By Noel T. Braymer
Rail Passenger service needs stations to pick up and drop off passengers: that obvious. But at least in America stations are often assumed to be overhead, a cost center but not a source of revenue. Today many transit and commuter railroads ignore the potential of stations to generate revenue or as an economic asset to the community. Even if such income doesn’t cover all the costs, its still can reduce the costs of owning and running a station. Outside of the United States more efforts are made to provide services to passengers that bring in income. This is seen in this country at airport terminal where with each remodeling there are more services and places to spend money while waiting for flights.This can also be done on a different scale at train stations. Where there is foot traffic there is potential for business. One thing successful train stations have are plenty of people and lots of foot traffic.
Also as part of station revenues is development at and around train stations. Historically railroads were not built to make money carrying passengers. Passengers were needed to develop the land around the stations which is where and still is where money is to be made. Healthy rail passenger service see thousands of passengers at stations. This attracts shops, services, lodging, entertainment venues and food services around busy stations. Stations also are good places to to build housing and employment centers. This type of development reduces travel on congested roads and can save commuter time by traveling less. Having so many services near where one lives and works cuts down on a lot of running around. This type of dense development can lead to more affordable housing and less traffic congestion. Traveling around any major urban areas, one can see that the worst traffic congestion is in the post World War II suburbs with the lowest population densities. Joint development at and near rail stations can increase rail ridership and increase revenues with services at stations and developments at stations.
This is not a theory. Many projects along these lines exist and are being built around the world and in California. Development has been a central part of the San Diego Trolley. Several Trolley stations have shops and high density housing as part of the stations. In San Diego County even the Sprinter DMU trains are seeing increased housing and shops built at or near stations. The largest redevelopment project in San Diego was the construction of Petco Park which is the baseball stadium for the San Diego Padres which was built near skid row. It is also next to the Convention Center and the Gaslight District. In the middle of this area is the 12th and Imperial Trolley Station which is the hub of the three Trolley lines. The Trolley was central to the success of Petco Park and other nearby developments by moving large numbers of people in a small area while reducing the vehicle traffic in and out of downtown San Diego. Opponents of Petco park claimed that it wouldn’t have enough parking and traffic would be a nightmare. This failed to happen.
The California High Speed Rail stations will be part of a major redevelopment project, often in the old downtown areas of the city. Much of the revenue from High Speed Rail service in California will come from income with the redevelopment around its stations. In San Jose along with future High Speed Rail at the old SP train station, there will also be VAT Light Rail service. Amtrak Coast Starlight and Capitol Corridor trains, Caltrain, Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) trains to Stockton and future service to Modesto and BART. More development and economic growth can be expected in the San Jose downtown area due in large part to increased mobility from rail services at the old SP San Jose Station.
The biggest station project underway are the improvements and redevelopment planned at Los Angeles Union Station. High Speed Rail is now planned to use LAUS, not just be near it as the old plan had. This includes the run through tracks and a new enlarged concourse to handle more trains and passengers in the near future. More trains can use Union Station and service more places without have to back up to leave the station. The new concourse will add more room for station services, shopping and food choices for the additional passengers expected with expanded rail service coming int the near future. Major new commercial buildings and a station hotel is planned to be built in and around Union Station which will bring in more passengers and produce revenues for the station. This model can and is working around the world and other places in California on different scales to bring in money for rail passenger service.