For a decade, Metro has been cooking up plans for a revamp of historic Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles, looking to couple long-proposed run-through tracks with an expansion of its passenger concourse and new opportunities for commercial development. With more than $1 trillion in funds available nationwide after President Biden signed the landmark 2021 infrastructure bill into law, Metro is now taking steps to chase some of that federal money.

Last week, Metro released a supplemental environmental impact report for the Link Union Station project, which will also evaluate the project under the National Environmental Policy Act - making it eligible for federal funding. The highlights of the plans outlined in the document include the construction of new run-through tracks along the south side of the station, allowing trains to cross above the US-101 Freeway rather than entering and exiting through the existing throat tracks to the north. Plans also call for raising the rail yard itself to provide clearance above the freeway, the expansion of the existing passageway below the rail yard to accommodate more passengers, upgrades to the throat tracks, and either the construction of new individual station platform canopies or a large "grand canopy" which would cover all station platforms.

The project - in particular the construction of the run-through tracks - are key for the first phase of the California High Speed Rail project, which would make a stop at Union Station before proceeding toward its eventual southern terminus in Anaheim. The new tracks would also be used by Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains and Metrolink, which is relying on through-routing at Union Station as part of a $10-billion strategy to boost service frequency and ridership on its more than 500-mile network.

Not discussed in the new environmental study are potential changes to Link Union Station which were unveiled earlier this year. While Metro has secured nearly $1 billion for the construction of the project, its estimate cost has ballooned to nearly $2 billion as of one June 2023. To account for that, Metro has proposed reducing the number of station platforms which would have access to the run-through tracks from seven to four. Likewise, the number of run-through tracks crossing the freeway could be reduced from four to two.

Some early work, such as the relocation of utilities along the project's route, has already commenced, and is expected to continue through Summer 2025. Metro previously announced that it expected that heavy construction could begin as early as mid-2026, following environmental clearances.

Pricey as it may be, the Biden administration has already shown a willingness to spend money on upgrading passenger rail serving the Los Angeles area. The Brightline West high-speed rail line, now under construction between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga, has been awarded $6.5 billion from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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