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Transit for a New Era: 7 Visionary SOM Rail Projects

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Transforming Cities

Extraordinary mobility and connectivity are defining qualities of the 21st century. More than ever, rail terminals—beyond providing an inspiring civic identity—are linking various modes of transit, enabling passengers to get around with unprecedented speed and ease, and catalyzing broader development. SOM is helping to lead this rail renaissance. From the planning and creation of new stations to bold, restorative interventions within historic depots, our work in this area supports a world on the move. We highlight seven SOM rail projects, each poised to radically influence the transportation landscape across the globe.

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Denver Union Station

In May 2014, local, state, and federal officials gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony for Denver Union Station. The event marked the realization of the city’s new transit district, which orchestrates light rail, commuter and intercity rail, bicycle and bus routes, and pedestrian pathways into an intuitive intermodal hub. The focal point among these new elements is the open-air Train Hall, conceived as an efficient and formally expressive means of sheltering multiple railway tracks while protecting views of the historic station. Amtrak’s Zephyr trains, which zip passengers from Denver west to San Francisco and east to Chicago, now pull in beneath SOM’s soaring Train Hall canopy every day. In addition, four commuter rail lines are scheduled to open in 2016 and 2018.

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Denver Union Station

One of the largest projects of its kind in the United States, the redevelopment of the former rail yards at Denver Union Station is a case study in the power of transit-oriented urban design. This substantial public investment has catalyzed an unprecedented wave of private-sector activity: Economists estimate it has already triggered more than $1 billion in private mixed-use investment on surrounding property. Sensitive to its historic location, but fundamentally forward-looking in its technical sophistication and city-building spirit, Denver Union Station sets the standard for 21st-century intermodal hubs.

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All Aboard Florida

SOM’s design for All Aboard Florida’s Miami Station made its public debut in May 2014. All Aboard Florida is the only privately owned, operated, and financed project of its kind being developed in the United States today. The 235-mile network of rail lines will connect South Florida to Orlando by utilizing the current rail infrastructure for the Florida East Coast Corridor. It will also create new tracks into Central Florida. The transformational project will provide a vital new service for Florida residents, business people, and visitors and will eliminate more than three million car trips from the region’s roadways each year. Passenger service is anticipated to begin in 2017.

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All Aboard Florida

SOM is also planning and designing All Aboard Florida’s Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach stations. The three stations will be key portals within All Aboard Florida’s rail system. Envisioned not only as gateways to their respective cities, but also as iconic destinations, the terminals will be filled with spaces to shop, eat, and meet. In downtown Miami, SOM has responded to an extraordinarily challenging and dense site by elevating the railways 50 feet in the air. Retail spaces are vertically layered beneath the soaring tracks and ample use of glass will give the station a shimmering, lightweight quality. This innovative solution allows through-streets to remain open to traffic and for streetfront real estate to remain leasable. The bold architectural design creates a landmark terminal—a symbol of a 21st-century Miami.

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Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan

Further north, Amtrak, in partnership with Brandywine Realty Trust, Drexel University, PennDOT, and SEPTA, announced in May 2014 the selection of SOM to develop Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station District Plan. The proposal will realize the long-awaited vision of a bold, fully integrated mixed-use urban district, with a revitalized 30th Street Station situated at its center. The historic train hub is a Beaux-Arts masterpiece perched on the western bank of the Schuylkill River. The newly developed district plan envisions a sweeping transformation for the station and its surroundings—setting 30th Street Station as the jewel in a vibrant transportation district, as the fulcrum of Philadelphia’s expanding development, and as a landmark destination in its own right.

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Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan

Located within a section of Philadelphia that is experiencing rapid growth and redevelopment, the plan establishes the framework for a landmark transportation hub that knits together the neighborhoods of Center City and University City, the two thriving downtown districts powering Philadelphia. An improved passenger, driver, pedestrian, and cyclist environment will stitch the surrounding area into a cohesive district and create space for new and expanded buildings. Through bold development, an activated public realm, and an expanded transit network, the master plan will give rise to the city’s next great neighborhood.

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Moynihan Train Hall

Fewer than 100 miles away, construction crews are actively transforming a site at the intersection of West 31st Street and 8th Avenue, directly across from New York City’s Penn Station. Here, SOM is busy converting the Beaux-Arts James A. Farley Post Office into a 21st-century train station. The new Moynihan Train Hall will create needed capacity in the region’s rail system and catalyze development of Manhattan’s Far West Side, while restoring and preserving an important historical resource. SOM's design encloses a vast atrium at the center of the building with an iconic new skylight, arcing upward from original steel trusses. Melding old and new, the design establishes a grand civic space that celebrates the unique history of the Farley Building while evoking the vaulted concourse of the original Penn Station.

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Moynihan Train Hall

The project's first phase includes five major transportation and infrastructure-related components: doubling the width and length of the West End Concourse, which connects to the A/C/E subway line and is located below the post office; improving platform ventilation and signal work; upgrading the connector between the post office and the existing Penn Station beneath West 33rd Street; and adding two new entry points on both sides of the post office’s grand staircase on Eighth Avenue. Completion of this first phase is scheduled for late 2016.

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Manhattan West Development

In addition to shaping the tracks and stations below and on the ground, SOM is also involved in air-rights development projects over rail infrastructure. One example is Manhattan West, a five-million-square-foot mixed-use development on the West Side of Manhattan. The development includes construction of a 120,000-square-foot platform over the exposed active rail yards that connect Penn Station to New Jersey. The platform is composed of 16 segmental bridges made of precast concrete. The five-acre development will include towers whose cores will be anchored to bedrock to the north and south of the platform. Construction will not interrupt the bustling train operations below.

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Bakersfield High-Speed Rail Station Area Plan

On the other side of the country, the largest infrastructure project in the United States is now underway: within a decade, California's $64 billion high-speed rail project will link Los Angeles and San Francisco in under three hours. America's first high-speed rail project not only ushers in a new era in transportation—it also presents an unprecedented economic development opportunity for the cities along its route. One of these is Bakersfield — a city that is poised to become a central link in California’s new rapid transit corridor. SOM is working with the city of Bakersfield to develop an inclusive vision for its downtown area around the future station site.

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Beijing Bohai Innovation City

Thousands of miles away, SOM designers and planners are helping shape livable and sustainable cities in fast-urbanizing China. Many of SOM’s plans and designs for this region incorporate significant rail components. One recent example is Beijing Bohai Innovation City, a model for the rapid development of satellite cities along Chinese high-speed rail corridors. The plan leverages the economic and lifestyle assets of the Beijing-Tianjin corridor by centering the new environmentally friendly district along the rail line, linking the national capital to the port city of Tianjin.