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Two downtown sites are focus for new train station

An area by the current Exchange Street train station has gained momentum as the site for a new one.

Another option would put a new station near the current station, but use tracks on the south side to better extend the train platform to Main Street and Metro Rail.

WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering consultant, put forward the two locations for review. These are downtown alternatives to the Central Terminal, the art deco station on the East Side where passenger rail operated for 50 years.

[Gallery: Inside Buffalo's Central Terminal, an art deco marvel in decay]

A site at the northern end of Canalside – an undeveloped parcel where Memorial Auditorium once stood – is now considered unlikely.

One goal of a new station is to include different forms of travel. The location by Main and Exchange streets was found to be inadequate as a potential staging area for intercity buses, according to WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff.

A decision on where to put a new train station is expected in April. A 17-member committee, chaired by Mayor Byron W. Brown, reconvenes April 20.

Here are the similarities and differences of the two downtown locations:

The similarities

Each of the options call for parking on the south side of the tracks, where a private parking lot operator now leases space north of the on-ramp to I-190.

Each would offer a well-lit, heated and ADA-compliant platform. The elevated platform would allow passengers to walk on and off the train without walking up or down steps, similar to subways. Passengers could depart any of the passenger cars, rather than be funneled through one, as is commonly done.

Intercity buses – such as Greyhound, Trailways and Megabus – would be located at the current Exchange Street station, where ample space exists for the bus staging area and parking bays.

The combined train and bus station would dramatically boost use of the station over a train station alone. It would be open around the clock, as opposed to only the hours of Amtrak's operation, and, proponents say, make the area safer and eliminate the current site's sense of isolation.

The government owns the land surrounding the downtown locations, excluding the tracks.

Central Terminal vs. Canalside: Where to put a new Buffalo train station?

Exchange Street proposal

The new station in the current Exchange Street footprint would essentially represent a rebuild of the current station just to the west.

In one proposal, passengers would use platforms on the north side of the tracks. In the other, an overhead covered walkway would connect riders to tracks to the south side. That side would better allow the 1,200-foot-long platform – Amtrak's recommended guideline for long-distance trains – to extend to Washington Street, Main Street and Metro Rail, with an elevator and stairwell taking people from the canopy-covered platform to street level.

This plan calls for putting intercity buses on the footprint of the current station.

The station would also be moved farther to the north, on the south side of Exchange, to create more visibility.

 

A rendering by the Campaign for Greater Buffalo of a proposed downtown train station on Washington Street.

Washington Street proposal

The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is promoting a downtown station on the south side of the tracks. The plan calls for covering the platform to Washington Street, with the roof as a visual guide for passengers.

The plan also rebuilds the existing platform between Washington Street and Michigan Avenue.

A transit plaza with room for eight local buses would be located between Washington and Main streets, with intercity buses using the site of the current station.

"It would be a wonderful, sun-splashed pedestrian plaza," said Tim Tielman, the group's executive director. "That's an important public square for the city, analogous to public squares you'll see when you leave a train station in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London and Paris.

"Name a city, and they all open up to an intermodal plaza, with the city right in front of you," Tielman said.

Intercity buses would also be located at the current station site, with a taxi stand close to Washington and Exchange streets.

Tielman said putting the main entrance on the south side of the tracks would take advantage of the sunlight, and allow visitors closer access to Canalside.

"What motivated our design is seeing train riders treated as second-class citizens," Tielman said. "The way bus riders are treated also has to end. We have to make this as dignified, as useful, as convenient and as low-cost as any other mode of transportation."

Mark Tytka, Parsons Brinckerhoff's Buffalo manager, said the Washington Street configuration option put forth by the consultant team was "a hybrid" of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo's proposal.

"There are many things we see that are advantageous," Tytka said. "In the next phase of detailed design, if the committee makes a decision to move forward with this location, the two would be further explored."

"Either of these configurations could potentially happen," Tytka said. "We're showing options on how the building furniture could be arranged around the platform."

The consultant will submit a technical evaluation to the train station committee, but not make a location recommendation.

Canalside appears out

Sam Hoyt championed an underground intermodal station at the entrance to Memorial Auditorium years ago as an assemblyman. There's a large hole in the ground where the Aud once stood.

But Hoyt accepts the engineer's determination that intercity bus service won't work there.

Putting the train station there would only take up a small portion of the site, said Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development Corp.

"Intermodal is the key to all transportation projects going forward. It has been for 10 to 15 years," Hoyt said. "Putting intercity buses is complicated there. If we're going to go with intermodal, this space doesn't work."

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