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Vintage train car rolls into Union Station

Vintage train car rolls into Union Station

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A 1920s sleeper car pushed Thursday into Union Station is intended as a harbinger of excursion train activity that will help revive the historic landmark.

The car from the old Louisville & Nashville Railroad and named “Ohio River” arrived with an Amtrak locomotive that backed the sleeper onto a side track. It was the first railcar at the station since excursion train service halted there in 2005, officials said.

Bob O’Loughlin, a hotel operator whose Lodging Hospitality Management paid $20 million for Union Station last year, said at a news conference that returning train service is important.

The hotelier said his company will obtain three excursion trains that will take passengers from Union Station to points near and far.

“These trains will take you all across the United States,” O’Loughlin said. “They’ll be chartered.”

He added that Union Station also will provide rehabbed sidings where some of the country’s 200 private luxury cars can temporarily park while in transit.

O’Loughlin said he hopes to begin the excursion service next year.

Work began in April to expand meeting space at Union Station as part of a broader plan to renovate hotel rooms and rework retail spaces as offices. Included in LHM’s $25 million plan is a new bar in the Grand Hall.

LHM, which rebranded the station’s hotel — previously a Marriott — as a Hilton DoubleTree, will redo all 539 rooms by next spring.

A site plan shown Thursday reveals a covered outdoor transportation museum next to the lake beneath the train shed and three-story indoor museum nearby.

Union Station, a national historic landmark, became a national hub of rail passenger service after it opened in 1894. But the nationwide decline of rail service in the 1950s affected St. Louis, too. Amtrak left Union Station in 1978.

A $140 million renovation and restoration by the Rouse Co., of Baltimore, produced a grand reopening in 1985 under Rouse’s model of “festival marketplace.” Business was good for a few years but without a strong anchor the station fell out of favor and was largely forgotten by St. Louis residents and tourists.

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Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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