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BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for February 24, 2009

New Amtrak station starts to take form on platform

Speaking of downtown and transit, one more part of the city's transportation infrastructure is coming together, with work proceeding well on the replacement for the much-derided Amshack temporary station for inter-city train traffic.


Last year -- after much hemming and hawing -- NCDOT agreed to lease space in West Village's Walker Warehouse for a permanent station for the Bull City, replacing the unsightly modular trailer that's served as the station's home since the 1990s.

Ironically, the Amshack was built around the same time that the old DATA station on the downtown loop added the brick-and-glass waiting and ticketing area to the gazebo that provided a modicum of shelter for bus passengers.

The new Amtrak station is expected to open in a few months. Of course, the future of the old Amshack site and the buildings to its north and west await a future for transit in the Bull City and the region; long planned as the downtown TTA site, and with a pedestrian bridge linkage to the Durham Station multimodal center waiting to be built upon the arrival of a rail-based transit system, it remains the missing piece in the region's transit infrastructure.



Rail based transit system? I thought they did away with that until the FAR future?


It's highly unfortunate that there's no pedestrian bridge across to the new transit center. What are people supposed to do if they want to catch a bus home? The platform is now on the other side of the tracks! You'd better have someone picking you up at the Amtrak station, otherwise you'll have to drag your luggage across the tracks, down a bank, and cross a busy street (in all sorts of weather). You're other option is a costly taxi ride.

Seth Vidal

Or you can just walk down to duke st, walk on the sidewalk all the way to the transit station.

It might be a grand total of 1/4 of a mile.

I agree a pedestrian bridge across the track is a good idea, but it's not very hard to walk around the block. Especially since there is a sidewalk the whole way.


Yeah, I think a pedestrian bridge needs to be put in NOW, not later.

Let's face it, in North Carolina later never seems to come. Do it now. (stimulus?), otherwise it'll never happen.

A pedestrian bridge would not only serve visitors and commuters as direct link between train and durham station, but also simply a link between Brightleaf and American Tobacco for pedestrians.

Gville Guy

It will not be a true multimodal center unless they can effectively link the Amtrak Station with Durham Station. How would you like to walk 1/4 mile with luggage in the rain or below freezing temps? Also, would you feel comfortable walking around a strange block late at night?

The pedestrian bridge is needed. Some sort of free connector bus may be another alternative. A walking platform across the tracks should also be studied.


Walking distance on the sidewalk route mentioned by Seth Vidal is 2200' - more like .4 mile.

Elizabeth Sudduth

Aren't they going to have a way to cross the tracks so passengers can board east-bound trains? It seems like it would be easy enough to just continue from that platform across the current parking lot (what will be there in the future?) and then cross at the light at Pettigrew St.

It would be a lot closer than the walk from your gate to your car at the airport, for instance. (Although I do say this as someone who has come in on Amtrak at the current station and then walked 2 miles home to Old West Durham).

Andrew Edmonds

With regards to a pedestrian bridge over Chapel Hill Street, its construction WAS in the original plan for the Durham Station [see images below]. It may have been dropped because of funding issues; the City's CIP page for this project ( indicates it was over budget pretty soon after the design was submitted.

It seems likely to me that, given the low volume of train traffic through town, a track-crossing will be provided for passengers who wish to avoid the 'round-the-block walk. Philly's SEPTA system is loaded with such crossings, and those stations see multiple trains per hour, not day.


They should be able to fill in the spaces between the rails with concrete or asphalt, and level to them so you could get across the tracks--close together enough to keep you from catching a luggage wheel or a foot, and yet wide enough to allow clearance for the train wheels. It's done everywhere else there is a pedestrian crossing. Once you cross the tracks, you could use the existing station's sidewalk and cross over to the transit center without having to detour around Duke Street.

Ross Grady

@Elizabeth: there's only one set of tracks, and trains in both directions are currently boarded from the one platform, so I assume the same will be true in at least the near future.

@GreenLantern: I just walked out there, and while the old "platform" (really just an asphalt pad) is more or less at rail level, the new platform is a good 8-10 inches higher. They could still do as you suggest, but I'm not sure the math would work to put in a step down, or a ramp, or something. I guess I'm saying that they don't *appear* to have taken that into consideration.

Up until yesterday, the situation was the opposite of what it'll be in the future (i.e. the old Amshack is on one side of the tracks, and the bus station was on the other). I saw roughly equal numbers of people crossing the tracks vs. walking down & around Chapel Hill Street under the trestle to get to the old bus station. I suppose it would depend on how much luggage you were lugging.

Either way, I agree that the disappearance of the bridge from the original plan leaves the whole thing kinda flawed. Pretty new transit hub, nice-enough new train station, and no painless way to move between them. Oh, Durham.


I'd love to see numbers re: how many people go directly between Amtrak and DATA/Triangle Transit/Greyhound every day.


Even without seeing those numbers, I have to admit that I can't really blame the City for not building the pedestrian bridge right now, especially if it would have delayed the construction of Durham Station. And this is coming from one of the more passionate seamless transportation/walkability people you will ever meet.

The main reason is that I really DO think that regional rail service will eventually be a reality in Durham (I could go into all the reasons for my optimism, but I'll save those for future posts). If and when that occurs, then a pedestrian bridge should be built for sure. But until a new regional rail station alignment is designed, I think it would be unwise to build something now that might hinder the development of that station later or force them to redesign an existing bridge.

I honestly don't think the connection to Amtrak will be as bad as everyone seems to be making it out to be. First off, I don't understand the suggestion of going to Duke St at all. It looks like Durham is going to install a new crosswalk and pedestrian signal across Chapel Hill St right outside Durham Station (hopefully once the street upgrades are finished). And it's not like Chapel Hill St is some wide freeway - it's a pretty narrow road at that point. From there, go under the railroad bridge, curve left on Great Jones, left on Main and Walker Warehouse is the first building on the left. Using the distance measurement tool on Google Maps, that comes out to .2 miles. That's a 3-4 minute walk. And when I did it the other day, I cut through the old tracks before even reaching Main St - not sure if that'll be an option when all is finished, but that took me 2-3 minutes (without luggage).

Again, in many ways it pains me to write this because I do think a pedestrian bridge would be great, but I don't know that it would've made a lot of sense right now and as far as I understand, the option still exists for the future. And the alternative option right now really isn't as bad as everyone seems to think - most people walk that far with luggage from a parking lot at RDU to their terminal without batting an eye.


The main challenge with the notion of a pedestrian bridge over the tracks is that NC Rail would require it to be nearly 20' clear above the grade of the tracks, and elevator towers would have to be constructed on both ends to ensure accessibility.

It's a great idea, but an expensive one. Alternately, how about an underpass beneath the tracks? You could descend down an escalator or elevator from the Walker Building and emerge at the grade of Chapel Hill Street. This would be pricey too, but not as obtrusive as a pedestrian bridge that would tower as much as 40' above Chapel Hill Street.


"The main challenge with the notion of a pedestrian bridge over the tracks is that NC Rail would require it to be nearly 20' clear above the grade of the tracks, and elevator towers would have to be constructed on both ends to ensure accessibility."

Which is why a simple solution, like a level crossing directly over the tracks from the platform to the old train station's parking lot, directly across from the new transit center, would be a better option. Having to drag your luggage over to the Chapel Hill Street bridge or over to Duke Street just isn't a workable option for most train passengers.


Once you walk across the tracks at Walker Warehouse, you still need to get down the hill that lines W Chapel Hill St. There are some stairs about a half block down WCHS, but they aren't accessible to those with luggage or people with mobility limitations. Also, it is on the old Amshack property, and we don't know what is going to happen to that.

I agree that simply walking across the tracks and then across a pedestrian-activated signal at WCHS is the most economical solution. Let's just hope that the signal is installed soon, and that some sort of ramp can be installed down the hill.

In terms of crossing tracks--they do it just about everywhere. CalTrain features track crossings at every station, because stations have two sets of tracks installed so that express routes can pass local routes. The crosswalk has a little arm that comes down when trains are approaching in an effort to stop pedestrians from crossing when trains approach. Maybe Amtrak or the city can invest in such a solution.


I agree with RWE that accessing the platform from below, up from Chapel Hill Street, is a better long-term solution. To be a truly "multi-modal" station, travelers should be able to travel between platforms whether a train is there or not. The length of the current Amtrak trains stopping in Durham require the front (or back) of the train to hang out over the Chapel Hill Street bridge in order to clear the Duke Street crossing. If/when there is any sort of light or commuter rail, this will be a much bigger deal than it will be with only a few (longer-distance) trains stopping each day.


NCDOT and NCRR are not going to permit or encourage walking across the tracks, for safety and liability reasons. If these tracks get upgraded for higher and higher speeds, as is the plan, you could eventually get freight trains coming through the station area at close to 60 mph. With a train coming at that speed from the west, there is not enough time for a freight to stop if a pedestrian is on the tracks and not moving for some reason. There is maybe a quarter mile of visibility at most, and a freight train moving at speed will take nearly a mile to come to a full stop.


One of NCDOT's "shovel-ready" proposed projects for federal stimulus dollars is to double-track the NCRR from Greensboro to Goldsboro. This is in addition to the SE High Speed Rail Corridor project.

Either would include a second track right through Durham, making a pedestrian crossiong of the tracks even less likely.

Gville Guy

I have no problem walking from the Amtrak station to Durham station but I can foresee many instances where a business traveler or a person unfamiliar with Durham will have an issue. If Durham does not connect the two (or three with the TTA) transportation centers then I think they should stop referring to it as a multimodal center. Just call it what it is…..a train station within walking distance of the bus station.

John Thacker

"One of NCDOT's "shovel-ready" proposed projects for federal stimulus dollars is to double-track the NCRR from Greensboro to Goldsboro."

Is it now? I don't see it on the link you provided. The only double-tracking I see on there is the same proposal to restore double-tracking from High Point to Charlotte in the spots where it's missing that the state has already started on (Greensboro to High Point), and is necessary for SEHSR. The Greensboro to Charlotte portion of the line sees a lot more freight traffic, because it's the NS main line from DC (basically down US 29 through Virginia, entering NC after Danville, VA), and needs the double-tracking more than the Triangle portion.

Double-tracking through Durham would be nice, but I don't think it's nearly as high a priority as the other double-tracking, or as acquiring the land to restore the old S-line.

John Thacker

Ah, wait, I see it at the bottom. Hmm, interesting. That's something not even requested by the SEHSR planning documents. Nice, I suppose, but not the most effective use of money. I suppose since the EIS for SEHSR has been taking so long it's just there as a "hey, if we've got extra money..."

Would work for the commuter rail idea that NCRR has been pitching, though.

John Thacker

Ah, wait. The $657 million for double-tracking from Greensboro to Goldsboro is surely the same as the double-tracking for $657 million mentioned in the NCRR commuter rail study:

Durham would be included-- in the section that mentions double tracking 26 miles from "Glenn to Cary." "Glenn" is the name of the rail junction in Orange County where a short-line railroad branches off towards Carboro and the mainline continues towards Hillsborough. See here:

So yes, that would include downtown Durham, and it's for the future commuter rail idea.

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