Look beyond a new station to the bigger rail picture
The Buffalo News documented the upgrades to all upstate Amtrak rail stations except for the Buffalo Exchange Street location. With apologies to Mayor Byron Brown and Sam Hoyt (from the Empire State Development Corp.), championing a project for a new downtown station that will cost $20 million to $30 million to receive eight trains a day is short-sighted. To make this work, we need a solution to increase traffic and create a wider economic benefit.
In 2014, the New York State Department of Transportation released an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on the rail corridor servicing Buffalo. Service from Niagara Falls to the Exchange Street station averages 39 miles per hour and from downtown Buffalo to the Depew station averages 34 mph. Upstate New York is one of 11 federally designated corridors for high-speed rail, making the project eligible for billions of dollars in federal aid. One proposal from the EIS is to build dedicated rail for passenger service that will allow for speeds of at least 90 mph.
With plans for a dedicated passenger line for Amtrak, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority should make plans to share the rail as a low-cost alternative for high-speed rail expansion. Running from Tonawanda to Depew, this would be a great feeder to the existing Metro Rail with a planned Canalside station. An extension to the airport from the Depew station can be built along existing rail that terminates east of the airport.
Commuter service along rail lines works well in cities like Cleveland. The NFTA should not focus solely on the fight to get light rail extension funding. Obtaining currently allocated federal funds to upgrade local passenger rail lines should be a high priority for the NFTA and our elected officials to improve our local public transportation.