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Restored Union Station in Denver to bring back heyday of train travel

Sketch of the restored Union Station. Photo courtesy of Denver RTD.

There was a time in the 1800s when Denver was the largest and most important city between St. Louis and San Francisco -- thanks to a whopping 80 trains stopping at Denver on the timetables of six railroad lines. Union Station, the city's main terminal, was known as the "Grand Central Station" of Denver.

It truly was a grand station, but with Denver's growth as an airline hub in the next century (by the 1970s the city was home to the flight hubs of four major carriers, more than found at any other U.S. airport) the train terminal fell on hard times.

Fast-forward to today, and Union Station is about to regain the glory it once enjoyed in the Golden Age of train travel. A $480 million restoration of the terminal is set to pay off on July 12, 2014, with the re-opening of what's being billed as "the most exciting project in downtown Denver in decades."

Among highlights of the terminal's eye-popping design will be a "Great Hall" waiting room with soaring arched windows. AMTRAK and light rail cars from around the city will arrive at a new eight-track terminal behind the station, while express and local buses will use a 22-bay underground complex (with service starting on May 12, 2014).

Free electric shuttle buses will leave from Union Station and travel up and down Denver's popular 16th Street Mall, stopping on every corner. A new free shuttle called Denver MetroRide will leave Union Station to travel up and down 18th and 19th streets, stopping every two to three blocks. The two shuttles will make it convenient, fast and free to get virtually anywhere in downtown Denver.

Coming in 2016 will be direct commuter rail service from Union Station to Denver International Airport.

The station will be home to the 112-room Crawford hotel, eight new restaurants and dining spots, a branch of the famous Tattered Cover Bookstore, a hand-churned ice cream shop, a cocktail lounge and beer garden, and lots of retail stores. Local powerhouse chefs Jen Jasinski (winner of the 2013 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest) and Alex Seidel (Food & Wine’s Best New Chef of the Year 2010) will both have restaurants in the new complex.

More information: Check out the websites of Visit Denver and Union Station.

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