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Public comments sought on Amtrak station clock tower concepts

When Tacoma’s new Freighthouse Square Amtrak station opens in 2017, it won’t have the mammoth copper dome of Tacoma’s original 1911 Union Station to mark its presence on the Tacoma landscape.

That’s why a citizens advisory committee wants the new station at East 25th and D streets to announce its presence with a tall clock tower rising above the Dome District streetscape.

The committee and the Washington State Department of Transportation are asking Tacoma-area residents which of three semi-final designs they prefer for Tacoma’s railroad station. Interested parties can view the designs and find a link to an online survey at wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Rail/PNWRC_PtDefiance/TacomaAmtrak.htm.

Those designs include a steel and timber structure that mimics historic railroad construction. The Tacoma Citizens Advisory Committee calls the design the “Trestle.” The second design is a more modern look the committee has dubbed the “Traveler.” That design resembles an upright oversized tuning fork with its handle in the ground. The third design, called the “Ghost” by the committee, is a simple rectangular structure covered with mesh and the clock at the top.

The Amtrak station is being relocated from its present site on Puyallup Avenue to the former Milwaukee Road railroad warehouse, now called Freighthouse Square. The move will allow Amtrak trains to bypass the congested waterfront route they now take around Tacoma with a new route through South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. The move will save about eight minutes between Tacoma and Portland.

The station will occupy a middle section of the 1,000-foot Freighthouse just west of the present Sounder commuter rail station. The new structure will feature operable glass walls that will open onto a pedestrian gallery bordering the station waiting room.

David Smelser, the transportation department’s manager for the $82-million Point Defiance Bypass project, said the tower will likely be 80 to 90 feet tall to rise above surrounding structures such as Pierce Transit’s nearby transit center garage.

The design will have to be simple for two reasons, said Smelser. The tower’s base will have to be built on a relatively small plot of land bordering East 25th Street at the east end of the station. Too large a structure could block the sidewalk outside the station or impinge on the street. Cost will be another consideration.

The Federal Railway Administration is overseeing the Point Defiance Bypass project, which includes track upgrades as well as station improvements. The administration has said federal funds can’t be used to build a clock tower because it’s not an essential part of the project. That means funding for the project will have to come from the state or other sources. A simple clock tower could cost about $500,000.

The Department of Transportation is creating a website where citizens can see the clock tower proposals and vote for their favorite design. The department will be partly guided in its final selection by comments and voting on that site as well as input from the citizens committee appointed by the city.

Meanwhile, design work on the station is proceeding, said Smelser. That design work is scheduled to be done by year’s end, with construction starting early in 2016.

The design, the work of Seattle architectural firm VIA, is moving to specific details such as placement of the heating and cooling units on the building’s roof and the height of the platforms on the south side of the station. The Federal Railway Administration is setting a new standard platform height of 15 inches above the rail for stations and passenger cars. Sound Transit, which has passenger cars designed to a different standard, wants the platforms 8 inches above the rails. Under a compromise deal, the platform height for the existing north platform, now used by Sound Transit, will remain at 8 inches. The platform height on the new south platform will be 15 inches.

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