A renovated Union Station, the majestic Beaux Arts structure that fell into decay in the 1950s, has reopened as a gateway to the nation's capital.

Train tickets were on sale Friday in the station for the first time in a generation, and Transportation Secretary Jim Burnley predicted that a rejuvenated Union Station would prove a financial boon to Amtrak, the national passenger rail line.Tens of thousands of people crowded around the massive building Thursday as Burnley performed the cermonial ribbon-cutting on the $181 million public-private investment.

A parade, bands, balloons and the blast of a 1909 steam engine accompanied the historic opening.

Amtrak officials hope the renovated station will attract more people to train travel.

W. Graham Claytor, Amtrak chairman and president, said the railroad's passenger traffic between Washington and New York would "grow with this station, I promise you."

Union Station fell into decay with the decline of rail travel in the 1950s and was almost demolished. Instead, the government in 1964 made it a national landmark, and four years later the Nixon administration spent $48 million trying to convert the station into a National Visitors Center. That project folded within two years.

The thousands who attended the opening were greeted by an airy, sunlit main hall with a high vaulted ceiling etched in gold, intricately painted walls and Vermont marble floors.

The station includes 210,000 square feet of retail space with restaurants, clothing stores and a nine-screen movie complex that is scheduled to open in November.