Dignity has been restored to the rails in downtown St. Louis. For more than 25 years, until recently, boarding Amtrak in the city involved not a station but the “Amshack,” a modular number hidden under the freeway on what looked like a set from The Wire. You would buy your ticket and pray the wait wouldn’t be long. Then you had to make your way through a treacherous gravel yard to reach your train. All along, there was a wonderful Romanesque train station nearby: Union Station, opened in 1894, was once the world’s biggest and busiest station. It closed in 1978 and reopened in 1985 as a hotel and shopping mall, but—this is the sad part—without trains. In 2004, the local Riverfront Times reported that the Amshack was “thought to be the oldest temporary depot in the world.”

How far things had fallen in the way of railroad romance. But they have now swung upward again with the completion of the St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center, a new downtown depot built to serve Amtrak. It’s not Union Station’s limestone castle, but, with 16 trains a day, St. Louis can live with less, and these days, two platforms serving four newly built tracks is enough. More important than capacity are the connections. The Gateway Center, which cost $27 million, gives Amtrak passengers a modern portal but also direct access to MetroLink, the local light rail system, and to Greyhound buses.

Fitting these functions together on the site that was available took surgical skill, because Metro, the local transit authority, owned only one parcel downtown where all three transit systems met. It happens to be directly beneath four overpasses of Interstate 64, so the 35,700-square-foot building appears to have been slipped—or poured—around several of their columns.

“It wound up being a very curvilinear project because of all the site constraints,” says Melissa Kreishman, the project architect at KAI Design & Build, a St. Louis firm that led the Gateway station’s design. The building stretches 700 feet, with angled façades and windows laminated in syncopated Mondrian-like colors to suggest the notion of movement. Along the north wing are Greyhound’s operations, including 10 bus bays and turnaround space. At the far northern end is a sidewalk crossing to MetroLink trains and the MetroBus station. The south wing extends an enclosed skywalk over the Amtrak lines and down to the two platforms. Between the wings lies the main ticketing and waiting area, with a broad view north toward downtown.

There were constraints on the ground but also from above: There is constant highway noise to keep out and huge loads of plowed snow that may crash onto the building from the overpasses. So the building needed a certain amount of armor for the harsh environment.

“It was not easy squeezing the project onto that site,” affirms Tom Behan, the city’s chief construction engineer. “But it’s now a whole lot neater than what was there.”

Launch Slideshow

St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center

St. Louis Gateway Transportation Center

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    Peter Wilson

    The new Gateway Transportation Center in downtown St. Louis combines Amtrak, Greyhound, and MetroLink train services into one 35,700-square-foot building which had to be worked into an oddly shaped site underneath-and around the support columns of-the Interstate 64 overpasses (at bottom).

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    Site Plan

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    Peter Wilson

    A 1984 mural by artist Richard Haas on the nearby Sheraton St. Louis City Center hotel overlooks the Gateway Transportation Center's north wing, which incorporates 10 canopied bays for Greyhound buses. The exterior is clad in zinc panels from Rheinzink, which can withstand the grit and chemicals that the highway overhead will shed onto the building.

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    Peter Wilson

    On the opposite side of the building from the Greyhound bus bays are the tracks for MetroLink, St. Louis' light-rail transit system. Color laminated films on 2-inch-thick insulated glass units from Alpen Energy Group-which are used throughout the project-play well against the interlocking zinc wall panels and add a bit of whimsy to the fa??ade. The insulated glass helps keep out noise from trains, buses, and the overpasses.

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    Peter Wilson

    A skywalk on the building's southern end snakes up and over the Amtrak train tracks. Enclosed staircases lead passengers down to the platforms.

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    Peter Wilson

    The clerestory-lit ticketing hall is a simple but resilient interior with durable Nora rubber floor tiles that will withstand high traffic. Combining Greyhound, Amtrak, and MetroLink into one complex streamlines transit operations for downtown St. Louis, but will mean intense wear and tear on the building itself.