Potential sites of new train station take center stage - The Buffalo News
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Potential sites of new train station take center stage

Members of the committee tasked with choosing a new Buffalo train station location listened to 36 people present their ideas at the committee's first public meeting, and second overall.

Supporters came out to back the historic Central Terminal, which they see as an opportunity to breathe new life into an architectural icon while boosting economic development to a part of the East Side.

[Related: Three sites for new train station pose challenges]

Just as many appeared to express support for a downtown station in or near Canalside, to capitalize on the area's popularity and close proximity to restaurants, hotels and attractions.

Some called for a station at both locations.

Still, others talked about the need to improve reliability of train travel between Niagara Falls and Buffalo or raised regional considerations in making a decision, or suggested other locations, including Larkinville.

It was a lot to take in – and the committee doesn't have a lot of time to reach a decision.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Oct. 26 that Buffalo needed a new train station, and named Mayor Byron W. Brown to form a committee that has six months to reach a decision, with $1 million available for costs from the state. The committee is expected to wrap up its work in April.

"The clock is ticking," acknowledged Robert Shibley, dean of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, who was named by Brown to serve as lead facilitator for the process.

Shibley said while the committee has yet to get into gear, work by Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering consultant hired by the state Department of Transportation, is well underway.

"They are essentially charged with answering the questions that need data support to make a good decision," Shibley said.

The Central Terminal, located on Buffalo's East Side. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Shibley said the consultant is using standard policy documents by Amtrak that pose questions and provide selection criteria for any location under consideration. It is also dusting off past studies that will be analyzed, as well as data collected from Amtrak, CSX, the freight company and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. It is also looking at sites already talked about.

"As a starting point, the engineering firm is using a list of potential train sites from various reports," Shibley said.

[Related:  Cuomo challenge puts Buffalo train station on a deadline]

Harry Stinson, who is seeking to redevelop the Central Terminal with hundreds of residential units, and office and event space, said the former station had the concourse, platforms, ticket windows and grandeur to be a train station again. The location was also endorsed by Fillmore Council Member David Francyzk and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, who also argued Canalside should be reserved for private development, and a number of other speakers, including some who live on the East Side.

Gary Prophet, who heads Empire State Passenger Association, said Canalside and downtown was where passengers wanted to be. That view was shared by representatives of the Sabres and Be Our Guest, the company that was recently hired to manage Canalside.

Tim Tielman, of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, presented a plan to put a multi-modal station on the other side of the tracks from the current Exchange Street station, extending to Main Street.

While Tielman supports keeping a downtown train station, which he said predates the Central Terminal, he also expressed support for restoring the East Side landmark for another purpose.

Some speakers talked about the importance of Amtrak being able to head west toward Cleveland and Chicago, which does not occur from the current downtown station. Another speaker questioned its importance, pointing out there were only two Lake Shore trains daily, and the westbound train left at midnight.

A station in Larkinville would have that ability, something architect Adam Sokol noted in his support for that location.

With all of the issues raised, Mayor Brown said he thought the committee would still be able to get its work done in time.

"We want to do it right, but we have a deadline that has been set by the governor," the mayor said.

"As chair of the committee, at the request of the governor, we will do everything we can to try to meet the deadline that has been set forth."

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