Train stations are a staple in transportation history and have played a crucial role in connecting communities and facilitating the movement of goods and people. In the United States, train stations have been around for centuries, with some of the oldest dating back to the early 1800s.
From the grand terminals that served as the gateway to the west to the small stations that connected rural communities, these historic landmarks have stood the test of time and continue to serve as essential hubs of transportation and commerce.
So, come with us on a journey through the past as we discover some of the oldest train stations in the United States.
1. Ellicott City Station (Maryland)
The Ellicott City Station Museum is located in Maryland in Ellicott City. This station was originally built for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It is a must-see destination for history buffs and train enthusiasts. Not only is it the oldest surviving passenger railway station in the United States, but it’s one of the oldest stations worldwide, having been built in 1830 as the final stop of the railroad line.
This station is a National Historic Landmark and is now used as a museum, showcasing the rich history of the B&O Railroad. It was built using local stone provided by the Ellicott family, who founded the town and the local flour mill in 1772. The inaugural trip from Baltimore to Ellicott’s Mills took place on May 22, 1830, using rail cars pulled by horses. Regular passenger service began two days later, on May 24.
The B&O Railroad is known for its historic Tom Thumb locomotive, which was demonstrated at Ellicott’s Mills in which the locomotive raced a horse in 1830. In 1832 the railroad stopped the use of horse carriages and started using locomotives for passenger trains. The Ellicott City Station was the terminus of the original B&O Railroad, built to re-establish Baltimore as a significant inland commerce hub and compete with regional rival Washington, D.C.
Today, the Ellicott City Station is featured in the Baltimore & Ohio Ellicott City Station Museum, managed by Howard County’s Department of Recreation & Parks. Admission to the museum is free, with fees for some special events and tours.
If you’re interested in the history of trains and the B&O Railroad, be sure to visit this unique museum.
2. Union Depot (Saint Paul, Minnesota)
Located in the Lowertown neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota, the Saint Paul Union Depot is a historic transportation hub that has undergone numerous renovations since its construction in 1881.
It serves as the eastern terminus for the METRO Green Line light rail and is also the Twin Cities’ stop for Amtrak, the national intercity railroad service. The headhouse, designed in a neoclassical style by architect Charles Sumner Frost, is particularly notable, as is the concourse and waiting room that extend over the tracks.
The depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
In its heyday in 1888, the original Union Depot saw a peak of eight million passengers and 150 trains departing daily. Unfortunately, this station burned down in 1915.
Including many renovations over the last few decades, the latest was completed in 2012, costing $243 million, with $35 million provided by the U.S. government. The renovated station officially reopened to the public on December 8, 2012.
The first Amtrak train to serve the Saint Paul Union Depot arrived on May 7, 2014, with officials welcoming the first departing passengers.
3. Union Station (Worcester, Massachusetts)
Located in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts, Union Station is a railway station that serves as the western terminus for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Framingham/Worcester commuter rail line and a stop along Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited passenger line.
The current station was built in 1911 by the New York Central Railroad and replaced an earlier station from 1875.
Union Station is a busy transportation hub that offers a variety of amenities for travelers. One of the highlights is the Grand Hall, which features stunning elliptical stained-glass ceilings, marble columns, and mahogany wood trim.
There is also a restaurant called Luciano’s Cotton Club, which is themed around the 1920s and has a gangster vibe. If you need to park a car before hopping on a train, you can park at one of the station’s 500 spaces.
In October 2020, federal funding of $29.3 million was announced for a renovation project at the station. A construction contract for $44.4 million was approved in October 2021, with construction 40% complete in December 2022 and completion expected in February 2024.
4. North Easton Station (Massachusetts)
The North Easton Station is a historic railroad station located in North Easton, Massachusetts. It was designed by renowned architect H. H. Richardson and was built in 1881.
The station served commuter trains until 1958 and is now home to the Easton Historical Society. In 1972, the station was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1987, it became part of the H. H. Richardson Historic District, a National Historic Landmark District.
The station is a single-story building with Richardson’s signature heavy masonry and large roof, and the grounds were landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted.
The station was originally part of the Boston and Providence Railroad and later became part of the Dighton and Somerset Railroad. It is located on the Easton Branch Railroad, which opened in 1855. In 1969, the Ames family purchased the property from the Penn Central Railroad and donated it to the historical society.
There are plans to return commuter rail service to the North Easton station in 2030 as part of the South Coast Rail project. In addition, a new MBTA Commuter Rail station, called Easton Village, will be built at the site, with an 800-foot-long high-level platform constructed across the track from the historic building.
5. Grand Central Terminal (New York)
Grand Central Terminal is a famous commuter rail terminal located in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. The terminal, which opened in 1913, is known for its beautiful Beaux-Arts design and numerous works of art throughout the station.
It was constructed by the New York Central Railroad and was also used by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, and later successors to the New York Central. Two stations had previously stood where the terminal was built, both with the same name, the oldest of which was constructed in 1871.
Grand Central Terminal served as a hub for intercity trains until 1991. In 1991 Amtrak started routing its New York trains through the nearby Penn Station.
It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, with over 21 million visitors in 2018.
Grand Central Terminal takes up over 48 acres and has a total of 44 platforms, making it the largest railroad station in the world. The platforms, which are all underground, serve a total of 30 tracks on the upper level and 26 on the lower level.
There are a total of 67 tracks at the terminal, including a rail yard and sidings, 43 of which are used for passenger service, and the remaining two dozen are used for storing trains.
If you’re interested in learning more about Grand Central Terminal, consider taking a behind-the-scenes tour. These tours allow you to explore the inner workings of the terminal, including hidden staircases, underground rooms, and other historic areas that are generally not accessible to the public.
6. Washington Union Station
Located in Washington, D.C., Washington Union Station is a renowned train station and transportation hub. Designed by Daniel Burnham and opened in 1907, it serves as the headquarters for Amtrak. It is the second busiest station for the railroad company and the ninth busiest railroad station in North America.
At its busiest, during World War II, the station saw as many as 200,000 passengers in a single day.
In 1988, a wing was added to the original station building, and it was renovated to become a shopping mall. While Union Station was a popular destination for both transportation and shopping, with over 40 million visitors each year as of 2014, the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors have caused a decline in retail and dining, resulting in more than half of the commercial space in the station being vacant by late 2022.
Union Station is owned by Amtrak and the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT owns the station building and surrounding parking lots. In contrast, Amtrak owns the platforms and tracks through the Washington Terminal Company, a nearly wholly-owned subsidiary of Amtrak with a 99.9% controlling interest.
In 2012, Amtrak announced a four-phase, $7 billion plan to renovate and revamp the station over a period of 15 to 20 years, intending to increase the number of trains and passengers that can be accommodated at the station. Former Amtrak President and CEO Joseph H. Boardman hoped the federal government would finance 50 to 80% of the project.
7. Santa Fe Depot (San Diego)
Located in the heart of downtown San Diego, the Santa Fe Depot is a stunning union station built in 1915 to replace an earlier Victorian-style structure. The station is known for its early 20th-century architecture style known as Spanish Colonial Revival, including its iconic twin domes, which have inspired the design of many other buildings in the downtown area.
Not only is the Santa Fe Depot a beautiful and historical landmark, but it is also a vital transportation hub. It serves as a hub for Amtrak intercity trains, Coaster commuter rail trains, the San Diego Trolley, and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System bus system.
In fact, it was the third busiest station in California (only being beaten by Los Angeles Union Station and Sacramento Valley Station) and the tenth busiest in the Amtrak system in 2017, with an average of around 2,130 passengers per day.
While the Santa Fe Depot was initially studied as a possible southern terminus for the California High-Speed Rail system, plans have since changed, and a new southern terminus at the Lindbergh Field intermodal transit center (ITC) is being proposed for completion by 2035.
Despite this change, the Santa Fe Depot remains a critical transportation hub and a vital part of San Diego’s history and culture.
8. King Street Station (Seattle)
King Street Station is a historic train station located in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. It is served by several trains, such as Amtrak and Sounder commuter trains.
The station has four major entrances and ten tracks, making it the 15th busiest station on the Amtrak system. It serves as a hub for the Pacific Northwest region.
King Street Station was originally opened on May 10, 1906, as a station for both the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railways. It was designed by Reed and Stem in a wide range of architectural styles and at its centerpiece was a beautiful clocktower inspired by St Mark’s Campanile in Venice. A second city terminal, Union Station, was opened in 1911 and was built one block away on the east.
Today, King Street Station has four platforms, one of which is accessible via a pedestrian bridge used by Sounder commuter trains. The remaining platforms, which are attached to the station’s waiting room, are used for Amtrak services and special event trains.
In 2006, the City of Seattle entered into an agreement with BNSF Railway to purchase King Street Station for $1 (yes, you read that right), and the amount was later revised to $10. The deal was finalized in 2008, freeing up $19 million in state and federal funds used for further restoration of the station.
The city also allocated an additional $10 million for restoration as part of a local transportation levy. In 2010, the station was awarded $18.2 million from a pool of $2.4 billion in high-speed intercity passenger rail service funding.
On April 24, 2013, the restoration project at the station was completed, and the station was officially rededicated.
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- USA Today, Available here: https://www.usatoday.com/picture-gallery/travel/experience/2019/05/26/amtrak-train-stations-history-12-grand-stations-across-u-s/3695435002/
- CTMQ, Available here: https://www.ctmq.org/the-oldest-operating-train-station-in-the-us/