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Buffalo’s Amtrak station closed as ceiling collapses

The small train station in New York’s second biggest city, hidden beneath a four lane overpass, is closed. Rains caused the ceiling to collapse in the shoe box-sized station.

While trains still stop on Exchange Street, it’s not clear when the station will reopen.

But the closing has reopened the demand for a modern train station in downtown Buffalo.

After all, millions of dollars have been spent building or renovating stations along the line from Albany to Niagara Falls.

“We are very concerned over the immediate safety implications, and the loss of service to the increasingly vibrant downtown Buffalo area,” said Bruce Becker, vice president of operations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

“This situation highlights the need for a new modern facility for Amtrak near Canalside.”

The downtown Amtrak station was closed Monday after heavy weekend rains caused the ceiling to collapse over a portion of the passenger waiting area.

Part of the ceiling at the Exchange Street station also collapsed the weekend of Sept. 9 from another heavy storm, causing the ticket office to close for safety.

Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak said a decision on moving forward with the city-owned building would be made after determining the cost to repair the roof.

“We sent a contractor out to evaluate, and we need to explore our options before moving forward,” Stepniak said.

There’s a reason for the hesitation: The Brown administration and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., the state agency overseeing the waterfront, have said they would like to see an underground train station at Canalside, around the corner from the station, where two undeveloped acres sit north of the canal.

A station at Canalside would present a more attractive and safe environment for riders, tie into light rail and expand the station’s ridership capacity, officials have said.

Central Terminal fans also see advantages in returning passenger rail service to the inactive art deco building.

The prospect of a new station seemed far off Monday, as water collected on the roof and dripped onto the office floor and above an area leading to the outside platform. Ticketing was shut down because of safety concerns with the ticketing computer.

“Trains are currently still servicing the station, and an Amtrak agent is available to assist passengers,” Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert said. “We continue to work with the State Department of Transportation to assess the damage and determine a solution.”

A State DOT spokesman told The News, however, that it was not involved in making a decision about the solution, since the issue directly concerned Amtrak and the City of Buffalo.

Over $70 million in state and federal money have has been spent to upgrade other upstate and Western New York train stations in recent years with the exception of Buffalo’s downtown station, which opened in 1952.

The new station in Niagara Falls received $16.5 million, and Rochester’s new station, opening in 2017 received $15 million. Schenectady’s new station, also opening in 2017, got $13 million.

Earlier, the Utica station in 2004 received $10 million, the same year the Rome station had a $4 million upgrade. A new $14 million station opened in Syracuse in 1999.

Two smaller stations, the Fort Edward-Glens Falls and the Saratoga Springs, also have been renovated.

Meanwhile, the Amtrak station station got $700,000 upgrade in 2012.

email: msommer@buffnews.com

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