The northern entrance to the Union Station Metro is probably one of the most cramped in the system. And during peak periods it becomes very congested. The District Department of Transportation is working with WMATA to greatly expand the capacity and utility of the mezzanine.

Because of the design constraints of the site, the northern mezzanine had to be shoehorned into a very small area adjacent to Union Station. With the large number of transfers between commuter rail and Metro, the space is no longer sufficient.

Images by the author.

The Metro station is not directly under the Union Station building. It’s actually underneath the ramp that comes down from the parking garage. Two escalators and one elevator connect the northern edge of the Metro platform to the mezzanine. From there, an elevator and two escalators ascend to the concourse level of Union Station and a ramp descends to an exit to First Street NE.

North mezzanine. Photo by the author.

At the concourse level, passengers can walk down a corridor past the Post Office into Union Station or they can turn and head to the MARC platforms near Gate A. Because of this easy access, this entrance sees lots of commuter rail passengers. But the escalators connecting the concourse to the mezzanine also serve Union Station customers headed to and from First Street NE and NoMa.

A separate entrance to the Metro is located further south, toward the center of the platform. The southern mezzanine gives patrons access to the front side of Union Station, the Great Hall, Massachusetts Avenue, Senate and other office buildings, and direct access to the Union Station Food Court. No changes are planned for this mezzanine.

Proposed Solutions

One of the biggest problems with the northern mezzanine is vertical capacity. The two escalators at the north end of the platform have a difficult time handling the mass of commuters each day. To solve this problem, the project will remove the current elevator and replace it with a staircase in between the two escalators.

The new elevators would come down about where the middle pylon is.

To replace the platform-to-mezzanine elevator, the agencies will need to reconfigure the mezzanine level of the station. A passageway will be constructed inside the fare-paid area just to the east of the up escalator (above the Glenmont track). It will turn south, travel parallel to the escalators, and then turn west to move above the platform. There, two new elevators will connect the mezzanine to the platform. The elevators will pierce the part of the ceiling that is lower and flat (not the arched vault part).

The fare-paid zone will be expanded by closing the existing First Street entranceway. The current ramp will be filled in, which will allow new faregates to be added in that area. This will help to reduce congestion in the mezzanine.

To compensate for the loss of the current First Street entrance, a new, larger entrance will be constructed slightly further north, essentially on a line with the existing concourse-to-mezzanine escalators. A ramp and stairs will be constructed outside the station wall to connect to the sidewalk. The ramp will face southward and the stairs will face north.

Left: Existing First Street entrance. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Right: Walled over passageway. Photo by the author.

Additionally, an incomplete passageway, built in the mid-1970s, will be completed and opened. The passage runs underground toward H Street alongside the Red Line. The passageway was never opened, and the entrance was walled over. You can see it directly across from the exit faregates. By opening this area, DDOT will be able to link the Red Line to the new streetcar line along H Street. The passage will head north until it reaches the H Street underpass (which predates the H Street bridge). There, it will connect to the temporary streetcar platform and to an exit to First Street.

Four elevators will be constructed to connect the new lobby at First Street (under H) to the bridge-level H Street. It is not clear whether DDOT will install cars and equipment in all 4 initially, but at least 2 will be put in service as a part of the first phase.

The new escalators will come up to the left side of the picture.

In addition, the area where the passageway intersects the mezzanine will be expanded. This will allow the construction of two new escalators which will ascend to the south, emerging on the concourse level of Union Station directly in front of the Post Office and liquor store.

Also to be constructed off of the passage are two new elevators. They will connect to the concourse level at the point where the corridor to the MARC trains meets the corridor toward the Post Office — essentially across the hall from the existing elevator. The current elevator will be removed once construction is complete.

There is not currently a timeframe for this project. DDOT estimates that it will take at least 36 months after money has been granted to complete construction.


DDOT and WMATA are currently working on funding the project. They are preparing to apply for a TIGER II grant from the US Department of Transportation. Another approach being considered is a 5 cent surcharge on trips beginning or ending at Union Station. The Metro Board has proposed this as a way to accelerate capital improvements at stations where they are needed.

All told, the improvements are expected to cost between $33 and $36 million.

In June, the Board’s Finance Committee approved the option to allow 6 stations systemwide to implement this surcharge — 2 each in the District, Maryland, and Virginia. The full Board has approved the concept, but has not selected which stations will see the surcharge. It is likely that it would be implemented at all 6 locations at the same time.

The surcharge idea would be an excellent way to get vital capital improvements on the fast track. While Union Station has been the only station named so far as a potential site, some other projects come to mind as potential candidates, including the proposed tunnels between Gallery Place and Metro Center and between Farragut West and Farragut North.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Dupont Circle. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.