New video: an above-the-tracks concourse at Union Station

As great as Union Station may be, the tracks that serve Metrolink and Amtrak dead-end in the station. That causes train congestion and slows up the time it takes for trains to exit and enter the station.

Metro has been studying a remedy for that problem: a project called Link Union Station that would build run-through tracks that would allow trains to enter Union Station from the north and new tracks from the south that would span the 101 freeway. The project would speed up train trips, increase the station’s capacity and add tracks for the state’s high-speed rail project.

Part of the project also involves building a new passenger concourse for Union Station — either at street level or above the tracks, as shown in this nifty new video that shows how the concept may look and work:

Again, I emphasize that this is a conceptual video. It’s an idea that Metro is exploring. Nothing yet has been designed or decided. The project team is currently working on a second part to the video that will show the at-grade passenger concourse option.

The Link Union Station project is currently in the environmental study phase and both the above-the-tracks and at gradepassenger concourse options will be analyzed. As is often the case in life, cost is a factor. Metro estimates the project with the concourse at street level would cost $2.2 to $2.6 billion whereas the project with above track concourse could cost $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion. That’s a consideration as Metro still needs to secure a funding source in order to build the project.

In an update on the project to the Metro Board this month, Metro staff offer this look at the two approaches for the passenger concourse. Note that ‘below-grade concourse’ should read ‘at grade concourse.’

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report (DEIS/R) is scheduled to be released in early 2018.


41 replies

  1. Guess I’m piling on at this point, but this thing is actually less user-friendly than ARTIC, and that’s saying something. What’s wrong with just widening the existing pedestrian tunnel? It’s perfectly functional, if occasionally congested. and doesn’t require the huge amount of extra walking that this thing does.

    LAUS could also use better direct connections between the gold line, red line, and buses, rather than forcing passengers to use the same spaces that people use to get to the trains. Amtrak should also drop its policy of forcing passengers to queue up until a few minutes before the train departs. All this does is create an obstacle to circulation and then dump a whole bunch of departing passengers into the tunnel at once. Even the proposed underground concourse talks about retail and “amenities” (whatever they are) in the concourse, which is unnecessary. There’s plenty of room for that in the station proper – the concourse should be reserved for passenger circulation.

  2. How does the above-grade option win out over the at-grade in terms of sustainability? The energy and resulting carbon emissions required to air condition an otherwise hot, glass box alone should preclude such a distinction. Seems like the consultants are tipping the scales to justify a predetermined, desired outcome — note that the final tally, conveniently, is 4 to 3, favoring the above-grade.

  3. Much as I would like to see the CA High Speed Train build into LA…we best leave rebuilding Union Station into a “Spaceport” until it is clear that the CA HSR will get past “Bakersburg” (railroad slang.) Remember, one motivation for pie-in-the-sky projects, like this, is they bring pie-in-the-sky paychecks. This new Union Station Spaceport could line the pockets of loopy architects, contractors, union bosses and Metro Brass for a career-spanning 50 years, because it may take 50 years for the CA HSR to get here! Oh well, what did one expect, now that the 710 Tunnel to Boondoggle has gone the way of the iron horse, maybe a train station to Boondoggle will be easier to flog to the taxpayers?

  4. I think le Corbusier is spinning in his grave. My first impression of this was villa savoye on steroids, then after I stared doing the loop, I got disoriented and threw up in my mouth a little. I had this nightmare of all the poor birds hitting that glass wall with no mullions. Besides, who wants to walk around in a glass hot box with no shading more than 50 in the air? Throw me some shade already, esp. in downtown LA! This being earthquake country, I wonder how they are going to stabilize this sky-high elevated platform, they are not showing any sort of X bracing, so that must mean a tremendous moment frame structure, just imagine the beam depths and the cost! Something tells me they are going to have one hell of a time supporting all that glass, much less keeping it clean, and panoramic views of what exactly? This building, if you even want to call it one, completely ignores the adjacent historical context and has no relationship to even the form or volumes of the adjacent architecture, what an eyesore. This is a real disappointment, and I like modernism, just not modernism that is blind to context.

  5. It’s a train station, not some park. 90% of riders only care about a flawless connection. All those steps make travel and daily commutes far worse. There’s already problems with escalators and elevators throughout the metro system. These would be added problems with long waits. No one cares about views. Make the Gold Line connection more seamless and leave Union Station alone. What’s with all these UGLY box designs? Any and all improvements should ONLY be geared towards making connections smooth and easy. No one cares about the views.

  6. Ugh. I see stairs, stairs, and more stairs. I don’t understand why the response to the tracks needing to be raised for the run-through is to build an even higher passenger concourse instead of utilizing the freed-up space below. It looks like moving between modes will be a pain, and the concept does not make LAUS out as a destination.

  7. By making the walk and connection times at Union Station longer, isn’t Metro adding more pressure to 7th/Metro and even Pico Station?

    For example, Let’s say I’m going from Highland Park — or anywhere northeast on the future Foothill-Long Beach line to points west on future SM-ELA line. Why go through the long transfer process at LAUS, when I can make a simple switch at Pico? Or, if I’m transferring to the Red/Purple points west, it will be a lot easier at 7th/Metro than LAUS.

    • Hi Steve;

      That’s a good question. Think of it this way: you can make the transfer at any of the five downtown stations. The transfer involves stepping off one train and waiting for the next that is going to the Westside. That is far easier and requires less time than walking to the subway at Union Station.

      I think the Connector’s impact on 7th/Metro will be interesting. On the one hand, there will be fewer people needing to transfer from the Expo/Blue Lines to the subway. On the other hand, it will continue to be a station where people transfer between the subway and light rail. I actually think if there are greater crowds at 7th/Metro it will be because of the Purple Line Extension — more people using that line to commute between DTLA and the Westside.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • I would think that the relative levels of congestion from transferring would depend on the ultimate destination of the passengers. Somebody coming from Foothill line stations above Chinatown will transfer at Union Station to the subway if heading to Pershing Square, will not transfer at all if their destination is near Civic Center or 7th/Flower, and will transfer at 7th/Flower if heading to Alvarado or any station further west on red or purple. For those heading to the Expo line, the transfers will likely take place at Pico. Union Station’s transfer between Foothill/Long Beach and the subway is too long that it will only be used when necessary.

        There will be no direct connection between Union Station and the Expo/East LA line. Those people will have to transfer at the shared Connector stations between Pico and Little Tokyo.

  8. This concept is totally ridiculous. There is going to be so much walking involved no one will be able to get to their train on time. It is especially bad for seniors and disabled people to have to walk forever, it seems. I think it is a terrible idea and you are making it look like more of an airport than a train station. If you expect people to walk so far, you may have to do like airports and put in moving sidewalks.

  9. I rather have the Union Station as a Historical Spanish type Station because it shows a lot of history in it. Even like the Santa Fe Station In San Diego is more of a Historical Spanish type Station. I like how Union Station is now. Don’t change it.

  10. It’s so obvious that the people who came up with this concept don’t ride transit themselves. They need to put themselves in a commuter’s shoes and ask themselves if they’d enjoy walking those horrendously long circular distances and making unnecessary level changes twice a day, five times a week. The distances traveled in this concept video show that the design is not pedestrian-oriented, since you’d need to walk at the speed of a car to tolerate using this station.

  11. Gotta agree with all the other folks here that a below-grade concourse would be preferable to this proposal. The above-grade option just seems like it will add much more time for connections and place a major barrier between the two sides of Union Station. I recognize a below-grade option would cost more and cause more transit delays during construction, but this project is too important not to get right the first time.

  12. Dumb. I know now that no one at Metro connects from the Red/Purple Line to Metrolink/Amtrak. That this saw the light of day is proof.

    • I totally agree with Eric on the run through tracks. They have been needed since the station was built in 1939. So why has
      the Run Thru project been in the studying stage for the last thirty years? That tells me no one sees an urgency. I should have
      said do the run thru project and keep the station pretty much as it is. I will never understand why it takes a life time to plan
      and build projects in Los Angeles. It took fifty years to build a Union Station, Fifty years to build a Subway and fifty years to build an Opera House.

      • I hear you loud and clear, Alan. It’s quite amazing to look back through various plans for our region and see how long some pretty basic stuff has been on the books.

        I think the challenge with the run-through tracks in recent decades has been this: Union Station was a pretty dead place from the ’60s through the ’80s. There was no Metrolink yet, no Red Line or Gold Line and only a few inter-city rail lines from Amtrak and its predecessor private railroads. That didn’t help create a sense of urgency for the project.

        That has changed in recent times as Union Station has sprung back to life. Amtrak ridership is healthy, LAUS is Metrolink’s busiest station (by far) and LAUS is the largest transit hub in our region. It helps, too, that the state’s bullet train project is seeking to connect to LAUS and that has forced planners to think about how best to do that.

        There are still big challenges ahead: the project is going to need about $2 billion in funding. Given its importance, I think it will be competitive for grants and I hope it gets done. Putting aside the issue of where the new concourse gets built, it’s a project that is very much needed and would greatly help our region for many decades to come, I think.

        Steve Hymon
        Editor, The Source

        • Steve I like your well thought comments. You made many good points. If they can not come up with the 2 billion I hope they can still find a way to do the Run Thru tracks project. The original plan called for three run thru tracks. The current plan calls
          for all the station tracks to run thru. If they don’t have enough funds for all the tracks go back to the three track plan

        • This appears to be another project being developed by those in the MTA building who have no idea how transit works. As a former RTD/MTA Supervisor I observed terminals like Pico and Rimpau go from an efficient operation to an extreme difficult and poorly designed operation. There is less space to store buses and a break down can tie up the entire operation. It’s not uncommon for Santa Monica Buses to layover on Pico Bl. outside the terminal during rush hour. Another boondoggle was the replacement terminal at Argyle and Selma. The old terminal accommodated all the bus lines, six, scheduled there with some lines having more than one bus scheduled. The new terminal has three bays to park buses and the 45 foot buses cannot utilize it because the turns are to sharp. This has resulted in three bus lines laying over on the street at different locations plus buses that are scheduled in the terminal laying over on Argyle outside the hotel.

          During construction we established temporary layovers and I had to move one at the request of the contractor. Someone from the MTA headquarters admonished me for moving it stating; ‘ they could have dug their hole in the street somewhere else if you didn’t move the layover.’

  13. Wow, that’s a hella of a lot of stairs. It’s pretty, but let’s be honest, people just want to get in and out of a train station—same with airports and bus stations.

  14. Sad. This whole project seems like the Architects just letting their imagination run wild. Far to many levels and stairs. Easy to
    get lost. Lacks the simplicity and beauty of the original station. Simplicity goes with efficiency. You want to move as many
    people as possible as rapidly as possible. This design does neither. Widen the existing passenger concourse and leave
    the station as it is. Does no one ever worry about cost of a project.

  15. The abundance of outdoor space seems nice from an architectural perspective and is VERY So Cal… but honestly completely impractical. I know it’s not very frequent, but it does rain in LA and it also does get very hot in the summer. Form and function are important, but I think function is perhaps more important in the design of the most important transportation hub in the Western US, whose layout we will be (hopefully) enjoying for the better part of a century.

    Not to rehash, but to emphasize: I think vertical circulation issues are also a major problem with the above grade design. Ease and efficiency of movement within the terminal is the single most important design criteria for a transit station. Not to mention the loss of retail space, which could help promote LAUS as a destination in its own right in DTLA.

  16. I don’t care whether it’s above ground, at grade, or underground, as long as they provide a direct connection between the gold line and the subway. That’s the biggest problem with the current setup.

  17. IMO:

    Big circles are the enemy of people walking places.

    Making people go up to go back down is a major design flaw, not a minor inconvenience.

    Separating east and west station harms viability of LAUS as a destination, and also further inhibits connections between the station and Chinatown as a neighborhood.

      • For the 90% of people who are commuting daily through Union Station, and not visitors, the views are irrelevant. Metro rejected deviating the subway to the Grove and Cedars Sinai, even though these stations would have been more used than the La Cienega and Fairfax stations, because of the delay caused to thru riders and ridership loss. How much ridership loss will happen because of the doubling or triping of travel time because of this change? For a disabled person or someone with luggage going from Amtrak/Metrolink to the subway, you will have to wait for four elevators compared to the current two. From a construction standpoint it may be easier to suspend a box or ring above the tracks, but it will sentence riders to an added two to five minutes of transfer time, each way, for decades to come.

    • I think major design flaw is the main takeaway I got from this. It looks good, but design is about way more than looks. Function is more important in my opinion, and this is less functional: it requires people to go up and down more stairs. Trains are tall and people are short, put the short things on the bottom and you have to go up and down fewer stairs.

  18. It should definitely be included in the analysis to find the period of time over which the increased maintenance and lower revenues from commercial leasing/development will outweigh the lower up front construction cost.

    $500 million sounds like a lot as a lump sum, but as our crumbling roads can attest, maintenance is a b—-, and it adds up quick. Also, with land values skyrocketing like they are in downtown, the loss of lease-able or develop-able space will surely be valued well into the millions (and would only increase over time).

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the break even point was less than 15 years.

    And all of this isn’t even considering the passenger convenience factor which ought to weigh very heavily as Metro is trying to turn around lagging ridership.

  19. I cannot stress how awful an idea this is. You are now going to ask commuters to to walk up and down an extra, massive couple of flights of stairs in order to reach their trains. This makes the circulation so much worst. With this you will cut off easy movement between the east and west stations. This grand aerial concourse idea just turns an annoying layout (as it is today) into and outright mess. I hope metro isn’t seriously thinking of doing this to us commuters who use union station regularly.

  20. I’m digging this for the most part. Looks like a Dwell magazine worthy building; Garcetti could be drooling over this one. The glass and the large floorplan make it look spacious. A suggestion, though – some people who go to the station may not like exposure to the elements while they’re towing luggage. I suppose that’s why airports are sealed from weather. Covered escalators will last longer, too. And It does look like a lot of walking, going from inside to outside to inside to outside.

    I’m looking forward to a video of the underground concourse for comparison.

  21. Looks like a Dubai shopping mall! The new concourse’s style should “blend” with Union Station’s historic “Hispanic Style”, otherwise, the Union Station we have all come to love and admire will become just as a boil on the new concourse’s bling.

    • It does look like Dubai’s airport. I changed planes while traveling to South Africa last year and it took 15 minutes to walk from one end of the airport to catch my next flight. (All that’s missing are the huge Rolex clocks every ten feet!)

      This design does not fit into the character of Union Station and it totally destroys its history. Have the designers ever been to or seen photos of Union Station? Does Metro and those in charge survey daily commuters for their opinions?

      Very disappointed flawed and misplaced design. Looks like an airport concourse.

  22. I’m not a fan. As a regular Metrolink/Metro commuter this will make my commute worse. And I’m able bodied. All those level changes will be even worse for anyone with mobility impairments, luggage, small children etc.

  23. From what I understand as proposed it seems the at street level would be less expensive than the new elevated structure. Both plans would require elevated tracks over the 101 dropping down to actual right of way levels. How can an elevated structure be less expensive than upgrading the current access to trains?

  24. Great to have you back, Steve! Not going to lie, the concourse in addition to the pedestrian bridge would make Union Station a lot more pleasant to navigate. I would even accept a small tax to fun it.

  25. Hi,

    I don’t know where else to leave my comments, so I’ll leave them here.

    The idea of an above grade concourse is terrible. I like how it currently is better. It’s just inconvenient to climb up and down all of those levels and for folks with mobility issues (stroller, wheelchair, etc) this would make their commute much longer than it needs to be. Also, there isn’t really much worth seeing from that part of town, except for the El Pueblo area. Of course any renovation must have an architectural connection to the historic station, as seen with the bus plaza & Metro HQ as seen from the outside.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the at-grade proposals but what I think Metro should do is, if anything, widen the existing below grade concourse and allow room for more retail and pax circulation. Having an express Red Line to Gold Line elevator would be a good idea too.

    • Thank you. This elevated concept would make for a VERY cumbersom experience for passengers, be they commuters or visitors to the city. The concept does not complement Union Station whatsoever. A more costly, underground solution is necessary. This is hideous!

    • 1. needs better relationship architecturally to current, historic union station.
      2. if really this big: definitely needs PEOPLE MOVERS. too far to walk, especially when carrying things.
      3. also PEOPLE MOVER to busway area….also too long of a walk.