Amtrak passengers who use Baltimore’s Penn Station will be able to board trains from two new platforms starting sometime next year.
At a media tour to discuss improvements at the station, officials said they are building two new platforms to accommodate growing ridership. Construction is on track to finish sometime in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, 2024.
The construction, phase one of a full makeover that will both preserve historical elements of the 112-year-old Beaux-Arts-style station and redesign the over 47,000-square-foot area that includes it, will double the number of platforms at the North Charles Street hub.
Both new platforms will start out servicing one track each that will exclusively handle high-speed Acela trains. This will free up the two existing platforms for other Amtrak trains as well as those operated by the MARC commuter service.
Brian Traylor, director of major stations at Amtrak and project manager for Penn Station’s redevelopment and expansion, called Baltimore a “critical aspect of the Northeast corridor.”
He said platform construction is the first step toward doubling ridership through Baltimore by 2040. That would mean a goal of roughly 6 million passengers a year, with potential to move Penn Station up from its current spot as the eighth-busiest station in the country.
“We’re maximizing the real estate as much as possible,” said Qywn Durrett, the senior principal project manager overseeing platform construction. “Once everything is done for the station improvements, I think you’ll see an easy path through for everyone to ride in this Northeast Corridor and enjoy the station for what it is.”
Amtrak’s initial investment totals $90 million, but Traylor said the rail company may spend as much as $200 million on improvements by the time the project is done. He said some of that money could come from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed in 2021 by President Joe Biden, a longtime Amtrak rider and supporter.
Traylor estimated that station redevelopment and expansion will create roughly 1,400 construction jobs over the next five years, with 51% of those jobs required to be local. The team handling platform construction could reach 300, Durrett said.
But riders eager to enjoy a totally new Penn Station experience will have to wait. Though platform construction will get more trains moving within a year or two, the entire redevelopment — which includes new restaurants, office space and more — will take years.
Amtrak tapped two local firms, Beatty Development and Cross Street Partners, as master developers before construction began in February 2022. Their collaboration, known as Penn Station Partners, will spearhead much of the surrounding transit-oriented development while Amtrak handles the trains.
The development team released a multimodal transportation approach in January that outlines several building phases for helping connect the station to bus and bike infrastructure. But some of those projects have yet to receive timelines. That frustrates Jed Weeks, executive director for bicycle advocacy organization Bikemore, who calls the short-term plan “unacceptable” for not linking the station directly to any protected bike lanes as an initial step.
“In every phase, the priority is private automobiles over walking, biking and transit. Our city ordinance requires that the priority be walking, biking and transit,” said Weeks, referring to the Complete Streets Ordinance that Baltimore adopted in 2018.
In Weeks’ eyes, the redevelopment plan violates that ordinance and needs a revamp in order for Penn Station to be accessible to all.
That kind of accessibility is an overall goal for Amtrak, according to Traylor. He wants to “cater more toward the Amtrak inner-city passenger rail customers” and said that safety is a top priority.
Durrett, the Amtrak project manager, called it “miraculous” that the station has been able to accommodate construction without causing service disruptions. He said MARC and Amtrak trains have continued to come and go on time.
One rider, Darian Wilkins, 29, of Washington, D.C., said Thursday that platform construction has had little impact on his typical ride. Wilkins travels between Baltimore and D.C. at least twice a week on MARC and hasn’t noted any change since the work started.
“The service is good, nice and punctual,” he said.
Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America, a national service organization that places emerging journalists with local newsrooms that cover underreported issues.