'Departing King Street' (photo by Slack Action)

Thanks to federal rail grants, more money will be coming our way to complete the restoration of King Street Station.  Yesterday, WSDOT and the FRA (Federal Rail Administration) signed agreements to secure nearly $17 million from high-speed rail funds, adding to Washington’s impressive pool of federal money.  According to WSDOT, a significant chunk of the money will go to cosmetic rehabilitation as well as utility upgrades:

The investment will strengthen King Street Station and its clock tower to better withstand earthquakes, as well as restore the historical features of the station’s main hall and upgrade electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems to modern standards. To restore the main hall to its original grandeur, the building’s white marble walls, decorative lighting and other features removed during “modernization” of the station more than 50 years ago will be rehabilitated or replaced, where possible. Also, improvements to both the Jackson Street and King Street entrances will significantly improve the public’s access to the station.

The news is welcome for anyone who supports passenger rail, the stations of which used to be the architectural gems for many American cities.  Aside from the solely aesthetic considerations though, I think the next step to truly bringing the Station back up to its former grandeur will be to work on integrating the scattered components of the King Street Hub together, admittedly a much more difficult feat.

55 Replies to “More Money for King Street Station”

  1. What has “high-speed rail funds” got to do with “restor[ing] the main hall to its original grandeur?”

    1. Even as a six-year-old kid, I knew my American Flyer train layout needed a station. And that baby was so high speed, it flew off the track going around the curves.

      1. King Street Station is the hub of a growing network of transportation options in the Pacific Northwest, the waiting room should be something to be proud of. Also, at least we still have our historic station up and running. When services got downgraded in other cities, their stations became liabilities. Atlanta, St. Louis, and the Twin Cities are good examples. Although the new Gateway Station in St. Louis makes up for the loss of St. Louis Union Station as the hub, and in the Twin Cities, Amtrak will be moving into SPUD(St. Paul Union Depot) next year. Good to see the renovation continuing at King Street Station. The false ceiling in the waiting room is gone. Up in Vancouver, I noticed Pacific Central Station is also undergoing a renovation.

      1. Yeah and the poop brown/mold green color for the Cascades doesn’t do it justice. It’s the 21st century!

      2. From the WSDOT website:
        “The European-style trains are sleek, modern, and feature distinctive evergreen and cappuccino hues on a cream background.

    2. Well, you don’t want people to get off the high-speed train at a station which is a dump, or overcrowded — or worse, which is prone to falling down in earthquakes. It appears that much of the current $17 million is earthquake-proofing, and much of the rest is a matter of bringing the station up to code.

  2. Wonder why the smaller gummint folks get so pissed off? High speed rail funds used to restore an old building? I am not a small government person and this pisses ME off. If we are going to subsidize even more transportation systems, then let’s use the funds for what they are for.

    Return the money or use it for track improvements, one of the requirements for HSR.

    1. Spend a bit of money here to (re)create a safe comfortable station, OR spend a ton of money for a new station somwewhere? I’ll take King Street, thanks.

      1. I agree, the one we got is much better, and thankfully Amtrak made the right call in 1971. Between King Street Station and Union Station, the former was in the better shape to be part of a national system, with run-through capability.

        I would like to see the station be an even better hub, such as getting Greyhound to relocate there. Plus, if we had built a new station to appease the people that think rehabing King Street Station is not a good use of tax dollars, where are we going to put it? Right where the existing one is? I would take rebuilding the existing one then. We could probably imoprove the access to LINK, maybe rebuild the streetcar to the watefront(as it connected with WSF at Colman Dock and the Victoria Clipper at Pier 69).

      2. What EvergreenRailfan said, it’d be awesome to get Greyhound moved into King Street Station. Vancouver and Portland both have Greyhound in the same building (yvr) or right next to each other (pdx) and it makes it awesome.

      3. They’ve offered this repeatedly to Greyhound and it has refused, saying it prefers its current location. That’s obviously difficult on bus riders who transfer to trains. I’ve had to explain to visitors how to get to King Street Station or the Greyhound station, and it’s difficult because the buses are split on different streets (Stewart, Olive-Howell, Olive, Pine, Pike) and some of the stops are not within sight of the station.

    2. Let me clarify my own point. I have no objection to refurbishing King St Station. I don’t even care if the Feds pay for it. But let’s use a grant specifically for that purpose. High speed rail money should be used for high speed rail, or we will never get high speed rail.

      1. A lot of the federal HSR money is already going to upgrade the Seattle-Portland tracks.

        Washington State has been lucky, because certain states (Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin) threw away the high speed rail money offered to them, leaving the Feds with extra which they had to allocate quickly, while Washington State was one of the few remaining states which still had a *list* of unfunded rail projects which were shovel-ready.

        Thus, some of the less crucial projects which are more ancillary to HSR get funded in Washington. Consider yourself to be benefiting from the stupidity of the Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin governors and legislatures; it is unlikely that this money would have gone for station renovation if any of those states had behaved sensibly. Thanks to the return of money by those states, Washington has had practically everything for passenger rail in its 10-year plan funded, and is now hurrying to do environmental assessments to make the contents of its *20*-year plan shovel-ready.

      2. It is not just the trains and track that make up high speed rail, it is also the stations. The passengers have to have somewhere to get on and off. In the case of King Street Station, it is a hub, between two routes of Amtrak Cascades, and the Empire Builder, and Coast Starlight. We are lucky to have such a station to use as the hub. Other improvements that are building Higher Speed Rail on the Cascade Corridor are being done as well. When it comes to stations, try to fix up the old one where available, rather than build new.


      3. Stations ARE important. Heck, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport could just have the current runways and shove loading/unloading ramps/stairs to the aircraft. And a shack for the waiting area/customs, that would suffice.

    3. Really?

      High speed rail doesn’t include stations? I’d think it would include right-of-way, track, utility infrastructure, signals, stations, locomotives and passenger cars.

      Having fast modes of travel need the on and off points to function as well as the vehicles themselves.

      This will continue to support the steady progress this state is making in creating a functioning, cost effective, and increasingly popular rail based travel system between Vancouver and Portland.

      Amtrak’s share of air/rail travel in the eastern corridors is almost 75% of market between some of the larger markets – they spend money on stations too.

  3. As you allude to in your last point, a better connection to light rail would be very desirable. I wonder what the cost would be to add a pedestrian tunnel between Link and King Street Station? Would sure simplify the connections.

    1. Tunnels underneath tunnels can be…. tricky. I think the levels are troublesome. It would still be worth working out, but it might be easier to roof over the existing pedestrian route between King Street and Union.

      1. If one uses the Weller Street pedestrian bridge, I wonder if the distance between Link and King Street Station is closer than Link and the Seatac Terminal?

      2. I make ID to King Street transfers all the time for bus or Link to Sounder, and find it rather easy to take advantage of the plaza above ID, and going down the ramp to the Weller Street Bridge for elevator access to Sounder

        That sounds like an interesting idea to simply use that as the connection (and I was one of those wanting direct tunnel access at first). Maybe a canopy to sort of protect from the rain? I’d like that :)

      3. It’s certainly a shorter distance but the connection isn’t intuitive. There are only two paths to take, both of which require crossing busy 4th Ave. And signage/wayfinding is horrible. You’d get easily lost as a tourist.

      4. But if you’re going to Sounder, you would have to walk a lot less than going to the station for an Amtrak train. For the latter, I think it’s closer to go up to Jackson Street.

        And for the airport, the walk from Link to ticketing is going to be a lot shorter than from ticketing to the airplane.

      5. “But if you’re going to Sounder, you would have to walk a lot less than going to the station for an Amtrak train.”

        This is where the “longer distance, less often” comes into play. People may ride Sounder every weekday, but Amtrak once a month or year.

      6. And as part of that project please point out when the name change from Bus Tunnel to Transit Tunnel became PC.

      7. I got it while at a meeting at the ST office. I dont know the origin, source, or year beyond that. It’s probably not possible today due to the buildings above it and the underground parking garage in the way unless it was just a tunnel, not a plaza, albeit a very creepy tunnel, probably similar to the tunnels at LAX that connect different terminals that have been closed since 9/11.

      8. Wow, that’s a terrific illustration. As runnerodb83 says, this was all conceptualized before Union Station was redeveloped and bought by Sound Transit. One can dream, though…

      9. Look closely at the illustration. Maybe you can see “Terry’s Place”. Serving only the finest in fresh picked beverages.

    2. First priority is to bring King Street Station back to its former level of beauty and functionality.

      Once the restoration projects are complete, the task for the next generation is to expand the station to intregrate Sounder and Link, and perhaps long-distance buses.

      The gap between the current station and 4th Av can be covered with glass canopy, with the Weller Street overpass incorporated inside the station. Then Sounder and Amtrak platforms, in both directions, can be accessed from within the station. Daily Sounder traffic would allow businesses to function inside the station (probably on the upper level), such as coffee, newsstand, restaurants.

      I believe that a pedestrian tunnel can be created along the Weller Street ROW to connect KSS to Link. Headroom will be minimal, but a tunnel could pass under 4th Av and through the underground parking between 4th Av and Link. An elevated walkway could pass over the Link tracks, yet under the surface level plaza, for access to the northbound platforms.

      1. I really like the fact that King Street Station is being restored and that Union Station is well preserved. My concern is that there is a plan to make it as busy in 2020 as it was in 1920. Amtrak isn’t going to do that. Bus/ferry/Sounder connections won’t do it. Greyhound would help. But there has to be some other major draw or usage planned for this grand place. It’s sort of like the waterfront. We’ll tear down the Viaduct and have a great big awesome ?????

      2. The trick is passing under 4th and over the railroad tracks.

        If that’s not viable (and it may not be, without raising 4th), then it would make more sense to build an elevated walkway one story above 4th. Barring that, just make a really nice covered pedestrian crossing of 4th.

        Wayfinding is crucial, and clearly missing….

  4. This has to be one of my all time favorite uses of my tax dollars. Looking forward to the fully renovated station.

  5. It’d be nice if they’d remove the parking platform at the entrance — it looks uninviting when there are cards parked there. Even if it’s police parked, they should find somewhere else to go.

  6. Sherwin, is this $16m in addition to the $50m they’ve already received? Does this mean the project has $67m total for the project? According to the city of Seattle website:

    Restoration of King Street Station is funded by contributions from city, state, and federal governments as well as nonprofit organizations. The voter-approved Bridging the Gap levy provides $10 million to the project. Funds from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the Washington State Historical Society, the South Downtown Foundation, and 4Culture contribute $40 million to the project. This support makes is leveraged by the Bridging the Gap fund and supports all aspects of the project noted above. Restoration work by the Seattle Department of Transportation began in summer 2008. WSDOT and Amtrak previously purchased new exterior awnings, restored the entryway foyer and waiting area restrooms at a cost of $4 million.

    1. This is additional. The overall King Street Station project has been segmented into many stages, with each stage getting done as funding is lined up for it.

      I don’t think the total is fully accurate; with different pieces funded by different sources, it tends not to get added up as a single total; you’ll note that the City notes that $4 million was put in earlier by WSDOT and Amtrak, before the “$50 million”.

      There are yet further stages planned after the current one, but I believe they relate to rehabilitating and using the “back office space”. (The electrical, mechanical and plumbing work is a start on that.) The current funding should put all the “passenger facing” rooms into their final planned form.

    2. Checked out the City website again. They’re heating/cooling it with geothermal! Nice.

      The reason a lot of the grand old stations closed in the 1950s was heating costs. That won’t be a problem again!

      1. Especially such a grand hub as the old St. Louis Union Station(still around, no longer a train station, though). Mo-Pac was considering a replacement, for those reasons, but events of the late sixties changed things.

  7. Aesthetics are hard to quantify and impossible to digitize, but I don’t think it was a fit of soft-headed generosity that made 19th-century railroad owners put so much excessive grandeur into their terminals.

    It bespeaks a level of greed and mendacity beyond anybody in that generation of railroad barons how much more money the modern public-relations industry charges its clients for the same job, for infinitely less impressive results.

    Hard to imagine 22nd century restoration money going to revive today’s corporate brandings and media campaigns.

    It’s an honest argument that if you’ve got millions to spend for a train station, it’s an equal tribute to build a new structure with modern materials whose quality and function exceed the beauty of buildings past.

    However, modern students might notice how amenable many old buildings are to future service.

    Comment on current Cascades livery is visually accurate, except that color is technically not mold but accumulated moss. Train crews have told me latest train-wash soap isn’t strong enough- don’t know for sure.

    I think the brown is supposed to be cedar-bark. I always thought that given a metallic cast, cedar, green, and dark blue would also be a good livery for the KC Metro fleet. Current shade of yellow probably isn’t even used on bulldozers anymore, and particular shade of dark blue is more depressing than mold.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Actually Mark, James J. Hill resisted building a grand depot in Seattle for years despite the city’s pleas claiming that there was no need. He said that tending to the freight business was more important. Seattle’s depot then was a little wooden shack and Hill sure wasn’t going to replace it with another shack!

      1. However, according to HistoryLink, James J. Hill finally commissioned the present King Street Station in 1901. Wikipedia documents the interior’s architectural downgrading, but neither article explains why these things happened.

        Undoubtedly, changes reflected changing business assessments by the railroad’s owners over the decades. By the 1960’s, I think the US business world had decided that except for cars and planes, passenger travel was dead.

        It’s probably always hard to put a dollar value on architectural beauty, and harder yet to define it. What our generation now considers architectural treasures, many of these structures’ younger artistic contemporaries denounced as demonstrating the tastelessness of wealth and power.

        I remember reading essays ridiculing details of Detroit buildings I loved as being foolish multi-ton imitations of Greek temples hundreds of feet up Gothic buildings.

        At this time of life, I’ll go with architectural writer Louis Sullivan’s belief that form should follow function- which does not mean slavishly. To me, from the original drawing board through a lifetime of alterations, every change should improve the function of the building in a way that also renders it aesthetically more comfortable to live in- and with.

        Mark Dublin

      2. “By the 1960′s, I think the US business world had decided that except for cars and planes, passenger travel was dead. ”

        Heck, so had the US political world.

        *Awfully* short-sighted of them. The first oil spike woke people up. Unfortunately, it didn’t wake *enough* people up.

    2. is it really dark blue? I know “officially” it is something like indigo or similar. To me it has always looked quite purple. Maybe I need my eyes checked.

      1. My problem with it is that whether it’s blue or purple, it’s a shade that seems lifeless by itself, and doesn’t look good at all against the yellow lower panels, whose shade used to be seen a lot on machinery.

        I always wondered about Metro’s choice of colors. When I started driving in 1982, main color was white. People complained that buses looked like refrigerators, and that against a frequently overcast sky, vehicles were invisible.

        The MAN buses of the early 80’s were given reflectorized decal stripes I kind of liked, because they resembled Grant’s Scottish Ale, my favorite beer in those days.

        The original Breda tunnel fleet had an off-white or light tan paint on the upper panels, with the lower panels light gray.

        With the merger, I think, present color scheme came in: machine-paint yellow lower panels, and upper panels either teal blue, green, or the blue I don’t like.

        A contemporary fellow-driver of mine one said: these colors don’t really stand for anything significant about our system.

        It’s strange that the system has had so much trouble coming up with a color that above all is easily seen at all distances and in every light. The light blue-green and bright red of the old Seattle Transit fleet, both with cream trim, probably showed up better.

        I’ve read somewhere that ideal colors for visibility are a combination of bright blue and bright yellow. Recalling how attractively the ale-colored decals on the MAN’s caught sunlight and streetlight, I’ve wondered if we could respectfully create a scheme to make vehicles resemble the totem animals of the coast peoples.

        Bottom line, though: if it’s brown, it needs to show like cedar, not mud, and if it’s green, it’s got to be mindful of evergreens, not mold. Maybe STB could sponsor a competition.

        Mark Dublin

      2. All (KingCounty Flag) Green would be bold and save a ton on painting.

        Kind of like how all London buses are (or were) Red

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