Train station might be fitted with solar panels to recharge electric cars
Published 1:35 pm, Friday, June 25, 2010
On the eastbound side of the Westport Metro-North train station, commuters don't stick around too long when they're coming back from New York City, and it shows. The building, which houses a waiting room, coffee shop and a taxi station, could use a fresh coat of paint and a shot in the arm.
In past years, Frederick Hoag would see a lady selling flowers from that neglected side of the tracks. This year, he hasn't seen her around.
"It would just be a really cool place because of all those flowers," he said. "In those terms, if we could bring some life back into the building, people will go into it a little bit more."
With that in mind, town officials are seeking $330,000 in federal funds to not just reinvigorate the 160-year-old station, but totally reinvent it.
The plan calls for covering the roof with 30-killowatt solar photovoltaic panels so that electric cars can recharge during the day. With the roof facing south, the layout is ideal for absorbing sunlight. Ten existing parking spots near the station would be subdivided into 20 or 21 spots for electric cars, which run under nine feet long.
The waiting room would also be turned into a "new age marketplace," as Hoag, the architect of the project, called it. The idea is to possibly have a car dealer display an electric car in the center, with surrounding kiosks that might be automated in order to convey the product and message. Rountree Architechts has also worked on the design.
While not a part of the appropriation request, a fresh coat of paint and some renovations are also on the table. In 2007, a state report described the condition of the building as "deteriorated with broken glazing and rusted, corroded joints."
"It is a modest building, but it's an interesting building," said Hoag. "It was built as a railroad terminal or shed, but if you go into the station there ... it just speaks of time and history, so you really want to bring that feeling out and get it seen again."
The plan to bring the station into the 21st century came to Steven Smith, the town's building official.
"I was thinking that combining a couple of ideas together would solve a couple of problems, such as getting the train station renovated and repurposing it for new uses," said Smith. "I think solar is kind of a neat idea. I think it's time we look for some alternatives to our dependency on oil."
Back in February, the office of U.S. Rep Jim Himes, D-4, asked town departments to come up with projects that could use government funding.
"We shipped it off to Washington and we called them to see what they thought and they were very excited about it, so we proceeded with it," Smith said.
Everything is in the conceptual stage so far since it won't be known until September whether the funds will be approved. The building is owned by the state, so discussions have been taking place with the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Also, the station is designated as a historic landmark, so the State Historic Commission has also been contacted.
While nothing is a done deal, town officials are hopeful. Earlier this week, several people involved in the project, including First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, test drove an electric smart fortwo prototype.
"It was a good opportunity to get a feel of the car and publicize our electric charging initiative," Joseloff said in a press release. "It's a very smooth ride."
While hybrid gas-electric vehicles have entered the mainstream, the proliferation plug-in cars are still a work-in-progress. A number of small companies have tapped into the market, and the larger ones will be there soon if they aren't already. The Chevrolet Volt will be released this fall, and Ford will be releasing an electric Focus next year. Throughout the country, legislators have been directing money toward creating an infrastructure for plug-in cars, but some areas are lagging behind.
While speaking with some electric car manufactures, Hoag was told that charging stations can be found on the west coast, but that the northeast has been slow to embrace creating an infrastructure for electric cars.
"It's really a consciousness-raising exercise," he said of the train station program. "Our thought process is that if you could do it at the Westport train station, you could theoretically do it at any train station along the line and maybe that will happen."