In what may end up as a messy legal battle, Amtrak has moved to take control of DC's historic Union Station by eminent domain, saying it needs to do so in order to make urgent repairs and long-term improvements to the nation's second-busiest rail station.
In a complicated arrangement that dates to the collapse and restoration of the station's roof in 1981, the station is owned by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and managed by a non-profit Union Station Restoration Corporation, which in turn leased operating rights to a company called Union Station Investco. Amtrak proposed to take over those rights for $250 million and had paid the money into a court escrow fund.
Amtrak says it wants control because its experience as owners of stations in New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia make it the best bet for getting the necessary work done, and says that Investco has consistently blocked its requests to do the work and to free up space for Amtrak; Investco makes its money primarily from operating large parts of the station as an upscale mall.
The work involved includes repairs to a crumbling tunnel that allows trains to pass through the station and on to destinations both north and south. Amtrak already owns the platforms and tracks through the station, but wants to expand and reconfigure concourses and passenger flow through the station to reduce crowding and roadblocks.
Over 100,000 passengers a day use the station, which also serves Maryland and Virginia commuter rail lines, DC Metro and a major bus terminal. Opened in 1907 and a historic landmark since 1964, it was designed by Daniel Burnham, one of the nation's leading architects.