The Wilmington Train Station: A Lament (Best Of 2011)
We at TSD are celebrating the end of 2011 with the year’s best posts. It’s been a year filled with great stories and strong opinions, always reflecting the best of the First State.
ORIGINAL PUBLISHING DATE: May 20, 2011
Two years and nearly $40 million later and I hate to say it but the renovation of the Wilmington Train Station leaves me a bit cold.
I’m just not warming up to it. It feels – the interior at least – somehow a lesser place. As the state’s arguably most important point of entry, our largest city’s welcome mat, it now evokes the aura not so much of the grand, historic portal that it is, but more, well, that of a NJ transit stop.
As a long-time Amtrak fan and supporter it kills me to share these sentiments.[i] Similarly, because our Vice President Joe Biden was recently honored with the placing of his name on the station.[ii]
- The missing tote board – The first thing I noticed regarding the new repairs was the absence of that wonderful old clickety-clackety tote board that perched above the main stairwell, now replaced by a smaller, lifeless digital display. So fired-up was I by the mysterious disappearance of this treasure that I actually did two things for the very first time: I wrote a letter to my Congressmen (Senators, actually; sorry John Carney but a freshmen in the House’s minority party… well…) and a letter to the editor of our local paper. Senator Carper’s response (kudos to you, sir, for prompt staff work; attn Sen. Coons: I’m still waiting) said “the modernized information system…will provide more accurate and up-to-date train information…” I’m not buying it.
- The missing wooden benches – Like the tote board, someone somehow thought it would be a good idea to dump those nice, open wooden benches (remember the newspapers that would be waiting for you there?) in favor of cheapy, cramped, uncomfortable metal bucket-seats. Bad decision.
- The new beveled ticket windows and help desk – This design is anything but inviting – in fact, the big glass windows remind me of the counter at one of those rough liquor stores with bullet-proof glass.
- No down-escalator at the main stairwell – A few days after my glorious letter was published in the News Journal, someone with actual credentials – an architect – wrote to complain about the failure to install a down-escalator at the most-used stairwell in the building. This absence has baffled me for years as it did the author of that letter (I wish I had kept it). For Pete’s sake, every time I disembark and go down those stairs I end up helping some tiny woman or older person lug their 50 lb. suitcase down those stairs. Just this morning I witnessed an older woman approach the top of the stairs with a look of dread as she contemplated the dilemma of her two massive bags – (fortunately, another chivalrous soul stepped in to help). This absence is downright dangerous. What gives?
- The automated-creepy computer voice that does most of the announcements– It seems to me there are lots of fine Americans working behind the station counter and they are more than capable of putting the human touch on station updates and information. The computer voice just further depersonalizes the station environment. Shoot, the cheery, often-witty conductor voice on the trains themselves is intrinsic to the Amtrak brand. And if a live human voice is good enough for Penn Station, NYC, then why not Wilmington?
- Parking – OK, like #4 this one pre-dates the station renovation, but what the heck. Ever tried to pull into the garage via the MLK Blvd/King Street entrance and find out once you’ve gone down that little dead-end alley that it is full? Try doing a nine-point turn with seven cars behind you. Why in the name of Rocky Bluewinkle can’t there be a sign on MLK Blvd warning cars not to pull in when there are no more spaces?
I get that the upgrades and repairs were principally focused on structural issues, heaven knows they were needed (the bridge over French Street was literally crumbling). But if as Sen. Carper suggests in his letter, the renovations included “a larger concourse,” how is it that the place feels more cramped and less open?
I feel a little guilty taking these shots because the exterior looks terrific and it is clearly a more stable and sturdy facility. And they do now offer free “AmtrakConnect WiFi® Internet Service,” which, unfortunately, allowed me to send this rant to TSD!
[i] Where do I get off critiquing the station design, you may ask? My professional opinion comes from being an “aluminum tier” Amtrak points guy as well as a co-founder of the mighty and influential “Republican Working Group on Transit” (that is not an oxymoron!)
[ii] And I’m pretty confident plans for the renovation pre-dated his election as VP.