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Saint Paul Union Depot

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Title: Saint Paul Union Depot  
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Subject: Midway (Amtrak station), Twin Cities 400, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Depot Freight House and Train Shed, Twin Cities Hiawatha, Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway
Collection: 1923 Establishments in Minnesota, Amtrak Stations in Minnesota, Bus Stations in Minnesota, Great Northern Railway (U.S.) Stations, Individually Listed Contributing Properties to Historic Districts on the National Register in Minnesota, Metro Green Line Stations, National Register of Historic Places in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Neoclassical Architecture in Minnesota, Northern Pacific Railway Stations, Railway Stations on the National Register of Historic Places in Minnesota, Railway Stations Opened in 1923, Railway Stations Opened in 2014, Stations Along Chicago and North Western Railway Lines, Stations Along Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Lines, Stations Along Milwaukee Road Lines, Stations Along Rock Island Lines, Transportation in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Union Stations in the United States
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Saint Paul Union Depot

Union Depot
Amtrak inter-city rail station
Location 214 East 4th Street
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101
 United States
Owned by Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority
Operated by Jones Lang LaSalle[1]
Platforms 9 historically
3 currently
Tracks 18 historically
2 currently
Connections Amtrak: Empire Builder
Metro Transit: 3, 16, 21, 53, 54, 94, 262, 417, Green
MVTA: 480, 484, 489[2]
Jefferson Lines[3]
Parking Yes, paid
Bicycle facilities Yes
Disabled access Yes
Other information
Station code MSP
Opened Original depot: 1881
Current structure built 1917–1923
Rebuilt 2011
Preceding station   Amtrak   Following station
toward Seattle or Portland, OR
Empire Builder
toward Chicago
Metro Transit
toward Target Field
Green Line Terminus
  Former services  
Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad
Minneapolis – St. Paul Line
Rock Island Line
Minneapolis – Houston
Union Depot
Saint Paul Union Depot is located in Minnesota
Location 214 East 4th Street
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Built 1917
Architect Charles S. Frost
Architectural style Classical Revival
Governing body Private
Part of Lowertown Historic District (#83000935)
NRHP Reference # 74001040[6]
Added to NRHP December 18, 1974

Saint Paul's Union Depot is an historic railroad station and intermodal transit hub located in the Lowertown neighborhood of the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States. It currently serves inter-city rail, inter-city bus, and local bus services. METRO Green Line also serves Union Depot, through a station outside the headhouse.

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.[7]

The 4th Street entrance to Union Depot, the headhouse, is neoclassical in style. The concourse and the waiting room that extend over the tracks are viewed as a great architectural achievements. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It is also a contributing property to the Lowertown Historic District.[8]

In 1971, Amtrak consolidated all passenger rail service for the Twin Cities at the Great Northern Station in Minneapolis, and in 1978 moved to the Midway Station about halfway between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Amtrak service moved to the Union Depot on May 7, 2014.[9]

Union Depot also serves Metro Transit, MVTA, Jefferson Lines, Greyhound and MegaBus.


  • History 1
    • Original Union Depot 1.1
    • Current building 1.2
    • Early high-speed trains 1.3
    • End of service 1.4
    • Restoration and return of passenger service 1.5
    • Special Events 1.6
  • Services 2
    • Light rail 2.1
    • Amtrak 2.2
    • Greyhound 2.3
    • Jefferson Lines 2.4
    • Other Services 2.5
  • Planned Services 3
    • Regional rail 3.1
    • High-speed rail 3.2
  • Local significance 4
    • Architecture 4.1
    • Railway mapping 4.2
  • See also 5
    • Other notable trains to serve the depot 5.1
    • Other rail stations in the Twin Cities 5.2
    • Regional and enhanced-speed train proposals 5.3
  • References 6
    • Sources 6.1
  • External links 7


Original Union Depot

The original depot sometime before 1886
The first depot in 1890

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. This station burned in 1915.

Current building

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

During its heyday, the depot hosted the passenger trains of nine railroads, and more than 20 million pieces of mail passed 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, instead backed up to a wye just to the east to get to other main lines.[10]

Train ridership began to 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. 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's Zephyr. After making a "Dawn-to-Dusk Dash" from Chicago to Denver, Colorado, the CB&Q's interest soon turned to the Twin Cities run. A demonstration run was completed in 6 hours and 4 minutes, including six one-minute stops.[11] Other railroads were soon busy investigating how to run faster trains to Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

William Crooks locomotive being set up as a static display in the station's waiting room in 1954. The engine remained on display here until 1975, when it was moved to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth.

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."[12] The C&NW beat two other railroads 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.[11][13]

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, running the Morning Zephyr and Afternoon Zephyr from each terminal. The Hiawatha added a second set of trains in 1939, and the Morning Hiawatha and Afternoon Hiawatha each provided daily service from Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago.

The Morning Hiawatha may hold the record as the world's fastest steam train on two or more measures: The 78.3 miles (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 miles per hour (160 km/h) were achieved on a daily basis, and the powerful Milwaukee Road class F7 engines (designed for a "reserve speed" of 125 miles per hour (201 km/h)) likely ran more miles at or above 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) than any other steam locomotives in history.[14]

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.[15] 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 traveled 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.

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.[16] Amtrak began operating the next day and changed the remaining Twin Cities trains to stop in Minneapolis instead.

The original expensive signaling enabling high speeds was later removed, and the Empire Builder respects a maximum speed limit of 79 miles per hour (127 km/h), and takes about 8 hours to travel from St. Paul Union Depot to Chicago.

Restoration and return of passenger service

Exterior of the station during renovation

Area boosters had long hoped that trains would return to the Union Depot, and plans gathered steam as the Blue 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 (USPS) 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.

Grand opening of the newly renovated waiting room

In 2005, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority secured funding to renovate the station as an [17][18][19]

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.[20] 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 [17][18][19]

The current vision for the depot is to create a hub for intercity connections for local & regional bus service, light rail, and commuter rail.

The first Amtrak train to service Saint Paul Union Depot was the westbound Empire Builder which stopped at the station at 11:30pm on May 7, 2014, 70 minutes late heading en route to Seattle and Portland. Officials welcomed the first passengers to depart the train at the depot.[22]

Special Events

Milwaukee Road 261 decorated as the North Pole Express in 2014 at St. Paul Union Depot

Since opening in late 2012,[17] the Depot has hosted a number of events. On May 10, 2014 (National Train Day), the depot hosted Great Northern Railway Historical Society's SD45 #400 (Hustle Muscle) from the Jackson Street Roundhouse, as well as some historical equipment. Amtrak displayed three Superliner cars. There were several other displays around the Depot grounds.

In December 2014, for the first time in nearly 50 years, an active steam locomotive returned to St. Paul Union Depot. Milwaukee Road 261 and some historic passenger cars, decorated as the "North Pole Express" ran short excursions to and from the depot. It was determined to be an overwhelming success, with intentions to operate the train again in 2015. While Milwaukee Road 261 was present, the Depot also got a visit from Canadian Pacific's traveling Holiday Train.

On May 9, 2015, the depot hosted National Train Day events once more, with GN SD45 #400 from the Great Northern Railway Historical Society and Jackson Street Roundhouse, plus a newer GE ES44C4 and some of the Milwaukee Road 261 excursion cars.


Amtrak's Empire Builder at St. Paul in September 2015

Light rail

The METRO Green Line light rail line's eastern terminus at the station opened on June 14, 2014, with its final eastern stop 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.[23] Track was laid from 2011–2012.[24] While the Union Depot is the eastern terminus of service, the tracks continue beyond the station to the line's maintenance facility.[25]


Serving this station is the Empire Builder, named to honor Saint Paul-based mogul James J. Hill who constructed the Great Northern Railroad, and whose nickname was "The Empire Builder". Westbound trains head for Spokane, Washington and split there to serve both Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon; eastbound trains head for Chicago. Previously trains stopped at Midway (Amtrak station). Service at Union Depot was delayed for almost two years after the initial grand re-opening due to negotiations with the owners of the railroads in the area[26] and the construction of new complex signals.[27] Also included is an Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach to Duluth.


Also serving this station is Greyhound Lines which arrived at Saint Paul Union Depot in March 2014 after initially pulling out of the project two years prior. Greyhound offers at least six coach bus departures a day and additional weekend service.

Jefferson Lines

Serving this station is also Jefferson Lines which relocated from Midway Station to Saint Paul Union Depot in 2013.

Other Services

Other services include Megabus and the regional Metro Transit and MVTA transit lines.

Planned Services

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.[28]

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. 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). 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 miles per hour (350 km/h).[29][30]

Zip Rail is a proposed HSR project to connect Rochester with the Twin Cities including a stop in the St. Paul Union Depot.

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."[31]


Frieze detailing on the waiting room walls

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. 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 building was designed by Charles Frost.[31]

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.[31]

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places[31] in 1974.

The restoration and new addition was designed by Hammel Green and Abrahamson Architects & Engineers (HGA).

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 rail stations in the Twin Cities

Regional and enhanced-speed train proposals


  1. ^ "Contract with Jones Lang LaSalle for services at Union Depot approved". Ramsey County Regional Rail News. Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority. July 25, 2012. Retrieved December 6, 2012. 
  2. ^ "These routes will change on Dec. 8". Connect.  
  3. ^ "Union Depot Welcomes Inner City Bus Service". January 14, 2013. Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  4. ^ Melo, Fredrick (March 10, 2014). "Greyhound coming to St. Paul's Union Depot". ( 
  5. ^ Melo, Fredrick (January 23, 2014). "Megabus coming to St. Paul's Union Depot". ( 
  6. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  7. ^ "Saint Paul Union Depot Company". Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Lowertown Historic District". Minnesota National Register Properties Database.  
  9. ^ Melo, Fredrick (May 7, 2014). "After 43 years, St. Paul's Union Depot marks return of passenger trains". ( 
  10. ^ "Saint Paul Union Depot Analysis Final Report" (PDF). Retrieved February 4, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Scribbins, Jim (2007) [1970].  
  12. ^ "400". Time Magazine Archive. January 14, 1935. Retrieved March 8, 2007. 
  13. ^ Scribbins, Jim (2008) [1982]. The 400 Story. Minneapolis, MN:  
  14. ^ Benn, Bryan. "Fastest Steam Locomotive?". Retrieved February 8, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Heritage from the Gods: Burlington’s new 8 car Twin Zephyrs" (PDF).  
  16. ^ Steve Glischinski, eyewitness account at depot on April 30, 1971.
  17. ^ a b c Shenoy, Rupa (December 8, 2012). "Party marks reopening of St. Paul's Union Depot". ( 
  18. ^ a b Melo, Frederick (December 8, 2012). "Thousands Visit St. Paul’s Newly Renovated Union Depot". ( 
  19. ^ a b "Renovation". Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  20. ^ "St. Paul Union Depot purchase approved".  
  21. ^ "USDOT approves TIGER grant agreement for Minnesota's Union Depot". Progressive Railroading. November 18, 2010. Retrieved November 20, 2010. 
  22. ^ Melo, Fredrick (May 7, 2014). "After 43 years, St. Paul's Union Depot marks return of passenger trains". ( 
  23. ^ Yuen, Laura (August 10, 2010). "St. Paul's Lowertown dealing with light rail construction headaches". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved September 10, 2010. 
  24. ^ "Construction Update: Downtown St. Paul - Week of September 20, 2010". Central Corridor Light Rail Transit. September 2010. Retrieved September 18, 2010. 
  25. ^ "Central Corridor LRT construction schedule at a glance". Central Corridor. Metropolitan Council. July 20, 2010. Retrieved September 18, 2010. 
  26. ^ Gilbert, Curtis (April 2, 2014). "Amtrak sets May 7 return to St. Paul's Union Depot". www.mprnews (Minnesota Public Radio). Retrieved May 2, 2014. 
  27. ^ "Amtrak’s arrival delayed. Union Depot welcomes Jefferson Bus Lines, whose chair now runs MnDOT.". ( 
  28. ^ Cambridge Systematics, Inc., Kimley Horn and Associates, Inc., and TKDA, Inc. (December 2009). "Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan (Draft Final Report)" (PDF).  
  29. ^ "Midwest" (PDF). SNCF. September 14, 2009. Retrieved December 6, 2012. 
  30. ^ Freemark, Yonah (September 19, 2009). "SNCF Proposes Development of High-Speed Rail in Midwest, Texas, Florida, and California Corridors". The Transport Politic. Retrieved December 6, 2012. 
  31. ^ a b c d Duchschere, Kevin (December 5, 2012). "A new day is coming for St. Paul's Union Depot".  


  • Black, Sam (December 10, 2009). "Mortenson team picked for $150M St. Paul Union Depot transit hub". Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal. Retrieved December 16, 2009. 
  • Diers, John (1913). St. Paul Union Depot. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978 0 8166 5610 3
  • Mack, Doug. (August 11, 2004). Goodbye Mail, Hello Rail. Professor Yeti. Retrieved June 12, 2005.
  • Nelson, Tim (June 7, 2005). "Post office proposes Eagan move".  

External links

  • Official Union Depot website
  • Amtrak – Stations – St. Paul-Minneapolis
  • St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN (MSP) (Amtrak's Great American Stations)
  • Back On Track: The Rebirth of St. Paul's Union Depot Ramsey County (YouTube). 2014.
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