Sunday, July 22, 2007

Down at the Depot

And we don't mean Home Depot.

Some ruminations on the role of the depot in past and future Passenger Rail operations.

It bears repeating that Amtrak has given short schrift to the depot. With the exception of owned depots, Amtrak has chosen to put little to no money into the places where its passengers have to wait for its trains. Depots that have survived or been revived have generally been given their new lives at taxpayer expense and because of commuter rail.

The Passenger Rail depot can still be a major focal point for a community. Yes, the train is at the forefront, and getting a train - any train - can be more important to a community than where the train will stop. That's why many communities have been willing to accept the Amtrak Barn as their rail depots.

However, as Passenger Rail re-emerges as a preeminent form of transport in the Unites States, there will be pressures and incentives for communities to think more about their depots. Some will and some won't. We think those that do will be rewarded.

As during most of the Twentieth Century, current and future depots can be made a hub of community. The obvious use as a transportation hub, where as many modes as possible come together, may be as "old hat" as the concept of Passenger Rail carrying LCL and mail.

If communities now seeking Passenger Rail, whether of the intercity kind or of the commuter kind, start thinking ahead now, we may see multi-use depots the same way we see multi-use shopping centers. Only depots in larger urban centers historically saw anything like this, and only by accident.

But why can't future designers and developers put all the functions of modern life into the depot? Wouldn't it be fun to have a condo at the depot? What about medical care, hospitals, grocery stores, movie theaters, communications hubs? What about depots with arenas or stadiums? Throw in a casino or two if you are in Nevada or if the depot is on Native American land. What about the depot that is a destination all by itself?

One thing is certain: When the rail revival comes to full fruit, and come it will, there will be no limit to what the depot can be. Hell, we may even start shipping LCL freight from there, too.

© 2007 - C. A. Turek -
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