St Paul Union Depot

Saint Paul Union Depot
Station statistics
Address 214 E 4th St
Saint Paul, MN 55101

44°56′52″N 93°5′10″W / 44.94778°N 93.08611°W / 44.94778; -93.08611

  Green Line 2014
  Red Rock Corridor planned, 2018
  Rush Line Corridor planned
  Gateway Corridor planned

Metro Transit: 21, 53, 54, 65, 417
MVTA: 480, 484, 489[1]

Jefferson Lines[2]
Platforms 9 historically
Tracks 18 historically
Parking yes, paid
Bicycle facilities yes
Other information
Opened Original depot: 1881
Current structure built 1917–1923
Closed April 30, 1971
Rebuilt 2011–2012
Owned by Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority
Operator Jones Lang LaSalle[3]
Passengers (projected 2030)1,960 daily[4] (Green Liner)
Preceding station   Amtrak   Following station
Empire Builder
toward Chicago
Metro Transit
Green Line Terminus
University of Minnesota
Red Rock Corridor
Lower Afton Rd
    Former services    
Rock Island Line
Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad
St. Paul Union Depot
Saint Paul Union Depot
Location 214 E. 4th St., St. Paul, Minnesota

44°56′52″N 93°5′10″W / 44.94778°N 93.08611°W / 44.94778; -93.08611Coordinates: 44°56′52″N 93°5′10″W / 44.94778°N 93.08611°W / 44.94778; -93.08611

Built 1917
Architect Charles S. Frost
Architectural style Classical Revival
Governing body Private
Part of Lowertown Historic District (#83000935)
NRHP Reference # 74001040[5]
Added to NRHP December 18, 1974

The Saint Paul Union Depot is a historic railroad station and future main intermodal transit hub of the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

At one time the Saint Paul Union Depot Company controlled 9.24 miles (14.87 km) of St. Paul trackage and terminal facilities, including the depot building. The company was operated in tandem with the Minnesota Transfer Railway Company, with effective control of both properties exercised by the same board, composed of representatives of the nine joint tenants.[6] Later, passenger rail service in the region was restructured in the 1970s, with Amtrak taking over most passenger service in the United States.

The entrance to Union Depot, the headhouse, is considered a somewhat severe example of neoclassical architecture, with a number of tall columns in front. However, the concourse and the waiting room that extends out to platforms where trains once rolled in is considered to be one of the great architectural achievements in the city. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It is also a contributing property to the Lowertown Historic District.[7]

In 1971, Amtrak moved its rail service for the Twin Cities to the Great Northern Station in Minneapolis, and in 1978 opened the Midway Station about halfway between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Now that a restoration and renovations have been completed, Amtrak is expected to move back and restore train service to Union Depot in December of 2013, after all track and signalling system work is completed.

Union Depot currently serves Metro Transit, MVTA and Jefferson Lines.


Original Union Depot

There actually have been two Union Depots in St. Paul. The first was completed in 1881, and combined the services of several different railroads into one building (hence the "union"; see Union station). In 1888 the old station had its peak year, handling eight million passengers. That year, about 150 trains departed daily. Around this time, the building was remodeled with a taller central tower and other alterations to the roofline. The earlier station burned in 1915.

Current building

The current structure was started in 1917, although it was not completed until 1923 because World War I caused construction to halt for several years.

During its heyday, the depot had nine railroads operating, with more than 20 million pieces of mail passing through the station to the neighboring St. Paul Central Downtown Post Office annually. At its peak in the 1920s, there were 282 train movements daily. The waiting room stood atop 9 platforms serving 18 tracks; the eight northern ones closest to the headhouse were stub-end tracks, while the other ten ran through. However, track ownership and trackage rights west of the station meant that most trains operated as though the station was a stub terminal. These trains, when they were intended to continue beyond the station, would instead back up to a wye just to the east to get to other main lines.[8]

However, train ridership began to quickly erode in the 1920s as the automobile took hold and airlines began to operate. The railroads sought ways stem the flow of passengers and compete with these new forms of transportation. The Great Northern Railway introduced the Empire Builder in 1929 as the railroad's new premier train. As the Great Depression unfolded, more aggressive moves were required. The streamliner era in the United States began in 1934 with the introduction of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Zephyr. After making a "Dawn-to-Dusk Dash" from Chicago to Denver, Colorado, the CB&Q's interest would soon turn to the Twin Cities. A demonstration run was completed in 6 hours and 4 minutes, including six one-minute stops.[9] Other railroads were soon busy investigating how to run faster trains to Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The first locomotive to run in Minnesota, the William Crooks, was displayed at the depot from 1955 until the station's 1971 closure, after which it was moved to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, where it currently resides.

Early high-speed trains

On January 2, 1935, high-speed express service to Chicago was introduced on the Chicago and North Western Railway's 400, cutting the scheduled time between the two cities from about 10 hours down to 7. At its inception, Time dubbed the 400, "the fastest train scheduled on the American Continent, fastest in all the world on a stretch over 200 mi."[10] The C&NW had beaten two other railroads to the punch, which had been planning 6½ hour service to begin in the spring. The Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha and the Burlington Route's Twin Cities Zephyr were introduced with 6½ hour service a few months later at the same time, and C&NW sped its trains to match the same schedule.[9][11]

The Burlington Zephyrs were the first streamlined diesel-electric trains to serve the Twin Cities, and originally ran in an articulated configuration. The 400 (now renamed the Twin Cities 400) followed in 1939, but using more conventional couplers to link passenger cars together. The Hiawatha had always been powered by a streamlined (or, in the terminology of the Milwaukee Road, "speedlined") steam locomotive. The Twin Cities Zephyrs added a second set of trains daily in 1936, becoming known as the Morning Zephyr and Afternoon Zephyr, respectively. The Hiawatha added a second set of trains in 1939, each known as the Morning Hiawatha and Afternoon Hiawatha.

The Morning Hiawatha may hold the record as the world's fastest steam train on two or more measures: The 78.3-mile (126.0 km) run from Sparta to Portage, Wisconsin was scheduled for 58 minutes—an average of 81 miles per hour (130 km/h). Speeds up to and above 100 mph (160 km/h) were achieved on a daily basis, and the powerful Milwaukee Road class F7 engines (designed for a "reserve speed" of 125 mph (201 km/h)) likely ran more miles at or above 100 mph (160 km/h) than any other steam locomotives in history.[12]

Burlington's diesel Zephyrs were also very fast, and they had to be—the Zephyr route was about 20 miles (32 km) longer than the competition. In southwestern Wisconsin, a stretch of track between stations required an average speed of 84.4 miles per hour (135.8 km/h).

Eventually, the Hiawathas, Zephyrs, and the 400 ran 6¼-hour service between St. Paul and Chicago, and for a time the Morning Zephyr from Chicago reached St. Paul in six hours flat.[13] In the 1950s, the federal government began imposing stricter rules for high-speed operation, and expensive advanced signaling was installed along the routes to the Twin Cities, though trains generally travelled a maximum of 90 to 100 mph (140 to 160 km/h). Unable to keep up with an increasing automobile speeds on an improving road network and other factors that kept passengers away from trains, train ridership declined and the five daily fast trains became unprofitable.

The end of service

The Twin Cities 400 was the first victim, ending service on July 23, 1963. The Burlington (later Burlington Northern) Zephyrs ended service on April 30, 1971, the same day the depot closed. The Afternoon Zephyr was the last train to serve the depot when it departed that evening bound for Minneapolis. At this time, this train was normally combined with the Empire Builder and North Coast Limited from Chicago to St. Paul, except on Fridays when it ran as a separate train. Since April 30 was a Friday, the Zephyr had the "honor" of being the last train to depart the station.[14] Amtrak began operating the next day and changed the remaining Twin Cities trains to stop in Minneapolis instead, including the Hiawathas, which existed in various forms until the late 1970s.

The original expensive signaling enabling high speeds was later removed, and the Empire Builder respects a speed limit of 79 miles per hour (127 km/h), and currently takes 8 hours or more to travel from Midway station to Chicago (although it does take about 20 minutes longer to go from Midway than it will from the Union Depot simply due to urban speed restrictions).

Restoration and the Return of Train Traffic

Area boosters had long hoped that trains would return to the Union Depot, and plans gathered steam as the Hiawatha Line light rail project in Minneapolis drew toward completion. Planners envisioned the depot being used for a restored Amtrak service along with Metro and Jefferson Lines Buses.

A few businesses had occupied the headhouse since the halt of train service in 1971, while the United States Postal Service took over the rear of the building. The concourse and waiting room were used for some postal service activities and storage. After lying dormant for several years in the 1970s, the train tracks were removed from the train deck and it was paved with a flat surface. It began to be used for staging semi-trailer trucks carrying mail to and from the neighboring Downtown St. Paul Central Post Office as well as USPS employee parking. A driveway ramp was sliced into the train deck at the intersection of Kellogg Boulevard and Broadway Street for USPS vehicles. During the restoration, the USPS moved most of the truck operations to a bulk mail processing center in Eagan, Minnesota, making way for rehabilitation of the depot as a rail hub.

In 2005, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority secured funding to renovate the station as an intermodal transit hub served by Amtrak trains, Metro Transit light rail, and intercity bus lines.[15][16][17]

In June 2009, the Ramsey County Board approved purchasing the depot headhouse for $8.2 million, to serve as a METRO Green Line light rail station and for future passenger rail use.[18] Demolition of the Postal Service building that blocked track access to the station began in mid-March 2011. The USPS ramp cut all the way across the train deck and blocked the ability for tracks to be installed, so the ramp was modified during restoration to make a roughly right-angle turn to access new bus platforms on the north end of the train deck while freeing up room for a few tracks to be restored on the south end.

The renovation was completed in late November 2012 at a cost of $243 million, of which $35 million was provided by the US government through the TIGER program.[19] The renovated station re-opened to the public on December 8, 2012.[15][16][17]

After all lines are completed, the depot will make intercity connections for trains and Jefferson Lines buses while also being a hub for Metro Transit buses, light rail, and commuter rail.

Planned Services


The Empire Builder will be the first passenger train to return to the depot, since it is the only intercity line serving the Twin Cities today. Service is expected to start after Thanksgiving 2013 [20] after the completion of track connections to the existing line and the construction of new complex signals.[21]

Light rail

The METRO Green Line light rail line will have its eastern terminus at the station when it opens in 2014, though its final eastern stop will be in front of the headhouse rather than at a platform under the waiting room. Utility relocation work in preparation for the Green Line began in front of the depot on 4th Street in August 2009, well before the line received final funding or approval.[22] Track was laid in 2011–2012.[23] While the Union Depot will be the eastern terminus of service, the tracks will continue beyond the station to the line's maintenance facility.[24]

Regional rail

Future service could include commuter trains of the Red Rock Corridor, and the Rush Line and Gateway Corridor if commuter rail and/or light rail are chosen for these corridors. In 2010, the Minnesota Department of Transportation also released a plan for regional rail stretching out from the Twin Cities to rural Minnesota and neighboring states, and at least some of the lines would run to Saint Paul.[25]

High-speed rail

New trains running at speeds above 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) to Chicago have also been discussed since at least 1991, though plans have not moved very quickly. The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI), led by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, has proposed a link to the Twin Cities running at up to 110 mph (180 km/h). While not true high-speed rail—conventional trains in neighboring Canada run at up to 100 mph (160 km/h), and it does not exceed the top speeds of historical trains—the MWRRI plan does suggest that the top speed would be maintained for significant distances, resulting in higher average speeds: The planned schedule time to Saint Paul would be just 5½ hours. Others including the French national railway SNCF, which operates the TGV network, have proposed trains running at up to 220 mph (350 km/h)[26][27]

Local significance

Prior to the station's reopening in December 2012, Josh Collins, a spokesperson for Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, referred to the potential of the station to be "the living room of Saint Paul."[28]


The entrance to Union Depot, the headhouse, is considered a somewhat severe example of neoclassical architecture, with a robust aesthetic. A series of tall Doric columns line the front façade. However, the concourse and the waiting room that extends out to the platforms, where trains once rolled in, is considered to be one of the great architectural achievements in the city. The waiting room also has sentimental value as a location for first meetings and goodbyes. The building was designed by Charles Frost.[28]

The waiting room is flooded with natural light from skylights. These skylights were blackened during the Second World War, but restored for the 2012 re-opening.[28]

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places[28] in 1974.

Railway mapping

Milepost for rail lines that originated in Saint Paul use the depot as milepost 0. This is still evident in timetables and mileposts used by the BNSF Railway.

See also

Other notable trains to serve the depot

Other train stations in the Twin Cities

Regional and enhanced-speed train proposals


  • Doug Mack (August 11, 2004). Goodbye Mail, Hello Rail. Professor Yeti. Retrieved June 12, 2005.

External links

  • Proposed light rail station design
  • Ramsey County Historical Society
  • Comprehensive website on Lowertown Saint Paul
  • Minnesota Historical Society
  • The website for the current renovation of the station
  • - News, pictures, and info about the St. Paul Union Depot and its renovation.
  • and the depot – A good view of the concourse as used by the USPS
  • - News and information from Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority about the project and other transit lines that will serve the Union Depot.
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