Opinion: Union Station is an accomplishment to be celebrated

7/6/2017 | G. Michael Dobbs

Category: July 2017

On the Monday following a week off, I’ve got several things knocking around my head.

I took some photos at the public open house on Sunday of the newly refurbished Union Station and the place was mobbed with people clearly curious and clearly jubilant about the re-opening.

They have every right to be.

The re-birth of this building first opened in 1926 into a comprehensive and beautiful transportation center has been long over-due and assists the downtown in its on-going revival efforts.

Now, I’m a train advocate. I took Amtrak recently to New York City and then again to see my family in Richmond, VA. The strengthening of a mass transportation infrastructure not only provides valuable options for Americans, but is an effective economic development tool and job creator.

We need to take traffic off our congested highways and roads. Using mass transit certainly assists the effort to thwart climate change, as well.

Having the services now consolidated at Union Station is a boon to the city and the region.

Next year when the state of Connecticut begins its commuter rail service to Springfield, linking it with Hartford and New Haven, there will be another option for people to use. I hate driving to Hartford and I’ve passed up opportunities to see and do things there for that reason. Next year, I won’t have to miss something because of traffic.

Is the work done yet at Union Station? No. There are still commercial space to be developed and office space that is available. Amtrak has still to move into the station proper and several of the retail tenants on the concourse have yet to open.

The opening this week, though, is a significant start in a new chapter for the city and the region.

Do yourself a favor and go take a look if you weren’t among the many people who were there on Sunday.

Now, if we could only convince the state that east-west train service is worth the price.

What I did on my summer vacation

I was on vacation in Virginia, with an important side trip to Tennessee and Alabama last week. My brother and I took a road trip to the northeast corner of Alabama, the area where our dad was born and raised, to see if we could find our grandmother’s house, a place we’ve not seen since 1967.

I’ve always been very interested in family history and this trip South was sweet, sentimental and a little sad.

Our grandmother lived on U.S. Route 11 in a village called Portersville, a few miles out of Fort Payne. My memory of Fort Payne was that it was a bustling small town. Today, it seemed like it was hanging on for its life.

As we traveled down the highway we realized there could be a good chance the house might not be standing or that we may not recognize it if someone had bought it and altered it. Neither proved to be the case.

My brother and I spotted the long un-used Post Office – the village was so small, its zip code and Post Office were taken away years ago – and near it was our grandmother’s house.

It must have abandoned long ago as the vegetation was in control and the building, what we could see of it, was in great disrepair. Although we harbored the idea of trying to make our way through the brush to get a closer look, we decided that might not be prudent on several fronts.

Both of us were glad we made this trip, which included going to the next town, Collinsville, were our dad went to high school and a trip to our grandparents’ grave.

For me, understanding your family’s background is a way to make sense of both the world and yourself. I was heartened to come back to my brother’s house to have his eldest son ask questions about the trip and about our parents. The history, as personal as it is, is being passed on.

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