Greenfield high-speed rail lines frequently serve new stations rather than legacy stations; the TGV network is famous for this, and the discussion of whether to place intermediate stations in the city or on the outskirts has arisen in many reports and studies on the subject. What is less commonly discussed is what to do at the main urban stations. More often than not these are the legacy stations, but there are several exceptions.
Those are not the infamous beet-field stations in France, but something quite different – they’re in different neighborhoods from the older stations, but are still in dense urban landscape, often (but not always) as close to downtown as the older stations. Trains do not pass them at very high speed, so they’re chosen primarily to make through-service easier, in cities whose legacy stations are terminals or otherwise difficult to connect through. Indeed, I do not know of a single case in which such new stations are intended to serve as terminals – they are either through-stations from the start, or terminals intended to be used as through-stations with a later extension.
Example 1. Shin-Osaka is located just outside central Osaka, about 4 kilometers from Osaka Station. Osaka Station is a through-station, but there are sharp curves from it to the legacy Tokaido Main Line at both ends, and also there was not enough room to build additional tracks for dedicated Shinkansen use. Since the goal was subsequent through-service west of Osaka, it was easier to build a new station just outside the CBD, at the intersection of the Tokaido Shinkansen with the Tokaido Main Line (now Kyoto Line). The station is also connected to one subway line, which goes to Osaka Station and beyond. Although there has been development near the station, it is a secondary station, with far more traffic at Osaka; a transit-oriented CBD is too compact and dependent on a huge subway network to move so easily.
Example 2. Lyon Part-Dieu was built specifically for the TGV, since the old station, Perrache, was at a poor location for connection to the high-speed line. Part-Dieu is located in a busy neighborhood area of Lyon and has seen ample development, and the Lyon Metro, which is not much older than the LGV Sud-Est, serves it from multiple directions. In addition, commuter trains have been diverted to Part-Dieu from Perrache, so that now the station is France’s busiest mainline station outside Paris. Despite its use as a through-station, the construction of further LGV segments south of Lyon in the 1990s made it somewhat of a terminus for TGVs, while through-trains skip the city at full speed on a greenfield alignment to the east of the urban area or stop along the way, near the airport.
Example 3. Lille’s legacy train station, Lille-Flandres, is a terminus. This was unacceptable for TGV service, not least because the main draw of building a line to Lille was the onward connection to the Channel Tunnel, which was constructed at the same time. Thus, a new station was built a few hundred meters from Lille-Flandres, on the land of a former helicopter base; because of the city’s new position at the junction of high-speed lines to Paris, London, and Brussels, the station was named Lille-Europe. Like Shin-Osaka and unlike Part-Dieu, Lille-Europe is primarily a high-speed train station; Lille-Flandres is much busier (it is the second busiest provincial French station, after Part-Dieu). This is despite the fact that Lille has extensively redeveloped, using the TGV as a catalyst.
Example 4. Because of difficulty reaching Barcelona’s main station, Sagrera, the AVE is initially serving a terminal station a few kilometers to the west, Sants. A new track connection to Sagrera was built, in order to allow full through-service to points north and east of Barcelona. In this case, the choice of a new station was a temporary measure allowing the line to open earlier, rather than a change in alignment.
What all of these examples have in common is different from the usual conception of building new HSR stations, both in an outskirt setting and in a CBD setting. None of these stations has been about digging greenfield tunnels under city center – indeed Shin-Osaka was explicitly about avoiding such tunnels, and Sants was built as a way to allow service to open before such a tunnel were finished. None involves a station cavern; Lille-Europe is above ground, despite its CBD location. None is an urban prestige project.
Indeed, the decision to build a new underground station complex under Marseille’s terminal station, Saint-Charles, is one of many contributing to the very high projected cost of the LGV PACA project linking Marseille (and Paris) with Nice. A though-station very close to downtown exists, and an underground option there was judged slightly cheaper in an alternatives analysis, but all currently considered scenarios involve an underground station at Saint-Charles.
Another thing to observe is that neither Japan nor France compromised on station location in the capital, but at the same time neither built extensive infrastructure for it. None of the Paris RER lines or of the TGV projects has included any provision for building a single central Paris station for trains in all direction; such a station would require a large cavern with multiple tunnels, and the space and money for such tunnels is far more valuable for local transit use. Likewise, Japan has had no trouble cutting back legacy intercity and long-range commuter trains to bring the Shinkansen to Tokyo Station, but stops short of building a new cavern for it. The most it has done is reserve space at Shinjuku for a future tunnel for use by the Joetsu Shinkansen, requiring new subway lines that go nearby to be built deeper.
The upshot in the US is that the emphasis should be on functional train station locations, rather than on the most central locations. In particular, the Amtrak Vision‘s plan to bring intercity trains to Market East and Charles Center through new tunnels should be shelved in favor of the existing 30th Street and Baltimore Penn Station. In addition, a new track connection between Grand Central and Penn Station should be used only by commuter trains, which need it far more than intercity ones (it would also allow tighter curves, saving on expensive Midtown land acquisition), mirroring the fact that no TGVs serve Chatelet-Les Halles. If the example stations in this post are any guide, any Manhattan location south of 60th Street would work for New York’s primary train station, and Penn Station’s location is as good as any.
In California, what this means is not surprising: converting Los Angeles’s Union Station configuration from terminal to through-station is paramount. In addition, at the Bay Area end, it’s fine to end high-speed trains at the existing 4th and King terminal rather than Transbay, until future money for the final tunnel is committed. In the longer run, in San Diego, although the existing Santa Fe depot should be used if possible, another urban location would not be hurtful as long as it had some transit accessibility and was in a walkable location.