Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Sad Fate of Wilmington Train Station

Wilmington Station, 2008
For decades, trains that arrive in and depart from Wilmington, Delaware have used a station built in the pre-Amtrak days of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

It would be inappropriate to call this small station "grand," in the way that one might refer to Union Station in Washington or to Grand Central in New York.  It's not even as large as the stations found in Baltimore or Newark (though, in fairness, Wilmington is a smaller city than either of these). Yet it had a industrial-age sense of grandeur nonetheless.

Prior to his election as Vice President, Joe Biden -- then the senior Delaware senator -- regularly took the train to and from his home state.  He walked across the polished brick floor almost every day to board the Acela to the nation's capital.

Thus it was that in 2010, when the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act was passed, Wilmington Train Station received money for upgrades and renovation.

As conceded earlier, Wilmington Train Station cannot be compared to any of the grand stations of the past, and certainly not to Penn Station in New York.  In this case, however, it is apt to draw a parallel, because as with Penn Station, what happened here is a cautionary tale.

In 1968, the sweeping expanses of Penn Station were demolished to make way for Madison Square Garden, office buildings, and a new train concourse that to this day is a confusing, maze-like underground mall of dubious appeal.  In 2010, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act transformed Wilmington Train Station into a cheaply modern station along the same lines:

Wilmington Station, 2010

Polished brick is now gray tile.  Burnished brass is now laminate.  The lighting has gone from soft yellow to harsh white, and wooden benches encircling columns have been replaced with the double benches of blue metal mesh.

In 1968, the New York Times said of Penn Station that, "civilization gets what it wants, is willing to pay for, and ultimately deserves."  Ironically, civilization paid far more to transform lovely Wilmington Train Station into what it is now than it would have cost to preserve it as it was.

But that is what we deserve.

1 comment:

Ms. Wray said...

Very sad. And to think that money could have gone to sprucing up the decripit Newark Train Station. Oh, Amtrak, why must you suck?