By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Amtrak, the U.S. passenger rail service, plans a $7 billion expansion of Washington, D.C.'s Union Station with the goal of making it a high-speed rail and commercial hub, Amtrak said on Wednesday.
The proposal calls for doubling the number of trains that can be handled at the crowded site, the second-busiest Amtrak station in the United States, Amtrak said in a statement.
The plan also proposes 3 million square feet (278,709 square meters) in commercial, retail and residential development at the site just north of the U.S. Capitol.
"This plan will transform the station into a world-class transportation hub to serve the region and the mobility needs of generations of passengers yet to come," Amtrak President and Chief Executive Joe Boardman said in the statement.
Amtrak has said an upgrade at Union Station would include six new high-speed tracks. The lines could cut travel times between Washington and New York City to 94 minutes, about one-third faster than Amtrak's current Acela trains.
Amtrak gave no details about how the cost of $6.5 billion to $7.5 billion would be paid for.
President Barack Obama this month signed into law $105 billion in transportation spending over 27 months. Revenues have fallen from the main transportation funding source, the federal gasoline tax, as the economy has cooled and gas prices have risen.
Congressional Republicans have been reluctant to pay for expansion of high-speed rail.
The Amtrak plan calls for doubling the number of trains Union Station can handle and improving conditions for passengers. The station was built in 1907 and handles 100,000 passenger trips a day, with demand on the rise.
Much of the expansion would come underground, where Amtrak wants to add new platforms, tracks and shopping.
The Washington proposal comes two weeks after Amtrak announced a $151 billion improvement plan aimed at transforming high-speed rail in the northeastern United States. It would need substantial support from states and the federal government to carry out the plan.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Vicki Allen)