And in Sacramento, an architecture firm has been hired by the city to rehab the dilapidated Sacramento Valley Station, which is envisioned as eventually becoming a gateway to one of the nation’s largest urban infill redevelopment sites. Known as the Railyards, the site is 240 mostly bare acres (97 ha) where rail cars were once repaired on the edge of downtown. During the past two years, teams from the ULI Rose Center for Public Leadership have advised Sacramento on the Railyards’ potential, suggesting the city create a multi-building intermodal transportation district as an initial step that could spark private sector investment. That effort received a boost this spring when the city succeeded in retaining its pro basketball team and revived a plan to build a new arena in the budding station district.

“Understanding the Railyards as a new opportunity is a big step and a process, but the city has to do everything it can to position it and make the most of it,” says Gideon Berger, a planner and former senior director at the ULI Rose Center. “We believe a place like the depot district that’s energized by all the people coming and going will attract investment.”

Meanwhile, elsewhere in California, grand development plans are taking shape around new or improved intermodal facilities intended to accommodate high-speed rail trains in the future.

San Francisco’s mammoth $4.2 billion Transbay Transit Center, now under construction (designed by Cesar Pelli), will serve 11 different transit systems and serve as the northern terminus for California’s high-speed rail network. Transbay is the centerpiece of a 145-acre (58 ha) Transit Center District that has already lured the development of the 61-story Transbay Tower, which would become the city’s tallest building upon completion in late 2015. To the south of San Francisco Bay, San Jose has approved a new mixed-use master plan for 240 acres (97 ha) surrounding its Diridon Station that would turn the area into a sports and entertainment center. On the opposite end of the state, Anaheim has similar hopes for the $188 million Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), currently being built. It will feature an iconic parabola-shaped roofline.

Elsewhere, a consultant’s report for a proposed privately owned intercity rail line in Florida envisions a new Miami station flanked by mid-rise hotel/office/residential towers. And Amtrak’s high-speed rail plans for the Northeast Corridor have spurred talk in Philadelphia about the possibility of a new train station that could revitalize a section of downtown.

What is different about all these station concepts today, compared with renovation projects decades ago, is that, once again, they embrace trains. They also integrate additional development opportunities, ultimately resurrecting the role of train stations as civic linchpins.

“If they’re built in isolation, then they’re not going to have any level of success,” says Scott Bogren, communications director with the Washington, D.C.–based Community Transportation Association of America, which promotes rail transportation. “It’s no longer enough to ‘build it and they will come.’ It’s build it—plus build everything around it and connect to it—and then they will come. That’s the new formula today.”