What Should Be: Rail Infrastructure in St. Louis

What Should Be: Rail Infrastructure in St. Louis
Aerial view of St. Louis Central Station showing the two train sheds and pedestrian plaza

A Rich History and an Underwhelming Present

Once the center of an expansive American railroad system, St. Louis’s Union Station held the title of North America’s largest train station for decades during its height in the early-to-mid-1900s. Reported to average 100,000 daily passengers at times, the station’s colossal popularity was undermined by that of the automobile in a post-war America, meeting a similar fate to the city’s entensive trolley system. With the final train departing from the steal arches of the shed in 1978, this country seemed destined for a car-dominated future. However, 80 years following its peak, an optimistic attitude toward the future of passenger train travel could mean the re-emergence of St. Louis as a central rail hub, with many looking at the possibilities of high-speed travel to connect our cities and commerce. Underwhelming compared to the luxurious Union Station, Amtrak’s current setup in the “Gateway Station” near Clark and 14th streets represents the afterthought that is the current state of commuter rail in our state and region. To combat this, I propose a contemporary multimodal transportation hub that would prepare this city for the future of domestic travel. This is St. Louis Central Station.

Pedestrian view looking northeast in Central Plaza

Meet St. Louis Central Station

Designed to evoke a sense of structural expressionism, Central Station features a curved glass canopy suspended by a series of steel y-trusses sandwiching a glass curtain wall exterior. Across I-64, a separate glass canopy covers four train platforms, two of which feature high-speed rail northeast to Chicago and west to Kansas City. What comes with investment in high-speed rail is the interconnectedness of commerce between our major cities, posing the promise for St. Louis, particularly downtown, to share some of the wealth of our peer cities. Via highspeed rail, one could eat breakfast in downtown St. Louis, get lunch in the Chicago loop, and still make it to dinner in Manhattan. That is the beauty of functioning domestic travel.

A modernized Central Station Metrolink stop

Mixed-Use, Mixed Possibilities

Bound by 14th, Clark, 15th, and I-64, the chosen site currently houses all forms of ground transportation that this city has to offer, with an Amtrak station, Greyhound terminal, Metrolink stop, and the Civic Center Bus depot all settled within the city block. Designed to house all four, the footprint and height of the segmental-arched canopy provide ample square footage for office space for each individual agency and related services. Further, like La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, an inner mall opening out into an exterior pedestrian plaza would bring activation from the station to the rest of Clark Street through its curved design. Underground, the Civic Center stop, now Central Station, would be completely modernized to represent the future of St. Louis public transit. Serious investment needs a sharp look, and this notion can be seen throughout the design of Central.

Central Park, a green oasis that is hugged by the wrapping fa├žade of the station

Investment in southern Downtown

Between Broadway and 20th, Clark Avenue, currently lifeless and underutilized, is bursting with potential and screaming for investment. Anchored to the east by Busch Stadium and Ballpark Village, centrally by Enterprise Center and City Hall, and with Union Station and Centene Stadium to the west, there is activation in this part of Downtown at all times of the year. Clark is a street that is accessible to three Metrolink stations, a Metrobus hub, a couple of highway exits, and five parking garages to supplement it. A strip here would anchor our southern border and could make Downtown more active and fluid on the streets between Clark and Washington.

Limitless Opportunities

With proper investment, this area could be among the most popular in the region, with guaranteed year-round activity between three Stadiums, several world-renowned landmarks, and the thousands of residents its investment would bring. The district that would emerge between Busch Stadium and Union Station would have a great nightlife with themed sports bars and clubs and would have a great daytime feel too, even on non-game days. From towers scraping the clouds to low-densely built residential, this area is a near-blank slate for any developer with a vision to make something truly special. Anchoring it all would be St. Louis Central Station, allowing residents to explore the country from their doorstep while bringing visitors from all around the nation in to see St. Louis and all the serene beauty, vast potential, and rich culture our city holds.

St. Louis CITY Central Station
Conceptual Map of the future of high-speed rail via the US High-Speed Rail Association

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