A Buffalo congressman is calling on the state to immediately begin studying options for a new Buffalo train station in Canalside or the Central Terminal, following rains last week that caused a ceiling collapse and the temporary closure of the small and aging downtown station.
Rep. Brian Higgins, in a letter to State Transportation Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll, noted that $25 million was included earlier this year for a Buffalo train station in a transportation program for capital improvements between 2015 and 2020. Although the money is not slated to be spent until 2019 or 2020, Higgins called for $1 million to $2 million of it to be released now to study alternatives. Doing so, he said, would also allow for a stronger application for federal transportation dollars that could be used in the project.
“The Exchange Street station is, in terms of function and aesthetics, the worst intercity passenger rail station in the state, and among the worst in the nation,” Higgins said in arguing that the region deserves a better station.
“It may not have been possible 15 years ago, but restoration of the Central Terminal is possible in the new Buffalo,” Higgins said. “In the enormous scale of that redevelopment project, it may be possible to carve out a small ‘station-within-a-station’ that would squarely and singularly focus on providing a highly functional train station to meet current and projected needs.
“This location would allow the restoration of service to Chicago within the city limits, and it certainly merits a meaningful engineering review,” Higgins wrote.
But Higgins also said moving the Exchange Street station two blocks to Canalside, where two and a half acres sit undeveloped, and where it could connect with Metro Rail was another alternative worthy of study.
“While this location presents serious challenges because of the current configuration of existing infrastructure, the prospect of visitors to Buffalo having their first impression be of our burgeoning downtown waterfront instead of the underside of a Thruway viaduct is very compelling,” Higgins said, comparing Canalside to the location of the current train station.
Trains are still stopping at the downtown Amtrak station, but it’s not clear when the building, which opened in 1952, will reopen and passengers can buy tickets there.
Over $70 million in state and federal money has been spent to upgrade every upstate and Western New York train station in the past 17 years, with the exception of Buffalo. That includes a new $16.5 million station in Niagara Falls, and a $700,000 upgrade of the Depew station in 2012.