the Station



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In General

Location / Name:
Washington DC

What's Here:
Amtrak's Union Station
K Tower
Amtrak's Ivy City Maintenance Facility
Amtrak Service
MARC Commuter/Regional Rail Service
VRE Commuter/Regional Rail Service
DC Metro's Red Line
Special Dwarf versions of B&O CPL Signals
Special Pennsy version of B&O CPL Signals (only two of their kind in the world)

GPS Coordinates: 38.897423, -77.006338
Phone A/C: 20002
ZIP: 20002
Address: 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington DC

Access by train/transit:
Amtrak, MARC, VRE, DC Metro, DC Trolley
Busses: Greyhound, Peter Pan, Circulator among others (inside the parking lot);
     DC Transit, in front and in the rear on H Street), and others

The Scoop:

Amtrak's Union Station.  It's been beautifully restored, and serves as DC's link to the eastern seaboard and beyond by Amtrak's passenger trains, and MARC and VRE commuter trains.  It contains a very nice shopping and eating mall, and is serviced by a station on the Red Line of the DC Metro.

Getting to the station is best done by parking somewhere else and taking a train or the Metro in.  Commuter tickets on the VRE and MARC are relatively inexpensive and offer senior citizen discounts.

If you come by car, you can also check out the Metro shops and the Ivy City yard just north of here along New York Ave.

Taking Pictures:

There was a while ago.... not too long ago, that Amtrak went thru a phase where you couldn't take pictures on Amtrak property.  If they saw you with a camera, wham, into the office you went.  Thankfully, at least for now, that seems to be history.  My best friend and I have been to Union Station at least a half a dozen times in the past two years, and no-one has bothered us almost anywhere we have gone.  The one exception is the walkway down at the VRE end where there are other than Amtrak police running security, and they stopped us from taking pictures out the window of the thru track below.... oh well.

Inside and outside of the station has been no problem.  Even on the platforms, no-one has given us any trouble once we got off a train, even when walking out to the end of the platform to get engine shots.

One of our favorite spots to take pictures from is the top floor of the parking garage, it gives you a commanding view of all of the tracks that are out in the open, and the throat of the yard, as well as the Metro system and DC Trolley.

Unfortunately, because the track level on the north side is above street level, there are really no good vantage points except for New York Ave, and you will need a step ladder to get above the fence (and that just might attract a little attention!).

On the southern approach to Union Station, again, trains are above you, and one of the few places from public property to get shots are at the tunnel portal at D St SE and New Jersey Ave SW.  DO NOT do anything stupid, because there are cameras EVERYWHERE around the tunnel portal!!!!.  Take along a buddy! 


Signals in the throat coming from New York Avenue are B&O dwarf CPL's placed on signal bridges.  Both signal and markers have a large background placed behind them for improved visibility.  In addition, the markers are placed farther away from the main signal on an extended arm, again, to make the signals easier to read from a distance.

The last two signals on the NE Corridor before getting into the throat are also CPL's, BUT, they are standard Pennsy PL signals, with colored lenses in them (they are behind a motel on New York Ave). These signals are unique, being the only two of their kind in existence.

On the south side coming in from Virginia, just before going into the 1st Avenue tunnel, there stands two full size B&O CPL signals.  They are basically two aspect signals with a single marker, allowing three indications.

Denver Todd

Websites and other additional information sources of interest for the area:
The station has its own website at:


The above map is available here as a PDF

Below are B&O (upper) and CSX era drawings of the area.

The above map is available here as a PDF

  Amtrak's Union Station

Although Union Station was completed 1908, it officially opened on October 27th, 1907 when the B&O Pittsburgh Express pulled into the station - construction started in 1903.  Union Station was built jointly with the B&O, and the architect was Daniel Burnham.  The station served as a hub for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Southern Railway, and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railway, and through trackage rights, the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Lines (later the Seaboard Coast Line), both of which terminated in Richmond and "came up" via the RF&P. 

The station currently serves Amtrak, MARC (MAryland Rail Commuter), and the VRE (Virginia Rail Express). 

May of 1972 was the last steam operated excursion train to use Union Station when 2102 ran a trip to Philadelphia.  2102 also held the title for the first steam into Union Station on August 15/16th, 1964, after the formal end of steam on January 3rd, 1954 on the RF&P (although C&O #490 ran a trip on June 7th, 1953).

MDOT began commuter service in 1974, which later became MARC in 1984. 

VRE started using Union Station on June 22nd, 1992.

In June of 1981, Amtrak purchased the Washington Terminal Co which had been used to provide all of the inter-railroad movements, and to and from Union Station and Ivy City Yard and the coach yard.

Electric service in and out of Union Station started on January 28th, 1935... all the way to New York City.

On September 29th, 1988, the station re-opened after a major overhaul of everything, and cost a reported $160 million after Congress authorized the project in 1981.  It is the largest and most complex restoration project done in the United States.

One of the more famous things that ever happened here was on January 15th, 1953, when the Federal Express train came into the station out of control on Track 16, crashed through a newsstand and into the main concourse of Union Station.  No one was killed!  Thanks to a tower crewmember located about a mile from Union Station who had been able to warn the stationmaster's office that a runaway train was on its way, the concourse was cleared in two and a half minutes.  Although the floor collapsed under the locomotive, 96 hours later, at 8:00am, an Eisenhower inaugural special train rolled to a stop on Track 16 into a concourse that showed little evidence of the accident - they had built a temporary floor over the accident site.

More info at:


        Views from the H Street overpass.

  Looking into the platform area from along the hikey-bikey trail.

    Electrical equipment at K Street.

        Switchers are kept busy all day long shunting cars back and forth from the station to Ivy City.

  Passing under the K Signal Bridge.

  Rear of the station from H Street (it's actually the parking garage), before the DC Trolley made it's apperance.

Overall view of Union Station and it's tracks.

  K Tower

Interesting view of the tower and trains.  The tower is named after the street that runs below the tracks, K Street.  The station in this shot is to the right.

  the DC Streetcar

Well, Washington DC was supposed to get a it's trolley system back in 2012.  Although it was in place over the summer of 2015, it didn't begin "revenue" service until the early part of 2016.  I say revenue service in quotes because as of November 2016, it is still free to ride.  The ride is 2.2 miles long, and many people people say you can almost walk faster than the streetcar runs.  The tracks run up H St NE.  The pictures below are from November 6th, 2016.  Much more info at:

  the Washington Metropolitan Branch Trail

The Trail opened about 2008 or 2009.  It starts on the south side at L St NE.  The trail offer great opportunities for taking pictures of SB Red Line trains.  The trail is not handicap accessible.

  John Buxton taking a rest alongside the Metro station.

  The ramp on the left takes you "down" to M St, the one on the right continues the train past the New York Ave Metro station.

  A SB train passes the middle signal bridge of the three at Union Station.

   The trail adjacent to the New York Ave Metro Station.

   Going under New York Ave.

  the Greyhound Bus Terminal

Greyhound's center of operations for the central DC area was just north of the station and parking garage complex.
Greyhound now comes into the parking complex as do most other regional bus lines.


There are oodles of dwarf CPL's at the end of the platforms, on the three signal bridges, and other places in the terminal area.  Lots.

In the picture below, taken from the top level of the parking garage, you can see the three signal bridges: H, J, and K, with the outbound signals facing us.

In the picture below, how many dwarf CPL's can you find?  Not counting the ones on the signal bridges, I count 9.

Dwarf CPL's in and around the Platforms

This first set is taken from the H Street overpass


  Track 9 signal

  The H Street Signal Bridge

I don't know why the H St signal bridge is adjacent to L St NE.... But it is :-)
It is the last signal bridge going into Union Station, just as the throat tracks open into the platform tracks.  The birds eye view is looking south.



There are precious few places anymore that you can get such a busy photograph of railroad "stuff" like this....

  The J Street Signal Bridge

The second of three signal bridges heading into Union Station, between L and M streets (why is it called "J"?). 
The second and third signal bridges are easily photographed from the hikey-bikey trail that runs along the Metro tracks.


The second and third signal bridges.

The K Street Signal Bridge

The first signal bridge going into Union Station is on the south side of Florida Ave NE and adjacent to the Metro Station.  Close-ups of this bridge can be had from the Metro platform, otherwise, pretty decent shots can be had from either side of the Metro station.

Notice that the signals are a little modified from the typical "low" mounted CPL dwarf, where the marker lamps are mounted directly to the signal case.  The dwarf signals on the signal bridges have the marker lamps mounted somewhat higher, and more widely spaced to make then more "readable" from a distance, since they are not really designed for long distance viewing.  This can be seen in the close-up pictures below.  Also notice that the signals and markers have backgrounds - a departure from the norm for dwarf signals... again, it's to make them more "visible" against the sky.

NB B&O CPL's on the Southern Approach

Amtrak and VRE pass this set of signals on their way into Union Station when coming from Virginia.  They are the last signals passed before going into the First Street tunnel.

On the southern approach to Union Station is this pair of B&O CPL's, 18LA and 20LA, just before trains enter the First Street Tunnel.  The tunnel is 4108 feet in length.  Access for pictures looks pretty good behind the odd shaped building.  It's off the corner of New Jersey Ave SE and D St SE..... Make sure you're not railfanning alone, it's not the best area. 

I may be wrong, but because of the platform under the marker lamp, and the old style finials, my guess would be that these masts are holdovers from semaphore days.  If so, that is a rare treat indeed.

There are SB signals inside the tunnel, about 1/3 of the way from this entrance to the station.




Unless you have a selfie stick for your cellphone, or a ladder, this is the best you are going to get without one.


the Greyhound Bus Terminal

This was Greyhound's center of operations for the central DC area up until 2 years ago or so (2017?).  As can be seen on the map, it is only a couple of blocks north Union Station.  They had a storage yard on the opposite side of L Street.

  Aerial shot of the area now....


I love trains, and I love signals.  I am not an expert.  I do these pages because I love spending my time doing them - although I do a reasonable amount of research to make sure the information presented is accurate! :-)  :-)

Please Note:  Since the main focus of my two websites is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  For those of you into the modeling aspect of our hobby, my indexa page has a list of almost everything railroad oriented I can think of to provide you with at least a few pictures to help you detail your pike.

If this is a railfan page, every effort has been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan guide is correct.  Once in a while, an error may creep in, oooooooops, oh well! :-)

My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a thousand words, especially for railfanning.  Text descriptions only get you so far, especially if you get lost or disoriented.  Take along good maps.... a GPS is OK to get somewhere, but maps are still better if you get lost!  I belong to AAA, which allows you to get local maps for free when you visit the local branches.  ADC puts out a nice series of county maps for the Washington DC area, but their state maps do not have the railroads on them.  If you can find em, I like the National Geographic map book of the U.S..... good, clear, and concise graphics, and they do a really good job of showing you where tourist type attractions are, although they too lack the railroads.  Other notes about specific areas will show up on that page if known.

BTW, floobydust is a term I picked up 30-40 years ago from a National Semiconductor data book, and means miscellaneous and/or other stuff.

Pictures and additional information is always needed if anyone feels inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have something to add or correct.... credit is always given! BE NICE!!! Contact info is here

Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.


New 02/17/2008, 11/17/2016, 02/05/19
Last Modified: 02/07/2019