Option Rail

Option Rail

Time flies. It’s been almost a year since the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (METRO) selected Grimshaw Architects and Gruen Associates to design the master plan for its 47-acre site around Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. In early May, the team revealed the first glimpse of what might happen on the property.

The firms presented four “draft alternatives,” which will continue to be refined with community input and narrowed down to a “final preferred plan” by next spring. None of the plans show any building designs. They are instead a blueprint for future infrastructure and development. All suggest incorporating multiple transit types—including rail, subway, light rail, bus, and high-speed rail—on the site.

The first alternative calls for putting a high-speed rail track above the current rail yard, which is east of Union Station. This plan, pointed out Grimshaw associate principal Nikolas Dando-Haenisch, would allow for all transit operations to be melded into a single facility raised above the yard.

The second alternative posits running a high-speed rail line and concourse under Alameda Street and installing a widened, below grade passenger concourse on the east-west axis behind Union Station. This plan, noted Dando-Haenisch, would leave the eastern side of the property more open to non-transit development.

The third alternative suggests running high speed rail along Vignes Street, fairly far east of Union Station, installing a terminal just adjacent to Metro’s current headquarters, freeing up the west side of the station for development. The fourth has a similar alignment for rail, with a high-speed rail concourse located even further east, on the current site of the city’s hulking C. Erwin Piper Technical Center.

All of the plans, noted the team, are in flux, and will be adapted before the final proposal is made. If high speed rail never comes to Los Angeles—which is still very much a possibility given the project’s political and financial hurdles—the plans would not be significantly altered, said Jenna Hornstock, deputy executive officer for countywide planning at Metro.


The goal would remain the creation of a district dedicated to transit, instead of one more focused on Union Station itself. That includes efforts to integrate all transit options, to develop the site with new commercial, entertainment, and retail buildings, to improve pedestrian flow, and to better integrate it into its surrounding neighborhood.

“If high speed rail never comes these schemes need to work on their own and be whole. We need to make the station function better right now, whether the future involves high-speed rail or not,” said Hornstock.

Once a final course is settled on next year, Metro will begin the long process of implementing the master plan, which will include leasing sites to various developers and, ultimately, selecting architects and other construction professionals. The process could take decades to complete, said Hornstock.

Everyone agreed on one thing: Union Station needs to become, as Dando-Haenisch put it, “World class. Not an ordinary place, but an extraordinary place.”