The third and final major transit element of the Denver Union Station plan is the commuter rail station. The light rail station and the regional bus terminal are the other two transit elements we’ve already reviewed. The commuter rail station will be the closest transit element to the historic station, located immediately to the west of Union Station where the Amtrak and light rail platforms are today. Commuter rail involves trains similar to those used by Amtrak—they’re bigger and longer than light rail and come in electrified (overhead wire) or diesel engine varieties. RTD doesn’t yet have any commuter rail trains in operation, but later this year the first FasTracks commuter rail lines (Gold Line to Arvada/Wheat Ridge and East Line to Denver International Airport) will begin construction. Eventually, the commuter rail platforms at Union Station will accommodate not only the Gold and East lines, but the North and Northwest (Boulder) lines, as well as Amtrak, private excursion trains (such as the Ski Train) and room for future lines/expansion.
The commuter rail station area includes several components. First, the commuter rail platforms will be surrounded and partially enclosed by a large canopy shelter. This is the area often referred to as the Train Hall or the Train Shed, and should not be confused with the Great Hall inside the historic structure. Then there’s the Wewatta and Union Station Pavilions, and the pedestrian plaza/bridge over the tracks north of the platforms. Here are two images that give you the layout in this area. On the left is an illustrative image that shows the historic Union Station structure, the north and south “wing” buildings to either side, the white canopy Train Hall over the platforms with the oval opening in the center, the Wewatta and Union Station Pavilions directly on the 17th Street axis, future private-sector development buildings south and west of the Train Hall, and the parking garage structure straddling the tracks off to the north. The image on the right identifies which train lines will utilize the eight platforms within the commuter rail station.
The first element one would encounter after crossing Wewatta Street from the west is the Wewatta Pavilion. Like the Chestnut Pavilion, the Wewatta Pavilion will include escalators, elevators, and stairs to provide vertical access to the underground bus terminal. The area surrounding the pavilion also functions as a public space, with room for outdoor cafe patios for the adjacent buildings, ticketing machines, landscaping, seating, and other plaza features. Along Wewatta in this area will be the primary drop-off point for vehicles and queuing areas for taxis and other private shuttles. Below are two images that show the Wewatta Pavilion in plan view (left) and street-level view from across Wewatta Street (right):
The train platforms will be surrounded by a dramatic swoopy canopy, 500 feet long and 180 feet wide, that will provide some cover from the elements while still keeping the whole Train Hall area generally open air. Within the Train Hall, the center platforms under the “hole” in the bigger canopy will have lower canopies to provide shelter, information signs, and the like. The height of the big canopy goes up to over 40 feet on the ends but dips down to around 21 feet in the center to not block the view of the big windows and neon lights of the west facade of the historic station. The four images below show the Train Hall area from different angles:
Between the Train Hall and the historic station is the Union Station Pavilion. Like its counterparts, it offers multiple options to access the underground bus terminal below. A new door in the center of the historic structure will allow one to walk from inside the Great Hall directly out to the Train Hall and go either to the commuter rail platforms or down via the Union Station Pavilion to the bus terminal. Here are two images that show the Union Station Pavilion area:
The three main pavilions are not the only ways to get underground to the bus terminal. The center two platforms within the Train Hall—those sandwiched in between the other two sets of tracks—will have their own stairways and elevators down to the bus terminal.
The final element is the pedestrian plaza/bridge over the commuter rail tracks just north of the Train Hall. The original DUS plan called for the private-sector development building north of the Wewatta Pavilion (Block B) to be “L” shaped like its counterpart to the south. At that time, a wide plaza spanning the tracks was planned (called Kinetic Plaza) that would be incorporated into the facade of the building. The Union Station master developer team is currently evaluating the feasibility of the portion of that building spanning over the tracks. In the event the building over the tracks is not built, the plaza will be narrowed to a pedestrian bridge. Either way, the plaza/bridge will provide vertical access to the east down to Wynkoop Plaza, to the north down to the corner of Wewatta and 18th, and to the south down to the two center commuter rail platforms. Additionally, the Denver Union Station Project Authority is currently evaluating the feasibility of the parking garage that spans over the tracks farther north. Consequently, the plan for the area around the pedestrian plaza/bridge is still somewhat in flux. The issue in both cases is that the building/parking garage over the tracks must be built within the next couple of years before the new commuter rail station becomes operational; otherwise, to build either structure over active tracks in the future would be extremely complex and most likely prohibitively expensive. Anyway, here are two images that show this pedestrian plaza/bridge area:
That pretty much covers the commuter rail station area. Next, we’ll take a look at the plans for the public spaces within the Union Station transit district, followed by a wrap-up of the private-sector developments that will eventually complete the entire project and make the Union Station district one of Downtown Denver’s best urban places.