built”?) he views as the bolder alternative to conventional high-speed rail. It’s not a train, exactly. It’s more a hybrid between high-speed rail and the Concord.
Midwest train travelers will enjoy a quicker passage, as Amtrak approves a new top speed of 110 mph for a section of its Chicago-St. Louis route. Though trains will only accelerate to the new top speed over a 15-mile segment, officials said another $1.5 billion investment over three years of upgrades will bring the rest of the track up to speed.
The current top speed is 79 mph over most of the route. Instead of 5 and a half hours, future trips could be under 4 hours. Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak tested a new system of triggers for highway crossing gates earlier this year.
Amtrak’s Midwest presence has seen a significant ridership boost, following trends around the country. Transit in general may be enjoying a small renaissance, with the CTA counting 16 months of rail and bus line increases. Despite setting ridership records, Amtrak is losing money and faces an uncertain future.
Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak have sought permission from federal regulators to conduct the first test of high-speed rail in Illinois. A 20-mile track between the cities of Dwight and Pontiac could be a proving ground for the 110 mph passenger train starting October 1.
They would be testing a new system of triggers for highway crossing gates — one that uses radio signals to raise gates 80 seconds before a crossing in order to give the faster trains more time to slow down or stop if necessary. The current system uses track circuits to communicate, and allows the normal 79-mph trains 30 to 35 seconds of clearance before a crossing. The Illinois Department of Transportation will conduct a survey to determine whether motorists will tolerate the longer wait times.
Funding for high-speed rail was narrowly approved in California earlier this month, as Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and others continued to build on growing excitement for high-speed rail in the heartland.
Sooner or later, aerodynamic trains will be zipping across the farm fields of the heartland and the Van Alen Institute wondered what cultural, environmental, and economic implications such a novel technology would bring. After revealing ten winners of its Life at the Speed of Rail ideas competition, it appears that high speed rail could one day mean larger-than-life mechanical farm animals roaming around the countryside. At least that’s the vision of Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer of Urbana, IL whose project, Animal Farmatures, reimagines farm implements as entertainment for passing riders.
Winners were announced today at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. and soon, the Van Alen will be taking Life at the Speed of Rail on the road (although unfortunately not yet by train). Stops include St. Louis’ Museum of Contemporary Art at 7:00p.m. on June 28, Houston’s James Baker III Institute at Rice University at 6:00p.m. on July 7, and Los Angeles’ Caltrans District 7 Headquarters at 4:00p.m. on July 12.
High Speed Rail Rescued. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $200 million for high speed rail projects in Michigan yesterday, as part of a $400 million package for high speed rail in the Midwest. The money came from funds rejected by Florida governor Rick Scott. Grist reports: “It looks like Scott’s tantrum will mean improved speed and performance in the Northeast Corridor, a high-speed line between Detroit and Chicago, better train cars throughout California and the Midwest, and forward movement on the planned L.A.-to-S.F. high-speed line. Thanks, sucker!”
Over the Hill. And speaking of rail, Grist brings us this infographic showing the dramatic decline of Amtrak‘s coverage since its heyday in the 60s. Maybe it’s time to bring Joe Biden in for a celebrity ad campaign.
Buffalo’s Berkeley Makeover. Can Buffalo, New York become the next hip college town? That’s what administrators at the University of Buffalo are betting on, staking $5 billion to expand the campus from the outskirts of the city to downtown. The city, which lost 1/10 of its population over the last decade, may not have Berkeley’s hippie past, but business leaders and local politicians envision bringing thousands of professors and staffers downtown, with “young researchers living in restored lofts, dining at street-side bistros and walking to work.”
Metrocards Out, Smart Cards In. The country’s oldest subway system foresees a future without the iconic Metrocard. The NY Daily News reports that the New York City MTA plans to replace Metrocards with smart cards in three to four years. Riders would tap the MTA Card, or a debit or credit card, to pay their fares.