The $95 million restoration of Springfield’s Union Station is nearly complete. Now that the opening date June 26th has been announced, the rush is on to get the transportation center ready for the traveling public.
The rail station that first opened to the public in 1926 has been meticulously restored and filled with refurbished artifacts and murals depicting historic scenes that recall the heyday of Twentieth Century train travel. But in the modern incarnation of Union Station, trains, at least initially, are a small part of the transportation equation.
As part of the huge years-long project, workers demolished a large building that was used for baggage handling and storage and constructed in its place a 26-bay bus terminal. But no intercity bus company has contracted to use the new terminal.
Armando Feliciano, chairman of the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, which owns Union Station, said an agreement is close to being finalized with Peter Pan Bus Lines to relocate from its bus terminal on Main Street to the new intermodal transit center across the street.
" We are very close," said Feliciano earlier this week when asked about the status of negotiations with the Springfield-based bus company. " They ( Peter Pan) know this project is pivotal to everybody including them."
Union Station will also have intracity bus service. The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority plans to reroute its buses that now use the Peter Pan facility. New schedules for the bus routes that are to include stops at Union Station have not yet been published.
Currently Amtrak has six trains a day that stop in Springfield. These include the Vermonter and four shuttles between Hartford. But that will change when the new Hartford Line becomes operational with new train service operated by MetroNorth Railroad.
" The viability of north-south rail is just in front of us," said U.S. Rep. Richard Neal ( D-MA). " The rail has all been improved on the Connecticut side of the border, so in early 2018 you are talking about 8 more trains a day here in Springfield."
Neal, who secured the majority of the funding that paid for the Union Station restoration and renovation through earmarks in the federal budget, said he continues to lobby for commuter rail service between Springfield and Boston.
Construction work continues on the tunnel passengers will use to go from the waiting area in the station to the elevator, or stairs, to reach the new boarding platform along the elevated train tracks. The platform itself is being modified to make it comply with requirements for handicap accessibility.
Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy said he expects that as the opening of the new facility approaches interest will increase in renting available space.
"There is 62,000-square feet of commercial space that we are getting very very close to making an announcement on one tenant and probably two. We have already contracted with three of the four available retail spaces in the building." said Kennedy.
Renting the commercial space is considered key to ensuring Union Station can operate without need of financial subsidies from either the city of Springfield or the redevelopment authority. But it is not a make-or-break proposition, according to SRA director Christopher Moskal.
"We are fortunate the city was able to negotiate in the host community agreement with MGM dollars that go toward this project. It will be $500,000 a year for 15 years," explained Moskal.
Union Station also includes a 377-space parking garage.
Current estimates are that 4 million passengers a year will use the new station.