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Editorial: Train station committee came to the right conclusion

The committee charged with choosing a location for a new train station in Buffalo made a smart decision Thursday, selecting downtown Buffalo over what might be called the sentimental favorite, the old Central Terminal.

The facts pointed toward a downtown site and away from the ghostly but beloved Central Terminal and, to its credit, the committee followed the facts. Nevertheless, while facts may make a particular decision sensible, they don’t always make it painless. In this case, the Central Terminal’s future remains frustratingly uncertain.

Even with the choice of downtown, the exact location remains to be decided, and will be based on further studies involving the Department of Transportation and others. The possibilities are all within a short distance of one another, near the current station on Exchange Street.

Fortunately, the 11-4 vote for a downtown location excludes any idea of building the station within Canalside, itself. Construction there would have been more expensive than just outside its borders and, even more important, would have made poor use of one of Buffalo’s most popular recreational spaces. There are far better uses for the remaining acreage than a train station.

The advantages of a downtown site were several and significant enough to cause at least one committee member to change her mind. Both locations are within the district represented by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, who started out supporting the Central Terminal.

After evaluating the facts, though, she concluded that downtown was the place for the train station.
Those facts were derived from an evaluation process that was open and objective. Five of the six criteria used to make a decision favored downtown: location (proximity to employers, population and activity centers), operational efficiency, multimodal connectivity, readiness to proceed and cost. Only on environmental factors were the two locations roughly equal.

In the end, the decision focused on what a train station needed to succeed, rather than what its ancillary benefits to its neighborhood might be. That, too, was appropriate. In the end, the goal of a new train station must be to serve the passengers who use it.

A train station near Canalside will put travelers in one of the city’s newly thriving districts, near the redeveloping One Seneca Tower and a few blocks from KeyBank Center. Ease of access to destinations such as the Theater District will be determined, in part, by decisions regarding the station’s multimodal possibilities, but are not difficult in any case.

Looking further down the road, a downtown terminal would also deliver out-of-town football fans close to the stadium that seems likely someday to be built downtown.

None of this would have been the case at the Central Terminal. There, passengers would board or disembark at a station in a struggling part of the city, and notably distant from any of the city’s primary attractions.

Those defects might still have been overcome if a Central Terminal project would have sparked the kind of East Side renewal that many advocates believed. But the chances were slim. Six passenger trains a day stop in Buffalo, serving no more than 20 riders each. That’s not much of an incentive to developers.

Even still, as the committee’s facilitator, Robert Shibley, observed, the process has elevated the plight of the terminal in the public’s mind. The city and the terminal’s advocates should not let that momentum lapse.

The committee did good work for Buffalo and, just as important, did it by the deadline set by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Its performance adds to the evidence that this truly is a new day in Buffalo.

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