Where some of the money went
Locker room, kitchen and offices for Amtrak employees and officials; retail space, reached from the outside, that has drawn no interest. By Chip Smedley, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A tour of the Lancaster train station offers a glimpse into how $14.2 million in federal, state and local money was spent.
But it doesn't tell nearly the full story.
That's because the bulk of the work involved a "back of the house" remake of the 84-year-old structure's guts, things that are not easily seen -- wiring and plumbing, asbestos removal, a new roof and heating and air conditioning units and ductwork, among other things.
The only truly visible evidence of the money spent is in the basement --which is not seen by the commuting public. That's where the offices Amtrak uses to coordinate its workforce are located.
Although 100 workers operate out of the building, only a few remain all day. The Lancaster station is the hub for the Amtrak force responsible for maintaining a section of the Keystone Corridor from Harrisburg to Parkesburg. Most employees report for work, receive their daily orders and head out on work trains to their assignments. Supervisors remain at the station in basement offices to plan and coordinate the maintenance work.
Though rumored to be posh, the basement offices appear more functional than palatial. Supervisors sit in cubicles, and hallways are lined with newly painted drywall. The offices are new, but are the institutional types of offices found in any newly renovated business.
And the office-area hallways have no ceilings, so the wiring, plumbing and silver-wrapped ductwork looms overhead.
Two amenities that might give people pause are a new locker room and kitchen space for the employees. But, Amtrak must provide these at all of its stations to meet stipulations in the carrier's contract with its unions, said Marilyn Jamison, senior director partner in Amtrak's department of major project partnerships, policy and development.
Of the offices and the rumors, Jamison said, "I think early on an urban legend arose about the offices here. We gave tours while the project was ongoing and people saw that the offices were completed before a lot of the other work and were a bit skeptical about that."
The offices had to be completed early, she explained, so renovation work could take place on the upper floors. The plan was to move all of the workers to the basement so the spaces on the first and second floors would be open for workers to complete the electrical, plumbing and ductwork jobs.
Other visible evidence of the project is on the platforms and the exterior of the concourse that enables passengers to reach them; the creation of a dedicated space for a coffee/snack shop in the main hall; shelters for the bus and taxi stands at the front of the building; a new bus ticketing office, just inside the bus passenger entrance; and three spaces on the ground floor Amtrak hopes to market for retail use.
Only one of the retail spaces appears as if little work would be needed before a tenant could occupy it. One space is partially fitted out. One has no finishing work done at all.
Anyone opening retail operations in the spaces would not only have to finish the interiors, they'd be responsible for installing counters, lighting and other fixtures.
So far, no one has expressed interest in occupying the spaces. Amtrak continues to hold out hope, however, and is reportedly negotiating with a local property management firm that knows the community and may have better success in finding tenants.
The main problem, though, is the nature of the Lancaster station. Though it's the second busiest station in the Keystone Corridor (behind 30th Street Station in Philadelphia) it is solely a commuter station.
Jamison said, "People look at 30th Street Station, or Penn Station [in New York City] and wonder why the same types of things that happen there can't happen here.
"But those stations are railroad hubs," she explained. "Many of the people who use them are changing trains to go in different directions and have layovers."
Consequently, businesses, restaurants and bars flourish because they enable people to wile away the time between trains.
"Lancaster is different," she said. "People know when their train is leaving. They come and buy their tickets -- or purchase them in advance online -- and arrive just in time to make the train. They aren't waiting around in the station for another train."
Yet, even the space with the most potential has unique problems. Located to the rear of the building, it offers a huge bank of windows facing north with an unobstructed view of the tracks and passing trains. It has become known as "the restaurant space" because of that view.
But it's inaccessible from the inside of the station, and can only be reached by walking around the building's north side. It cannot be seen from any street. And during the day there is little parking, as all spaces are usually occupied.
Jamison said even though Amtrak is looking at ways to market the spaces, as far as she is concerned, her focus is to complete the Capstone project and make sure "our proud lady gets her face-lift."n