Officials should consider the recent downpour that damaged the Exchange Street train station more than an inconvenience for passengers – it’s an opportunity to create a station worthy of a city on the rebound.
Heavy rains last week caused a ceiling to collapse over a portion of the passenger waiting area. Part of the ceiling also collapsed the weekend of Sept. 9 from another heavy storm, causing the ticket office to close. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
The pint-sized 1952 facility tucked under elevated highway ramps is no way to welcome visitors to Buffalo. There has been talk for years about moving the Amtrak station to a new transportation hub at Canalside or to the grand old Central Terminal.
The trouble at the Exchange Street station has caught the attention of two members of Congress dedicated to moving Buffalo forward. Their intervention may finally bring about results.
First up was Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who is known for getting things done. He built quite a reputation as the lead in prying $279 million from the New York Power Authority. The money was used to build Canalside, a focal point for residents and visitors. It could also be a focal point for train passengers.
Higgins wants a new terminal, and wants the state to study locating it in either Canalside or the Central Terminal. In a letter to State Transportation Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll, Higgins noted that $25 million has been set aside for a Buffalo train station in a transportation program for capital improvements between 2015 and 2020.
While that money is not scheduled to be spent until 2019 or 2020, Higgins is calling for $1 million to $2 million of the funds to be released now to study alternatives. He’s right; planning now will speed the process of a new station.
A solid plan for a new station will make for a stronger application for federal transportation money. And his idea of a “station-within-a-station” at the Central Terminal is one that would recall a time when that location was bustling with trains and passengers. But he also said a station at Canalside would have the advantage of connecting Amtrak with Metro Rail.
These and other possibilities will get an airing in Washington. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., called for a summit in the nation’s capital on where to build a new station and how to fund it.
The senator invited representatives from Amtrak, the City of Buffalo, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. and Higgins.
As Schumer said: “Western New Yorkers deserve a modern, safe and efficient train station – not the outdated and dilapidated and increasingly dangerous station they have now.”
And there are 2½ acres of undeveloped land where a station could be located at Canalside, a much more vibrant and attractive area for Amtrak passengers coming and going. More so than the current location Higgins aptly described as the “underside of a Thruway viaduct.”
More than $70 million in state and federal money has been used to upgrade upstate train stations in the past 17 years. The sparkling new station in Niagara Falls received $16.5 million. Rochester’s station, opening in 2017, received $15 million.
It is past time for Buffalo to get a new, better train station.