Maryland officials debuted the renovated BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport Rail Station in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.
The upgrades to the 40-year-old station — which offers MARC, Amtrak, bus service, and a free shuttle to the airport and Light Rail — include a larger passenger-waiting area with more seating, windows, electrical outlets and ticketing facilities, as well as a new concessions area and upgraded restrooms.
But the $4.7 million, 14-month renovation did not add wireless internet or improved cell service, passengers said, and the renovations did not extend to the covered walkway over the tracks, which had grime on the windows and wet-floor signs where puddles had formed from rainwater leaking from the roof Tuesday.
Maryland Transit Administrator Kevin Quinn said the renovation would enhance riders’ experience.
“I could not be prouder of what we’ve done, what we accomplished," Quinn said. “It’s an absolutely fantastic station."
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, who announced his resignation from state government Monday, said the renovated station “will welcome travelers from all over the world to Maryland and the Washington, D.C. region.”
The renovation by Rosedale-based Kimball Construction was paid for with about 74% federal funding and 27% state money, MTA spokeswoman Veronica Battisti said.
About 2,200 commuters board the 50 Penn Line MARC trains each weekday at BWI Rail Station, Battisti said. The renovated waiting area has about 1,000 more square feet, or about 133% more room, she said.
The MTA “does not offer wi-fi service at any MARC stations,” Battisti said in an email in response to the passengers’ criticism.
As for why the renovations did not fix the leaky roof, the MTA spokeswoman referred questions to Amtrak, which owns the tracks and surrounding infrastructure.
“Amtrak is responsible for maintaining the platforms and pedestrian walkway at BWI Rail Station," Battisti wrote in an email. "MDOT MTA is working with Amtrak to ensure needed repairs are completed.”
Amtrak is "aware of issues with the pedestrian overpass” and did some painting and other minor repairs before the ribbon-cutting event, spokeswoman Beth Toll said in a statement.
“Moving forward, we have preliminary plans with MTA to advance in the coming year that include additional work in the overpass to address the more fundamental problems,” Toll said. “We hope to resolve these issues as soon as possible.”
The BWI station is Amtrak’s 13th-busiest nationwide, with 750,000 passengers annually and 60 trains per day, said Harris Cohen, the director of business development for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
“These upgrades will dramatically improve the customer experience for both Amtrak and MARC,” Cohen said at the ribbon-cutting.
Transit service continued at the station during the renovations, which began in August 2018, with ticketing booths, a waiting area and restrooms housed in a temporary trailer.
The station upgrades, like the $7 million renovation of the Camden Station in Baltimore, were “long overdue,” said Steve Chan, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council.
The resurgence of train travel since the 1960s has necessitated the upgrades to the aging train stations, as well as Union Station in Washington, Chan said. He had a chance to use the new BWI station during a soft launch after the project was completed and was “quite pleased” with its amenities, he said.
“It has more comfortable facilities to wait, the ability to handle more passenger loading, the ability to handle more customers,” he said. “It was an upgrade that was most welcome.”
But the dirty, leaky walkway over the tracks remains “a problem,” said John Burns, a 57-year-old Amtrak passenger waiting for a train to New York to see comedian Andrew Dice Clay.
Burns, who lives in Howard County and travels from the BWI train station about once a month, said the walkway sometimes smells like urine.
“They could definitely clean it up,” he said. “It stinks.”
Rosemary Piraino, who lives in Frederick, takes the train to New York for work about once a month.
She said she didn’t mind the leaky walkway. Customers spend more time in the renovated waiting area, anyway, she said.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Piraino said.
Melissa Perlman’s biggest complaint about the old station was how cramped it was — and, in particular, how a lack of adequate seating meant you often had to squeeze past other passengers to get to the bathrooms.
“You couldn’t get to the restrooms, because there was nowhere for people to sit,” said Perlman, 51, of New Market. “When I came at the end of October, I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is so nice. It looks great.’"
Maryland Policy & Politics
Lloyd Goldstein visited the station for the first time in about a year Tuesday, while waiting for an Amtrak train to New York for an annual shopping center convention. The 62-year-old from Gaithersburg said he was shocked when he walked in and saw the improved passenger offerings.
“The [old] station was kind of a dump, for such a busy station," Goldstein said. “This is a big upgrade.”
But the new passenger displays showed a 25-minute delay for his train — a wait he’d have to spend at the station with no WiFi or cell service.
“It’s good you have a nicer place to sit down,” he said. “But it’d be nice if the trains were on time and you could surf the web and answer emails.”
Karen Harris, 44, of Millersville, was most fond of the new concessions area.
“The coffee bar is the biggest improvement,” she said.