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Originally published March 14, 2012 at 9:00 PM | Page modified March 21, 2012 at 11:55 AM

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Corrected version

Seismic upgrades to begin at King Street Station

The restoration of King Street Station enters a new phase, with seismic bracing for the clock tower and waiting hall, along with ceiling and floor repairs. The project should be complete by spring of 2013.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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In the seemingly endless mission to restore Seattle's King Street Station, perhaps the most crucial work begins this spring, a seismic retrofit to ensure it stands a century later.

The next phase, costing about $24 million, will be done by spring 2013. Besides bracing the clock tower and waiting hall, workers will repair the damaged Beaux Arts ceiling and lighten it by painting beige over the current brown. Station restoration began nine years ago, after a period of late 20th-century neglect as passenger rail slumped. Since then, owner BNSF Railway sold the landmark building to the city for $1.

The goal: "To bring it back to its original character, when passengers and their experience were the focal point of the station," says Melanie Coon, rail spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

So far, about $47 million has been spent, much of it behind the scenes on structural features, such as column piles to reinforce the north half. The tower clock runs correctly again, there's a new plaza park to the north, and broken steel awnings were replaced. Passengers can begin to imagine themselves back in 1906, when King Street Station opened as the end of the line in a young seaport.

But even as people look up from their smartphones to ponder the petals on the ceiling — revealed when workers tore out some ceiling tiles from 1962 — the waiting hall has remained a dim stopover.

In May, the main waiting hall will be closed and passengers will be detoured through a newly rebuilt Amtrak warehouse room for several months, while construction workers install seismic braces in the main hall, and repair the tile floors. "The whole waiting room will look spectacular when this is done. It will all be nice and clean," pledges Trevina Wang, program manager for the Seattle DOT.

Next year will be more space to wait, because baggage and ticketing are moving to the back, or north end, of the building. New ticket counters, surrounded by with marble-lined columns, will open to the public this spring.

At a ceremony Thursday, Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo called regional rail a growing "third option" for intercity travel, besides highways and airlines. Long-term, the Obama administration wants 13 round-trip trains between Portland and Seattle, and to reduce the current 3 1/2-hour travel times by one hour, he said.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott said a $16.7 million FRA grant for this year's work proved that congressional earmarks are not necessarily a bad thing.

"You're going to find a lot more people thinking that rail between Seattle and Portland is the only way to go," he said.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn toured the mezzanine — which will be at least partly reopened to the public — along with the empty second and third floors, which the city may convert for retail or business use someday.

Delay on staircase

Half a million passengers a year visit King Street Station, where five daily round-trip Amtrak trains go to Portland or beyond, and two reach Vancouver, B.C.

Moreover, it's a hub for a downtown where roughly half the workforce uses transit, and millions converge on sport stadiums. In two years, the First Hill Streetcar will be finished, with stops near the station.

Washington state intends to add two more Amtrak trains to its Cascadia Corridor in 2017, after investing almost $800 million in federal aid to improve tracks, freight yards and stations. Paula Hammond, state DOT secretary, said it's conceivable that special soccer-match trains could run between Seattle and Portland for Sounders FC and Timbers fans, if they can attract enough riders to break even.

Finish imagined

University of Washington students Darcy Akers and Brian Price, heading to Vancouver, Wash., on break, imagined Wednesday how beautiful the restored ceiling will look once scores of hanging wires are removed, and brighter paint is applied. Akers also admired a vein of exposed brick where an interior wall had been peeled away.

"I like the old feel of it," said Akers, a civil-engineering major. "It reminds me of what a train station should look like, back when trains were the main way to go."

Price said he'd like modern technology such as a real-time train arrival display sign, as riders see at certain bus and streetcar stops. Those kinds of features are up to Amtrak, Wang said.

Preet and Kulgit Mann, of Vancouver, B.C., waited on a pewlike wood seat, annoyed at starting their vacation to New York with an eight-hour layover.

They thought the restrooms weren't clean, there were no refreshments, and they weren't about to lug a baby and baggage through the streets.

"We don't mind the construction at all, but we were expecting it to be more comfortable," Kulgit Mann said.

But it will be one more year before King Street measures up to the world's other classic train stations.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.

Information in this article, originally published March 14, 2012 was corrected March 15, 2012. A previous version of this story said BNSF Railway sold King Street Station to Washington state, which then sold it to the city of Seattle. BNSF sold the station directly to the city.

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