Board to consider Link Union Station project to expand capacity, improve rail service

pdf here

Metro purchased Union Station in 2011 and since has been implementing or studying a variety of improvements to increase the facility’s capacity in terms of both trains and people.

One of those projects is called Link US. The aim of the project is to make it possible for trains to enter and exit Union Station from both the south and north while also accommodating high-speed rail and building a new passenger concourse to handle growing crowds.

Since 1939 when LA Union Station was originally built and up until today, trains can only enter Union Station from the north. That’s not very efficient and makes for longer idling and traveling times.

The Metro Board on Thursday will consider identifying ‘Alternative 1 with Design Option B’ as the proposed project in the project’s upcoming Draft Environmental Impact Report. The project would provide up to 10 run-through tracks, an above-grade passenger concourse and an expanded passageway to make it easy for passengers to reach trains and other station features.  

Under the Proposed Project, regional rail tracks entering/exiting the station from the north could potentially be shared by Metrolink, Amtrak and high-speed rail. The 10 tracks entering/exiting from the south include up to six for Metrolink and Amtrak and up to four dedicated to high-speed rail.

The above-grade passenger concourse has been mildly controversial.

The quick background: the current pedestrian passageway under the tracks is 30-feet wide. At peak hours, that passageway can get pretty crowded — the reason that Metro wants to build a new concourse. The number of people filtering through Union Station is anticipated to almost double between now and 2040 as Metro Rail and Regional Rail service expands and high-speed rail possibly arrives.

Two concourse options are under study. One is street level (often referred to as the “At-Grade Option.”) The other “Above-Grade” Concourse option under study would be located above the train tracks. Long story short: The above-the-tracks concourse is anticipated to be less expensive to build (to the tune of about $500 million) and would likely have less of an environmental impact. 

The above-grade concourse also includes an expanded at-grade passageway that will be approximately 100’ wide, which will provide additional travel-path convenience for passengers. Metro staff will continue to refine this option to reduce walk times to trains. 

The possible solution: Metro has the time to keep refining the above-tracks concourse to find a way to reduce transfer times as much as possible.

This, too: the Link US project is only partially funded at this time with $950 million available from a variety of sources. That’s enough to make the necessary modifications to the current entrance and exit tracks, build a bridge over the 101 freeway for the southern rail entrance/exit and build two new tracks to the south. Metro estimates that it will need an additional $1.15 billion to $1.6 billion to complete the project and build the new concourse.

Link US, I think, is a smart project that will make Union Station a vastly superior regional transit hub. But it’s a big project with big costs.

The Metro Board will consider the proposed project definition at their Dec. 6 meeting. Your thoughts, readers?

19 replies

  1. Wait, please feel free to correct me here but is Metro simply going to ignore what the people actually want and build this thing?? It also seems to me that people don’t even care that there may not be enough funds for an at-grade option, (where money can actually be recovered long-term if land-use is used right) which I’m trying to figure out why, and would rather actually wait then build that horrible eyesore waiting to happen.

    Mildly-controversial?? Really?? Cause it sounds like more than just a few people are pissed off at the option Metro insists on going with.

  2. Metro, almost everybody on this forum if not every single person who has commented about the above-grade proposal has expressed disapproval of it in favor of the at-grade concourse option, and for good reason. Additionally, other major transit-oriented forums like Streetsblog, UrbanizeLA etc. have expressed the same overall sentiment. I think this is a good indicator of what the public at large would prefer and you are supposed to be doing what the public wants. That is your job. So do it please!

  3. Riders are looking for a functional and attractive station. That’s the at-grade option. It’s easier on the legs, you won’t get dizzy, and restaurants could have great outdoor dining overlooking the action. The other option is when someone tries to make the Apple headquarters into a train station. It’s not as good as the at-grade. Find a way to get us the at-grade.

  4. One more question: The LA Times reported on April 26, 2018, that the state had approved an additional $874 million for the run-through tracks project from the new gas taxes. Since those taxes were not repealed, shouldn’t those funds be included in the budget? LA Times: “Another $874 million will go toward the $2-billion project to provide run-through tracks at Union Station as well as other improvements.”

    • I get the assumption that those funds were already included and typical of Metro, if the gas tax ended up getting repealed they talk about how there wasn’t enough funding for this project.

  5. I agree with all the other commenters here. This is a once-in-many-generations opportunity for Union Station. The at-grade option creates not only a concourse, but a community space and link to neighboring communities in all directions. It was masterfully designed to make this isolated landmark a real connection point, even for those not riding transit. Eventually, as the LA River is restored and sees significant new development, this East-West connection will become even more vital. The above-grade option (later added) is clearly inferior in every way. Why not take the staff’s original recommendation and develop the land east of Union Station with high-rise buildings to pay for the increased cost? Has foot traffic been analyzed for the two options? I imagine the at-grade concourse would be expected to have FAR more local foot traffic than the above-grade option? Couldn’t this additional foot traffic translate into higher rents for the retail spaces, and therefore additional funding? Let’s get creative and find the funding necessary for the clearly superior option. Metro Board — please make the right choice and approve the brilliantly conceived, original, at-grade concourse we in the community will actually use and cherish for generations to come!

  6. LINK tracks…fine. Non-controversial. Let’s run the tracks through.

    The concourse however…”mildly controversial”? I haven’t seen any comment on any forum in support of putting this flying saucer above Historic Union Station.

    I get that money doesn’t grow on trees. But this plan will not only ruin the look of Union Station, but also make it much harder to get around. Build the concourse right…UNDER THE TRACKS!

  7. The points about the “above grade” option are all valid. This option would make commuters want to avoid Union whenever possible.

    If Metro is concerned about capacity at Union, why consider having the WSAB terminus there? Having the Artesia line come into the downtown core adjacent to 7th/Metro not only makes more sense, it saves capacity at Union.

    On the subject of costs, where does Metro think the $1 billion is coming from? Certainly not the Feds, the state might give a portion. The sales tax well has run dry in the county. Private investors, good luck!

  8. Please continue to reconsider the Above Grade option for the passenger concourse. It is really an awful idea that is antithetical to the entire attraction of boarding a train at a station as opposed to a plane at an airport. Just look at Penn Station or Washington Union Station (chronicled in the Washington Post recently), and their disasterous arrangements of vertical circulation that cram passengers above an escalator minutes before boarding. It’s awful and will not be forward-looking for Metro to make LAUS a similar experience.

  9. The at grade level is the best. My concern is that the historic Union Stations beautiful Art Deco design should be continued in the new at grade design. Otherwise, you’re going to break the harmony of the romantic early Los Angeles feel.

  10. Why are there few or no seats for visitors or people waiting in the station to meet arriving passengers? The only seats are those seat areas for ticketed passengers. I was waiting for a friend and there was no place to sit down and wait.

    • The reason there are fewer seats at Union Station was explained at a train club meeting by Mr. Ken Pratt, head of Union Station facilities and a former LA Sheriff. He said that by having fewer seats and restricting the used of the remaining seats to ticketed passengers, he hoped it would force the “homeless” out of Union Station. Apparently it worked! Many have moved across the road to Olvera Street. Why not meet in one of the restaurants at Union Station, although a friend was pickpocketed at a Union Station eatery recently. She lost her money, credit cards, checks, ID and her TAP card. METRO refused to let her ride home free under the circumstances, so the 60 year old was reduced to begging for the fare home. There’s a lesson in that, only a crime separates an upstanding citizen from being a “homeless.”

  11. The LINK plan is an eyesore, whose “parent building” is the laughing stock of Denmark. There the circular glass-way is called “The Danish Gerbil Tube”. It will be a further and bigger blot on LA Union Station’s beautiful campus than the dumpy “Bike Shed”. But wait there’s more, instead of just walking to the train at ground level like now, passengers will have to take elevators or flights of stairs and then back down again to get to the trains. WHY? Who knows why? Maybe so that underneath the Flying-Saucer-shaped LINK station Metro can lease retail space to line the pockets of the “Private” in Metro’s Private / Public Partnerships and potential political donors? But that’s not all, the project is sited on one of the biggest and worst toxic waste dumps in the state that causes, yep, the big “C”. You see, there was a gas refinery in the locale from the late-1800’s until at least the mid-1950’s. Don’t believe it? Go down to the Fourth Floor of the Metro building’s parking lot. Smell something? See something black and greasy oozing from the floor? I did. When Metro was asked what LINK is going to about THAT, Metro told me that THAT is still “under discussion”. Well, maybe THAT should be resolved before Metro goes digging in the Devil’s golf course!

    • Why not? The LAX International Building expansion with additional gates will force the passengers to go underneath the road way and climb stairs or escalators to reach their new gate assignments. How can anyone go to a train platform without climbing stairs? Only with one platform going one way will people avoid climbing stairs. With many rails, there will be many platforms on both sides. I’m not sure to laugh or cry. Maybe it’s time to shut the whole boondoggle down.

    • The crazy thing is the Link option actually has less space for retail than the at grade option – which will be the only money making mechanism for ever.

  12. Also, the the views of what – men’s central jail? Gimme a break. People would rather be looking at something architecturally significant a la grand central than see the view of DTLA, which they will get when they are on the train anyways…

  13. The above grade option is asinine and whatever dim wit thought it up should be fired. This is a supposed to be a mobility hub, not a funhouse at the carnival. If we want people to actually use HSR when it comes to LA then we will have to make the process of getting to those trains, with luggage, as easy as possible – not as difficult / time consuming as possible. Please metro, listen to the people and suggest the better at-grade option, otherwise, we will look back on this as yet another easily avoidable boondoggle.

  14. Once again, Metro is going with the cheaper option that in the long run will be looked at with dismay. You want to create yet another series of stairs/escalators/elevators for passengers to traverse just to get to their trains. Never mind that getting from the Red/Purple Line to other trains is now a hassle with the current configuration. I’m looking right now at what Metro did with the Green Line and how they didn’t think ahead and only built 2 car platforms for a portion of the Green Line. How’s that working out now with the Crenshaw Line integration? Think big. Find ways to get the funding and stop cutting corners! The At-Grade option is the best option because it creates better flow and is easier for persons with disabilities.

  15. An above-tracks concourse is a harebrained idea and would be a disaster in practice. It doesn’t matter if its half billion dollars cheaper if it would make navigating the station worse. Might as well keep it as is and spend 0 dollars.