- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Amtrak unveiled Wednesday a massive $7 billion plan to expand Union Station that has many tentative components — including how to pay for it.

The four-phase plan projected to be in progress until at least 2028 was presented at a press conference at Union Station. The entire plan would triple the station’s capacity and establish it as a central location for proposed high-speed trains. Praised by Amtrak President Joe Boardman as a partnership between the public sector, private sector and Amtrak, the plan calls for doubling the number of trains serviced by the station, installing six high-speed rail tracks and building a new train shed.

Government and Amtrak officials lauded the project for its vision for the future of transportation and what it could bring to the region. They were less effusive when questions of funding came up.

The question of where the money for the project is coming from is “unrealistic and unfair,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat. “That is not what this plan is about. No plan for the decades is built in the funding.”

Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari said renovation and expansion is essential for bringing high-speed rail to the District and the nation.

Along with adding more to Union Station itself, developer Ackridge has plans for a $1.5 billion development above the train tracks. Described as a new urban neighborhood, it would include offices, residences, a hotel and shops. The plans would create a world-class transportation center, company chairman Chip Ackridge said.

While government and private enterprise pledged support for the plan, the presenters did not announce any details for the financing. Instead, they simply encouraged mutual cooperation in moving forward.

Ms. Norton said that Amtrak’s budget already has some money to begin the steps necessary to upgrade the rail, but emphasized the importance of having a “cosmic” plan before filling in the details.

“The money will come incrementally,” she said.

A detailed description provided by Amtrak states that the “project will require funding beyond the traditional sources from which capital investments are made by the railroads and Washington-area transportation agencies.”

Former D.C. mayor and CEO of the Federal City Council Anthony A. Williams said a vision is one thing and execution of the plan is another.

“We have to come together, and we have to work together on the financing, on the plans, and on making this vision a reality,” he said.

According to the plans, the first phase of the project would be done from 2013 to 2017 and would include construction of two new tracks and a platform.