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Cuomo challenge puts Buffalo train station on a deadline

The push for a new train station in Buffalo has a new conductor, money to fuel a study and a schedule for reaching a decision on where it will go.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday the state will pay for the $1 million study, and Mayor Byron Brown will head the committee that will determine the location within six months.

"I have accepted that challenge, because I am confident in the new Buffalo, and the way we collaborate in this community," Brown said.

He also has an added incentive to meet the governor's deadline.

"We will get it done in the six months the governor has challenged us to do it in. Otherwise," he added with a laugh, "the deal is the city will pay for the study."

[Related: Momentum builds for new Buffalo train station]

Brown's decision to chair the train station committee fills a leadership void. He promised the committee would find a "top-flight consultant" to help find the best site.

Cuomo's announcement follows Rep. Brian Higgins' call last month for the state Department of Transportation to conduct a study using $25 million set aside for a new Buffalo train station in the 2019-20 transportation budget.

Higgins and Brown learned about Cuomo's intention in a holding room at Roswell Park Cancer Institute Wednesday morning, prior to the governor's news conference about a new lung cancer vaccine.

"The governor read the story in The Buffalo News Wednesday about the need for a new train station in Buffalo," Higgins said. "Then he, the mayor and I talked semi-privately about the Central Terminal, and he outlined what he was proposing to say.

"He said, 'Can you guys put this thing together quickly?' We responded in the affirmative," Higgins said. "He was operating on the assumption that this was very good news we would want to hear."

[Related: Higgins wants study of Canalside, Central Terminal for new train station]

At least three possible sites have been mentioned for a modern train station - Canalside, the Central Terminal and Larkinville.

The congressman prefers the Central Terminal, which could accommodate trains headed eastbound, westbound and north into Canada. That also is the preference of the Buffalo Common Council, which went on record  Oct. 18 in support of the East Side art deco landmark.  Citizens For Regional Transit, a group that supports expansion of mass transit also favors the Central Terminal site.

Canadian developer Harry Stinson, who is exploring a mixed-use development including housing at the Central Terminal, has said he would welcome the return of Amtrak service.

Brown administration officials and Sam Hoyt, a board member of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., have expressed support in the past for putting a train station at Canalside, on undeveloped land just north of the ice skating area. Proponents say it would create a gateway to downtown and allow visitors to take Metro Rail. Detractors point out the proximity to the water prevents trains from heading west to Cleveland and Chicago.

Another potential location is on Seneca Street, near Larkinville, where trains could also head west.

The  Depew Station on Dick Road is the only area train station where trains head west, but there is no public transportation to the station.

The latest impetus for a new modern train station for Buffalo came when the ceiling collapsed in the waiting area of the shoebox-sized Amtrak station on Exchange Street. That station, which reopened last week, has train service to and from Niagara Falls and Toronto but, like the Canalside location, is not accessible for westbound trains.


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