Location, Location, Location! - 87 years after the doors opened to Buffalo Central Terminal, there’s still much mystery among Western New Yorkers concerning the Terminal’s location in East Buffalo. Quite often, the site has been labeled as “too far from downtown,” or “it’s in the middle of nowhere.” With the recent talk of building a new Amtrak station,
it might be a good time to revisit WHY the Terminal’s current site was chosen in the 1920s and why it makes sense for future transportation use.
Buffalo Central Terminal was built by the New York Central Railroad (NYCRR). It was the largest railroad in Buffalo and the only railroad servicing Western New York that had a direct link between America’s two largest cities…New York City & Chicago.
At one time, Buffalo was the second largest railroad hub in North America. In fact, “Canalside” should really be called “Railside” as it could be said that railroads had a greater long-term effect on the growth of Buffalo and its industries than the ditch.
All other railroads besides the NYCRR either started or ended in Buffalo or had branch lines linking Buffalo to distant mainlines. Railroads like the Erie, Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (Lackawanna Railroad), the Nickel Plate Road and Lehigh Valley had to exchange their cars/passengers with other railroads to continue east or west. Not the NYC RR…its mainline went right through East Buffalo.
In the late 1850s, The NYCRR began using the Attica & Buffalo Railroad station on Exchange Street. As the railroad grew to make connections to points west and east of Buffalo, the Exchange Street site began to show its limitations.
Although conveniently located downtown with tracks linking the Tonawandas, Niagara Falls and Canada, the site did not allow for quick east/west access. Downtown Buffalo's geographic center near the eastern end of Lake Erie and the industrial congestion of the First Ward made it difficult for the Central to access the city with mainline passenger service. Since there was no space to turn trains around, east/west trains required a time consuming process of leaving the main line and backing into Exchange Street after going around one branch of a "Y." The East Buffalo site allowed for the easy stop and go of trains without backing into and out of Exchange Street. The site also allowed for trains to continue to downtown and Niagara Falls.
Facilitating both east/west and northbound trains is the primary reason why the East Buffalo location was first chosen for a new station in the 1890s and why it was built in 1929.
Other reasons like inexpensive, immigrant owned property and the anticipated expansion of downtown were minor considerations for the East Buffalo site that have been published over the years. More important to note was that the railroad already owned much property connected to the Union Stockyards along William Street and it operated a small train station near William & Fillmore Avenue to serve east/west traffic.
The reason why Buffalo currently has TWO train stations is the same geographic & transportation debate discussed from the 1890s to the 1920s. The Depew station services trains linking NYC and Chicago (because backing in and out of downtown would make no sense) and the Exchange Street station services Niagara Falls and Toronto bound traffic. The Buffalo Central Terminal location was chosen in the 1920s because it is the ONLY site that can service BOTH routes with no need for two stations. It must be noted that the Terminal is located only 2.5 miles from Niagara Square. On an average day in “new” Buffalo, one can make the drive from downtown in less than 10 mins. The Albright Knox is 4 miles from City Hall.
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