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King Street Station to put rail money to work

The revival of the station continues with support from the feds.

The updated Jackson Plaza at King Street Station opened last year.

The updated Jackson Plaza at King Street Station opened last year. Allie Gerlach (Washington State Department of Transportation)/Flickr

It's about time. The $791 million in federal money that Washington state has received to improve the British Columbia-to-Oregon high-speed rail (HSR) corridor will finally get to work, as officials celebrate a “construction kickoff” at Seattle's King Street Station Thursday.

Congressman Jim McDermott, Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, federal railroad administrator Joe Szabo and Mayor Mike McGinn will headline the event. The occasion's unglamorous substance —the launch of a seismic retrofit for the 1906 station — is secondary: The news is that the corridor upgrades for better passenger service and higher speeds are finally getting underway.

The event will mark only one milestone in the station's slow re-emergence from its near oblivion of the late 1900s. One of two bustling Seattle terminals during the heyday of rail, the station saw its traffic drop to as few as three daily train departures in the early 1990s. With two nine-foot-wide microwave dishes affixed to its roof and a 1960s-vintage drop ceiling hiding its Beaux Arts main hall's ornate coffered ceiling, the structure meanwhile endured decades of architectural humiliation.

Restoration of the building began in 2003. Much architectural TLC has already been applied, and the rehabilitation is to be complete in 2013. The renovation has cost around $30 million to date, and will ultimately cost over $50 million, according to Trevina Wang, who manages the restoration project for the city, which owns the property.

Passenger train traffic has also rebounded steadily, with eight daily Amtrak departures plus 13 weekday Sounder commuter trains at present.

The HSR money will ultimately underwrite 20 major capital projects as well as the launch of two more King Street train departures to Portland. The projects include construction of new track over 13 miles in Cowlitz County and a bypass of the corridor route between Tacoma and Nisqually, in addition to the King Street work. Five projects will get underway this year.

C.B. Hall is a freelance writer and has been following Pacific Northwest transportation issues since the 1990s. He can be reached through editor@crosscut.com.


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