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New Amtrak station at Canalside has too many advantages to ignore

Is there any reason Buffalo shouldn’t have a new train station – one that could help drive ridership and of which the city can be proud? Only if Buffalo, alone among cities on the east-west rail route between here and Albany, for some reason should not have one. Which is to say: No.

The idea has taken root with leaders from the administration of Mayor Byron W. Brown and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. Seeing attractive train stations in various stages of development in Albany, Schenectady, Utica, Rochester and Niagara Falls, they have lighted on the logical idea that Buffalo, the biggest city along the line and undergoing a renaissance, should have one, too.

As matters stand in Buffalo, passengers can use a barely serviceable and inconvenient (to most) station in Depew or use an insufficient, intimidating station crammed under a highway overpass in downtown Buffalo. It’s time for a change.

The idea is to build a new station at Canalside, where it could link with the Metro Rail system, attract more riders and create an easier commute between Buffalo and Niagara Falls for tourists and residents. It could also help deliver visitors planning to attend events at the First Niagara Center and perhaps at a future downtown stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

It’s a natural fit and, while some advocates are pushing for an underground station on two undeveloped acres north of the area, we presume that approach includes an attractive, efficient and safe station that would mesh well with the developing ambience of Canalside.

The idea for a new railroad station has been in the wind, in one way or another, for years. The city once had the grandeur of its Central Terminal to welcome travelers, but, sadly, it was not centrally located and its time passed. It remains defiantly standing on the city’s East Side, but thus far resists all efforts to repurpose it.

About 10 years ago, then-Assemblyman Sam Hoyt wanted to put an intermodal station serving trains, buses, light rail and taxis in the basement of what was the vacant Memorial Auditorium. That edifice was later demolished as part of the Canalside development and both Hoyt and Brown now support construction of a rail station in that area.

In preparing for a station, Buffalo can learn some lessons from Niagara Falls, where a new International Railway Station and Intermodal Transportation Center is under construction. It is scheduled to open in two years on Whirlpool Street in the city’s North End and will combine a new building and glass atrium with the 1863 Customs House.

It’s a smart project, one that Niagara Falls was able to land, at least in part, because of advance site work, said Mayor Paul A. Dyster. It began about 15 years ago, when the city used community development funds for an initial planning study. That provided cost estimates and possible locations, and made a critical difference, he said.

“One of the lessons we learned was that you need to get as much of the planning and engineering done as soon as possible, so that if a funding source becomes available that you hadn’t anticipated, you have the opportunity to do so,” Dyster said.

Right now, the most likely funding source for Buffalo is the federal government, which has helped pay for other such projects. In Niagara Falls, Washington covered about 80 percent of the $43 million cost.

The good news is that Niagara Falls’ member of Congress, Brian Higgins, also represents Buffalo, including the Canalside area. He is bullish on the idea of a new rail station there.

“The idea of putting people when they get to Buffalo at Canalside instead of under a decrepit viaduct makes a lot of sense,” he said. While that pot of federal dollars has shrunk, he still believes the money will be available at some point.

To be sure, funds are finite and other infrastructure projects are crying out for money. They include water and sewer systems around the state and country that are more than 100 years old, including Buffalo’s. They need attention, too.

But this is a valuable project. The city should take Dyster’s advice and do what planning it can while Higgins keeps his eye out for federal dollars.