By Nancy Covert
Seattle’s King Street Station: the place where a $16.9 million restoration to the original $450,000 railroad terminal has been completed, and the City of Seattle officially marked its re-opening this past Thursday, April 24, 2013. What a Difference!
For comparison, in the late 1990s Tacoma’s Union Station was transformed and became the US District Courthouse. About the same time, Pittsburgh’s Union Station became upscale condos and the Grand Concourse, an ornate upscale restaurant that’s located in the original depot.
Seattle’s 1906 depot, with its distinctive bell tower, resembles Venice’s famous Piazza de San Marco campanile. The costly, decade-long facelift completed this past week, has been a partnership between Amtrak, Washington State Department of Transportation and BNSF Railway Company. The renovation also includes earthquake retrofitting.
WSDOT-sponsored Amtrak Cascades trains, Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and Empire Builder, and Sounder commuter trains originate here.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, shortly before 4:40 p.m., over the PA system for departing Empire Builder eastbound passengers were directed to board through Door 3, while half an hour later southbound travelers for Tacoma and beyond boarded through Door 4.
Many of Saturday’s rail passengers wandered around the depot, looking a bit glazed at the impressive changes; many paused mid-stride to aim cell phone cameras to record those improvements. Others paused to study the large tile compass embedded in the main entryway floor.
One report said that, “The New King Street Station Waiting Room looks like the inside of Wedding Cake.” True! But you can’t eat this one.
The aroma of fresh paint is still evident; but the depressing lowered ceilings and other mid-60s trappings are gone. Ornate chandeliers hang from sculpted plaster Victorian-style medallions. While the stairwells have been restored, there is an elevator for ease in accessing the balcony level leading out to the International District. Large wooden pew-like waiting room benches have been restored for passengers. Access to the bell tower, however, remains off-limits.
Outside on the upper level, a row of late 19th-century-style lamps lines one side of the depot. Baggage Claim and Ticketing stations have been relocated to the left side of the gleaming terminal.
Travelers who’ve arrived and departed from the now-107-year-old depot, during the past decade, have watched the transformation, anticipating the day it was completed.
Despite 21st century changes, from high-speed Internet to cell phone technology, taking a train ride along the west coast, especially one that originates in an ornate early 20th century station, is a unique experience. Those who disembark from this multi-modal center depot now have a string of restored terminals, from Seattle to Centralia to Portland, to enjoy.
Although a portion of the Tacoma-to-Olympia route is scheduled to be changed—in about five years’ time, and passenger trains will no longer travel the scenic Pt. Defiance route along the waterfront—there’s still time to enjoy the view.
Near the Seattle terminal, there’s access to local sports arenas within easy walking distance at Safeco and Qwest Fields, and special fan trains that operate on Game Days.
Not far from the depot is access to Seattle’s Metro bus tunnel, removing much bus traffic from the city’s downtown area—and yes, ORCA cards can be used.
So…when are you taking the Train?
Railroad baron James Hill, and other early Tacoma businessmen who invested in the railroad in the late 1890s, would be pleased to see this latest restoration.