Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So long, S.L.U.T.


When it opened in 1894, St. Louis Union Station was the largest and busiest railroad depot in the world, with a trainshed spanning 11 1/2 acres. But, when Amtrak was formed in 1971 the number of trains serving the giant terminal had fallen to four arrivals and four departures each day. Not needing such a large facility, Amtrak moved out in 1978, leaving the landmarked station to be transformed into a mixed-use complex of hotels, offices, restaurants and stores.

In its place, Amtrak moved into a cluster of trailers that was supposed to be a "temporary" facility that wags labeled St. Louis Union Trailer (S.L.U.T.) Finally, 30 years later, Amtrak has a permanent home in the brand-new Gateway Transportation Center.

Amtrak shares the steel and glass structure with Greyhound, which raises the potential for convenient intermodal connections so passengers can reach outlying cities in the "Show-Me State" like Columbia, Springfield and Branson. The complex has four train platforms and 10 bus bays.
"Passengers can reach the tracks by walking through an enclosed walkway and two sets of stairs, escalators and elevators to the train platforms below. Greyhound and Amtrak passengers will share the lobby and a deli, and fast-food restaurants will be opening in the future."
Rich Eichhorst of St. Louis, a retired teacher and transportation buff, was the first passenger to board the first train out of the new station, the 4:35 a.m. for Chicago. He says he also was aboard the last train to use St. Louis Union Station.

While train travel in St. Louis is nowhere near what was in its heyday, there has been somewhat of a renaissance since 1971. Amtrak restored the Texas Eagle, which runs from Chicago to San Antonio, with connections there for Los Angeles. In addition, there are now five daily departures for Chicago, up from two in 1971, and two for Kansas City, up from one.

The state of Missouri has plans to upgrade service on the St. Louis-Kansas City line, including a "name-the-train" contest, and trip times to Chicago should improve once a large segment of the line is approved for 110 m.p.h. running. One casualty, however, was elimination of the National Limited, which ran to New York via Indianapolis, Columbus and Pittsburgh, in the late 1970s.

Having a new station in the heart of the city should add to train travels appeal. In fact, officials are concerned that they may not have enough seats in the waiting room.

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