Conveniently located in downtown, Denver’s Union Station recently underwent an extensive remodel that merged classic style with modern amenities.
There once was a time when traveling by rail in the US was both convenient and glamourous. Then the interstates and the airlines came along, and today Amtrak — at least outside the Northeast — is a perplexing mix of useless and expensive.
There are, however, places to catch a glimpse of how rail travel used to be, and one of those places is Denver’s Union Station. The current station — which takes its name from the Union Pacific Railroad — is the result of decades of building, demolition/destruction, and rebuilding. That process began in the late 1860s, but the station as it stands today is mostly from an iteration that was finished in 1914.
Like so many other train stations in the US, the late 20th Century was hard on Union Station as service and ridership declined.
That all changed, however, in 2014 when a remodeled version of the station opened. The Denver Post has a good, long write up on how that remodel happened, but suffice it to say here that the current iteration is fantastic. The buildings have been preserved and restored, and are now filled with cool restaurants — I picked up a fancy ice cream cone at Little Man — and even a shuffle board table. I was recently there on a Thursday afternoon and it was bustling.
But what makes Union Station really special is that it is still a rail hub; local interurban trains converge on Union Station, as do Amtrak trains. Amtrak even still has ticket counters mixed in with all the hip new eateries. (Though the original ticket counters are part of a restaurant now, and the problems with Amtrak generally remain.)
Sadly, Denver’s Union Station can’t single handedly bring back rail travel in the US, but it does offer a glimpse into what an actual Western train station looked like when it was in use and not neglected. And for that reason, it’s definitely worth checking out.
— Jim Dalrymple II