Saturday, June 27, 2020

State Capitals and Railroads: A Historical Symbiosis

Where’s your state capital? If on the East Coast, look for the train station. Railroads and majestic state capitals were built in tandem. As reliable streetcars were not available until the 1890’s, state capitals had to be located near downtown hotel and restaurant districts, and to mainline railroads reaching across their respective states.   

Washington, DC’s Union Station was built in 1906 six blocks north from the US Capitol. Most of DC’s municipal offices are located six blocks west in Judiciary Square. Simultaneous projects included a tunnel for trains to pass underneath- instead of across- Capitol Hill, a streetcar terminal for service to the old downtown, and construction of the restricted-access US Senate subway.
Legislators and staff in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Richmond, Virginia also walk six blocks to their respective state capitals. 

Even though all parts of the state can be reached in a day’s ride on horseback, Providence, Rhode Island’s train station is located at the back door of the state capital.
The capital in Trenton, New Jersey is a half-mile from the train station, which serves high-speed electric trains between Washington, DC and New York City via Philadelphia.

Although the station is located on the “wrong” side of the navigable Hudson River, train service operates frequently on the Empire Corridor between Buffalo; Albany, New York; and New York City.

The very historic state house in Annapolis, Maryland, dating to 1772, used to be located at the terminal of a rapid commuter rail line to much-larger Baltimore; but was stranded after the railroad was abandoned in the 1950s. Light rail service was restored over a portion of the corridor in 1992, but ends some 15 miles from Annapolis.

Then-Senator Joe Biden commuted from Wilmington, Delaware to the US Capitol by Amtrak; but passenger trains have not served his peninsular state capital of Dover, Delaware in decades.
Augusta, Maine sadly lost their train service, which used to run in front of the state house promenade. A similar fate befell Concord, New Hampshire, where buses have replaced trains since 1967. Nevertheless, there’s always talk of restoring commuter rail service to Boston.

Montpellier, Vermont still has Amtrak service; although the hilly topography put the station a mile from town.

Springfield, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut are served by Amtrak Northeast Corridor’s “Inland Route”, as well as respective state commuter rails.
Although few trains operate here today, Raleigh, North Carolina’s capital is also within walking distance of the rail line.

West Virginia is a young state, born during the Civil War. Three passenger trains a week serve Charleston, West Virginia on Amtrak’s sleepy and mountainous Cardinal Line between Chicago and Washington, DC.

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