Expect significant construction early next year
Amtrak is preparing to close parts of the 30th Street Station as it moves forward with a $550 million renovation that will create a new outdoor plaza along Market Street, renovate the station’s restaurants and shops, and upgrade systems throughout the massive rail station.
Among other changes, the federal agency says it plans to place the station’s former departure sign in a “prominent location” in the passenger concourse.
The iconic 1970s-era Solari sign was replaced five years ago with an ADA-compliant electronic sign, sparking protests from travelers who missed the classic clicking sound and calling for its return. Its new location will be a “non-functional” museum display, according to Amtrak spokesman Beth Toll, and will remain uncharacteristically silent. The installation date has not been announced.
Officially named the William H. Gray III 30th Street Station after the late Pennsylvania congressman and civil rights activist, the 80-year-old building is Amtrak’s third-busiest transit hub, serving more than 3 million passengers annually. It is being renovated with funding from the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill passed in 2021.
Amtrak officials said the rehabilitation’s priority is to protect and highlight the station’s architecture, which includes neoclassical, art deco and art modern designs.
Features such as the Spirit of the Carriage, a 30-foot-tall wall sculpture created in 1895, will be preserved, and contractors will restore the wooden pews, bronze doors, marble finishes and other elements.
“We worked with different historic preservation designers and tried to be very sensitive to the historic fabric,” said Abigail Barman, Amtrak’s assistant project manager for the rehabilitation. “As we bring in new elements, it is in the same language, but with a modern feel.”
Instead of a ring road, a public square (and perhaps a farmers’ market) was created.
Most of the work will be done above the high ceiling of the passenger concourse, in two towers that will house Amtrak’s offices. Work already began in August to upgrade systems such as fire protection, heating and cooling, electrical and roofing.
The first major construction visible to the public is scheduled to begin early next year.
Amtrak will close the station’s south concourse, where restaurants and shops are located, along with part of the terminal’s ring road, outdoor “porch” area and some station doors. Food and beverages will continue to be available from concession stands during construction.
One of the major changes planned is the removal of the southern portion of the turnpike, which currently allows drivers in the west side parking area to go around the building to the east side and out onto the street.
That area, near Market Street, would become a large open plaza with glass canopies protecting the proposed farmers market, along with landscaping and some café-style seating, according to designs submitted by Amtrak. A sidewalk will be built along the street.
“I’m excited to see this farmers market in action,” said Ivan Garcia, an urban planner who attended an open house Thursday afternoon at the station. “I live a couple of blocks away, so I would be very happy and excited to come buy some produce and buy some goods here. I think it will be a great project for the area.”
The exterior renovation will also create separate pick-up and drop-off areas for taxis and ride-sharing services in the west and east side parking areas.
New escalators, new dining hall, renewed steam heat
Inside the building, the lobby restaurant and retail area will be reorganized to create a food hall similar to Franklin’s Table at 34th and Walnut, said Barman, assistant project manager. There will be a new, separate restaurant extending to the southwest corner of the main concourse.
A portion of the concourse on the north side of the building will be closed, and a new waiting area and a combined ticketing and baggage handling facility will be built in an area behind the existing ticket kiosk.
Elevators and escalators between the lobby and the lower-level train platforms and other floors will be replaced, Barman said. The upstairs Metropolitan Lounge waiting area will be renovated, and contractors will extensively renovate Amtrak offices for the first time since the 1980s, she said.
SEPTA’s Regional Rail platform will not be affected and passengers will continue to have direct access to those trains during construction, Toll said.
In contrast, the project will not add new natural gas boilers to the plant, instead it will continue to heat the building using steam generated at Vicinity Energy in Gray’s Ferry and transported through a network of underground pipes.
Amtrak credited the decision to pressure from the Clean Air Council and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, who pointed to the effects of natural gas pollution on global warming. The federal agency has also committed to clean energy and net-zero carbon emissions goals, and Barman said the renovation will help make 30th Street more energy efficient.
“The building is 100 years old, and there are a lot of old doors, windows and systems — mechanical, electrical, plumbing — that are exposed to drafts,” Barman said. “All of these will be replaced, revitalized and brought back to a good state of repair. The steam system will be activated.”
Public-private partnership, with lots of big-name stakeholders
Office renovations will begin this month, according to a timeline provided by Amtrak. Construction of the retail station will begin in January, and construction of the Market Street plaza is scheduled to run from September 2025 to September 2026.
All work is expected to be completed by October 2027, later than initially planned. Amtrak had previously said construction would begin in the spring of 2022 and end in 2025.
Some residents and commuter leaders have asked Amtrak to restore the underground tunnel between the 30th Street station and SEPTA’s nearby Market Street station, but it remains unclear when that might happen.
“The current scope of construction underway at the station through Amtrak’s agreement with (project contractors) anticipates a potential future connection, but the design of the connection has not been completed, and construction of the connection is not part of the current construction,” Toll, an agency spokesman for the project, said.
Amtrak said it applied for a CRISI grant from the Federal Transit Administration to fund the design, but the application was not selected for funding.
The old tunnel was closed in 1984, forcing travelers to climb above ground and cross a busy road to travel between stations.
The comprehensive renovation project is structured as a public-private partnership between Amtrak and Planary Infrastructure Philadelphia, or PIP, which is financing, designing and constructing, and will maintain the building for 50 years.
The group includes master developer Planary America, Gilbane Construction Company, Johnson Controls, and Vantage Airport Concession Management Group. The architect, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, has worked on a number of notable transportation projects, including New York’s Moynihan Train Hall, the Dulles Airport Terminal Expansion and Chicago’s Millennium Terminal.
The project is also part of the 30th Street Station District Plan, an 8-year-old master plan for commercial development and improved transportation connectivity around the station. Plan partners are Amtrak, Brandywine Realty Trust, Drexel University, PENDOT and SEPTA.