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Ramsey County OK's deal to bring trains back to Union Depot

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Something new will roll into St. Paul's Union Depot in the new year: trains.

Actually, of course, railroad trains once made the building one of the busiest places in Minnesota. But they pulled out of the station in 1971.

Now Ramsey County has signed off on a new 20-year lease with Amtrak, the Pioneer Press reports. A county official tells the newspaper the trains will move downtown from their current station in the Midway area during the first quarter of 2014.

The return of passenger rail service was part of the plan when the county embarked on a $243 million renovation of the historic downtown depot. Trains have been absent long enough that a new connecting track had to be built between the passenger platform and the nearby freight tracks that Amtrak uses, according to the Pioneer Press.

The testing of signals and switches started in October. The inside of the depot has been spruced up, partly with the addition of more than a dozen commissioned artworks, the Star Tribune reports. The newspaper says pieces including a glass sculpture suspended from the ceiling and a tile-and-glass mural depicting St. Paul's railroad history are already in place. Other works will be installed soon.

For all of the work put into reviving the building, activity there remains pretty sparse. Light rail service is not scheduled to begin until next year. The Pioneer Press notes Greyhound Lines changed its mind about using Union Depot for bus service.

Metro Transit, however, does plan to route buses to the depot starting on December 8 and the county plans a ceremony to mark the occasion. The use of the depot as a "multi-modal transit center" revives a building that was once a hub of activity, the county notes. During the 1920's 18 railroad tracks were needed to carry the 282 trains that served Union Depot every day.

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