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Springfield's Union Station To Open Without New Train Boarding Platform


Officials have announced a delay in the completion of a major transportation project in western Massachusetts.  But, it is seen as only a minor bump in what has been a decades-long, multi-million- dollar effort to transform Springfield’s derelict Union Station into a modern transportation hub.

A new train boarding platform at Union Station must be redesigned because it is six inches narrower than allowed under federal regulations for handicapped accessibility.

Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy expects it will delay the completion of the project by about six months.

" It is another little bump in the road in a many decades-old project," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the rest of the $88.5 million project to completely rehabilitate and modernize the city’s historic Union Station is on schedule for completion by the end of this year, with a public opening expected in January 2017.

Until the new platform is finished, rail passengers will board trains from an Amtrak waiting area located on the opposite side from what will be the main entrance to Union Station.

" We will be open for train travel when we open the refurbished station," Kennedy stressed in a meeting with reporters after the delay in the project was announced.

Officials explained that the problem arose because of the amount of platform space on either side at the top of the elevator and stairs that passengers will use to go between the station waiting room and the elevated tracks. 

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation designed a high-level platform that is five feet, six inches wide. Amtrak approved the design. But it was rejected by the Federal Railroad Administration, which said the platform must be six feet wide to accommodate disabled passengers.

" That small amount of space is important to somebody who is in a wheelchair," said Kennedy.

MassDOT will pay for the cost overruns to build the redesigned platform, according to Chris Moskal, director of the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, who could not say how much it might put the project over budget.

" I don't know," Moskal said. " It is being redesigned right now and as soon as that design is completed it goes out to bid."

The Union Station restoration project has a long history of changing designs, false starts, and delays. Construction work finally began in November 2012. 

When completed, Union Station will have a completely renovated terminal building, a new six-level 377-space parking garage, a 26-bay bus terminal, and 66,000 square feet of leasable commercial space.

" It is a very very difficult project," said Kennedy. " You are managing a multi-level of government and multi-acronym agencies. It is difficult, but we are still on track to open the station -- less the new platform -- on time."

Kennedy said negotiations are underway with bus companies and potential retail and office tenants. He would not identify potential tenants.

Officials project that four  million passengers will use Union Station in its first full year of operation, with the number increasing as more train service is added on the Hartford Line in 2018.           

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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