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Study: Amtrak Station, New Plaza Could be Added to Convention Center

Brent Warren Brent Warren Study: Amtrak Station, New Plaza Could be Added to Convention CenterA rendering of the proposed train station. All images by LMN Architects.
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Plans have been drawn up to build a train station on High Street, something that hasn’t existed in Columbus since the 1970s. Whether or not the station is actually built will depend on the fate of the latest plan to connect Ohio’s three largest cities with passenger rail.

In response to some promising news on that front, last summer the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority (FCCFA) commissioned a study to look at the feasibility of building an Amtrak station near the convention center.

The results of that study were presented to the authority’s development committee on January 4.

“This is a high-level feasibility study, aimed at understanding the big picture issues surrounding bringing a new station to Columbus,” said Stephen Van Dyck, a partner at LMN Architects, during a presentation to the committee. “I’m pleased to say, to give you a spoiler, we do think this is a feasible project, and it’s very exciting.”

The plan presented by Van Dyck and his colleagues proposes a two-level station accessible and visible from High Street. A portion of the existing car and bus turn-around area located just south of the under-construction Hilton Hotel expansion – which is currently open to the tracks below – would be filled in to create a new plaza, with the main entrance to the new station located roughly where a Starbucks coffee shop is today.

The proposed station would take over the Starbucks space (the coffee shop would be relocated), but also extend out from the current building envelope to allow enough space for a waiting area, ticket counters, and the other elements required by Amtrak station guidelines.

The station would connect – via stairs, escalator or elevator – to a new spur line and boarding platform below. On the eastern end of the platform, passengers would also have direct access to the convention center’s new, recently-completed parking garage.

The cost of building the new station would range from $20 to $23 million, according to an initial estimate. Don Brown, Executive Director of the Convention Facilities Authority, said that most or all of that cost would be covered by Amtrak, using funds from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed by Congress and signed into law last November.

He said that Amtrak officials, during a visit last fall, told him that “Amtrak would pay for the first five years of operating costs, for the proposed new stations, and for grade and rail line improvements along the proposed 3C + D Corridor.” (that’s the new name for the line, which refers to the main stops – Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton)

“Dollar amounts or percentages have not yet been approved, so supplemental support from other federal or local sources may also be needed; we currently assume that the FCCFA would lease the passenger station property to Amtrak, and that Amtrak would operate the station,” Brown added. “Amtrak officials also expect that the state of Ohio will assume financial responsibility for grade and rail line maintenance and improvements after the first five years, just as the state now has responsibility for highway and bridge maintenance and improvements.”

Thea Ewing, the chief regional development officer and senior director of programming for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, told Columbus Underground that the proposed location for the new station is very promising, particularly since earlier plans had called for placing it farther away from High Street, and therefore further removed from the central transit and pedestrian spine of the city.

“We love it, the idea that people will be able to access that from High Street; this system coming together with our existing services that COTA provides is a big deal,” she said. “If we can get LinkUs off the ground, in coordination with this rail service, we’re going from zero to 60 in a very short period of time…I feel like it is a bright, sunny future for Central Ohio.”

Read More: Here’s the Latest on Amtrak’s Plans for New Ohio Service

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