Amtrak Station Stops
America’s early railroad pioneers recognized the powerful messaging conveyed by the architecture of the stations that served their lines. In their design and appearance, passenger rail stations could implicitly communicate to travelers that they were in a place that was significant and important. In other words, “They had arrived.”
As America’s power and prosperity spread westward in the 19th century, cities across America wanted their train stations to send silent but visually striking messages that their communities were not merely outposts, but rather places of significant culture and commerce that could — and would — compete in the new American economy.
Over the years, working together with the communities they serve, Amtrak has supported the preservation of these historically significant structures. This commitment to revitalization has brought jobs and new investment to scores of American cities, while also further demonstrating Amtrak’s commitment to sustainability through historic preservation.
Here are many of the architecturally significant stations that Amtrak serves, including many that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Acela Station Stop: Washington DC - Union Station
It is only fitting that the city known for its monuments and museums is home to a train station that exemplifies Beaux Arts architecture and the City Beautiful movement.
Designed by renowned architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham (who also designed Chicago and Pittsburgh’s Union Stations), Washington, DC - Union Station opened in 1907. Three massive arches form the centerpiece of the building’s neoclassical façade of white granite and are framed by a series of smaller arched portals that stretch almost 600 feet across. Inside, the expansive Main Hall’s coffered and gold-leafed barrel vaulted ceiling is nine stories high and leads to the equally elegant East and West Halls, as well as the concourse from which trains depart.
In 1986, a $160 million restoration of Union Station began with funding from Amtrak and numerous other public and private partners. Today, an estimated 90,000 visitors pass through Union Station's doors every day. With connections to Washington, DC’s Metro system, as well as regional rail lines serving Maryland and Virginia, Union Station is a vital travel hub for scores of commuters as well as Amtrak passengers.
Given its architectural significance as well as its role in Washington, DC's development and key events in America’s history, Union Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
Cardinal Station Stop: Cincinnati - Union Terminal
Considered by many to rival the Chrysler Building as the embodiment of art deco design, Cincinnati - Union Terminal opened in 1933. The station’s 10-story domed main hall features soaring walls of windows that flood the rotunda with natural light. On the walls beneath the dome, two 22-foot high color mosaic murals depict the history of Cincinnati by German artist Winold Reiss. He also did murals for the baggage lobby and train concourse.
The exterior of the station reveals that the main entrance is flanked on either side by curving wings and an illuminated cascading fountain and pool. Once in danger of demolition, the Cincinnati community rallied to save the structure which today serves Amtrak’s Cardinal and is also part of a thriving museum complex.
Given its outstanding architectural design and its role in shaping railroad transportation in middle America, Union Terminal was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
Amtrak Cascades Station Stop: Seattle - King Street Station
Built in 1906, King Street Station is known for its iconic clock tower, which at the time of the station’s construction, was the tallest structure in Seattle. Modeled after the bell tower on the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy, the tower and the station’s terra cotta roof tiles pay homage to their Italian inspiration.
At the base of the clock tower, visitors enter the building’s Compass Room, where a star compass composed of inlaid marble tiles defines the space. Unlike some of the soaring spaces found in stations on the East Coast, King Street Station has an intimate feel. Ornate white plaster ceilings and tall wooden-framed windows magnify natural light that enters the main waiting room from the outside, especially important given the Pacific Northwest’s propensity for dreary days. Simple brass chandeliers and wall sconces add additional illumination.
In recent years, the station has undergone significant renovations, both to restore its original charm but also to undertake important seismic retrofitting given the region’s high risk for earthquakes.
With its key location in Pioneer Square, recognized as the birthplace of Seattle, as well as its design details and role in the Northwest’s transportation history, King Street Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Coast Starlight Station Stop: Los Angeles - Union Station
Considered by many to be the last great railroad station built in the U.S., Los Angeles - Union Station opened in 1939. Its design features aspects of the Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival and Art Deco styles that reflect the region’s heritage as well as the period in which it was constructed.
Arched windows, a whitewashed stucco exterior, a coffered wooden ceiling and colorful tile details pay homage to the Spanish missionaries who settled the area. The 60-foot clock tower, patterned floor, leather settees, and open air patios and fountains reflect the grandeur of 1930s Hollywood and the Art Deco influences of the period.
Given its historic design details as well as its role as the last of America’s iconic railroad stations, Los Angeles - Union Station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Downeaster Station Stop: Boston - South Station
South Station is a five-story neo-classical revival masterpiece that literally rounds the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Summer Street. The windowed façade features three colonnades that give way to the building’s curved wings, with the center point marked by a large roman clock topped by a stately eagle. Three arched entries with brass doors and awninged windows dot the street level.
Completed in 1899, South Station was the busiest terminal in the country during its heyday, serving nearly 40 million passengers a year. They waited in comfort in the station’s grand waiting room, which was illuminated by 1,200 electric lights and featured ornate plasterwork and richly detailed coffered ceilings.
After years of neglect, the Atlantic Avenue wing was demolished. But the destruction ended there when concerned citizens got the station listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Hiawatha Station Stop: Chicago - Union Station
Following his stunning design of Washington, DC - Union Station, Daniel Burnham set out to create a structure of equal significance for his hometown. Although he would not live to see it constructed, Burnham’s plans for Chicago - Union Station echo many of the same neoclassical elements he employed in DC’s signature station.
Chicago - Union Station opened in 1925 and occupies an entire city block. It’s simple yet imposing façade of Tuscan columns rises eight stories above street level. Inside, coffered ceilings adorn the alcoves that lead to the station’s 20,000 square foot Grand Hall. Framed by massive Corinthian columns of Indiana limestone, the hall features a grand staircase and a barrel-vaulted ceiling that reaches 115 feet above the pink Tennessee marble floor. A 219-foot long skylight floods the massive space with diffused light. Given its size, the skylight was blacked-out during World War II to make the station less of a target for enemy aircraft.
Throughout the 20th century, Chicago’s Union Station served as the hub of the nation’s rail traffic, with an estimated 100,000 passengers a day passing through its hall and concourses during its heyday. Today, following numerous restoration efforts (including the removal of the skylight’s blackout paint in 1991), Union Station serves upwards of 56 Amtrak trains daily, with more than three million Amtrak customers using the station annually. In addition, nearly 130,000 passengers on Chicago’s Metra commuter transit system come through the station on an average weekday.
Maple Leaf Station Stop: Utica - Union Station
Designed by architects Allen H. Stem and Alfred Fellheimer of New York City, who also worked on New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, Utica - Union Station opened in 1914. The classically-inspired, Beaux Arts structure’s main hall features a central barrel-vaulted ceiling that is framed on each side by two-story columns faced with Botticino marble. Clerestory windows flood the space with natural light.
The large waiting areas on each side of the central hall are models of symmetry, where long wooden benches align perfectly with the interior columns. The coffered ceilings feature massive skylights while a pattern of large arched windows and doors line the exterior walls.
Given its significance as an architectural gem and as an integral part of the city’s history, the Utica station was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 28, 1975. A multi-million dollar phased effort to preserve and restore the station was launched shortly thereafter.
Pacific Surfliner Station Stop: San Diego - Santa Fe Depot
San Diego - Santa Fe Depot was built in 1915 to welcome visitors to the Panama-California Exposition, an event designed to mark the opening of the Panama Canal — and San Diego’s place as the first U.S. port of call for ships traveling north.
Designed by the San Francisco firm of Bakewell and Brown in a take on traditional Spanish Baroque style that eventually became known as Spanish Colonial Revival, the station features a traditional, red-tiled roof, numerous grand arches and a white stucco exterior. It’s two campaniles (towers) feature tile-covered domes that mirror the look of many of the buildings constructed at Balboa Park for the Exposition.
Between the towers, an enormous arch stretches out over five smaller arched doorways that lead to the station’s main hall. Exposed redwood beams and walls featuring more beautiful, glazed tiles in a palette of golds, blues and greens pay homage to California’s cultural and natural history.
Given its unique architectural style and role in shaping San Diego’s history, Santa Fe Depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Pennsylvania Station Stop: Philadelphia - William H. Gray III 30th Street Station
When it opened in 1933, Philadelphia - 30th Street Station combined neoclassical style with the era’s hottest trend, art deco design. Thanks to a three-year, $75 million renovation effort begun in 1988 by Amtrak, the station has been beautifully restored to its original grandeur.
The expansive main hall is 95 feet high with a flat coffered ceiling. Long, linear windows that stretch five stories high frame the space and reflect art deco’s focus on clean lines and geometric shapes, a motif that is repeated in the hall’s 10 elegant chandeliers. In a nod to more classical design, however, each end of the hall is framed by massive, gilded columns and an elegant frieze.
Several notable works of art are on display in the station, including Karl Bitter’s 1895 bas-relief “The Spirit of Transportation,” which depicts the progress of transportation from horse-drawn carriages to airships. Walker Hancock’s Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial honors 1,307 Pennsylvania Railroad employees who lost their lives during World War II.
Philadelphia - 30th Street Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Southwest Chief Station Stop: Kansas City - Union Station
When it opened in 1914, Kansas City - Union Station was the third-largest train station in the country, offering 850,000 square feet over 10 floors. The Beaux-Arts style building’s façade features three large arched windows, Doric columns and elegant metal canopies that cover the street-level doors.
Visitors move from street level to the magnificent Grand Hall, with its 95-foot coffered ceiling of intricate plasterwork and an elegant gold and blue paint scheme. Massive chandeliers, each of which weigh 1.5 tons, illuminate the space, while generations of Kansans have used the six-foot-diameter clock that hangs from the entrance to the North Hall as a meeting place. Nearly equal to the Grand Hall in its splendor, the North Hall has a 65-foot ceiling, arched windows and marble floors.
During its heyday, as many as 300 trains passed through Union Station. After staving off demolition, significant renovations began in 1997 that took care to preserve or match many of the building’s original details. Union Station now serves as a multi-modal transportation center that is also home to the Kansas City Science City Museum, a planetarium, a railroad exhibit, shops, restaurants and theaters.
Given its place as a hub for rail travel as well as its outstanding design, Union Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.