State officials last month unveiled their long-term plan for railways, and it leaves Winston-Salem residents waiting at the station. 

If the plans are approved, Winston-Salem riders would board a shuttle bus, not a train, to connect to major routes in Greensboro.

The city is now looking at other uses for Union Station, the former railway hub it bought two years ago.

Winston-Salem began looking at Union Station a decade ago as a way of bringing passenger service back to the city. The city bought the station in 2012 for $1.3 million, displacing a garage that had used the building for 25 years.

And then, long before the first ticket could be sold, the thinking shifted, says Greg Turner, an assistant city manager. 

"The political winds have changed slightly since we acquired the property," he says. "There was a stronger interest in high-speed rail, inter-city rail and commuter rail at the state and federal level when we began this process 10 years ago."

But plans are moving forward for the historic station nonetheless. The city plans to spend $18 million in bond money or renovations. And Turner says that even if the city is not in the current state railway plans, there's still a viable future for Union Station,.

This month, Turner will go before a council committee to propose opening up the station for restaurant, retail or community center space. He says it can be an economic development tool for the area just north of the Winston-Salem State University campus. But no matter what else opens in the building, transportation will always be its primary purpose.

"As far as rail, what we would like to see is commuter rail, inter-city rail and high-speed rail. We also anticipate the possibility of a streetcar which would run on separate rails on Martin Luther King Drive," he says. "(Union Station) has the capacity to handle all of that."

That doesn't mean trains will be chugging through the station anytime soon. Turner says the timing will be determined by federal and state budgets and policies. But it's safe to say that passenger service at Union Station is still years away.

In the meantime, renovations should begin by the end of the year and the space could be available for tenants within two years.

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