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Amtrak service at new Niagara Falls station to debut on Tuesday

NIAGARA FALLS - After years of planning, construction and lease negotiations, the Amtrak station at 825 Depot Ave. will officially open for business on Tuesday.

Through Monday, all trains will use the old station at 2701 Willard Ave., off  Lockport Road.

On Tuesday -- after the departure of Amtrak trains at 4:21 a.m. and 6:50 a.m, the old train station will close permanently  and staff will relocate to the new station, on Depot  between Main and Whirlpool streets, about one mile to the west. Trains 64, 63, 281 and 283 will be the first to chug into the new station.

Amtrak will notify passengers where to board and depart through its  ticketing services. The Amtrak website also is being updated.

The opening of the $43 million train station was made official  Wednesday by Amtrak. The City of Niagara Falls plans to announce a ribbon-cutting at a future date.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he signed the  lease on Monday. The lease agreement was announced on Nov. 9.

The City of Niagara Falls held a sneak preview of the new station in July, when it announced the station would open within a month. However,  lease negotiations turned out to be more complicated than originally thought.

The Niagara Falls station is the first new station to open in New York State since Albany-Rensselaer debuted in 2002.

The new station is  17 years in the making and 30 years in discussion, according to Acting Director of Planning Thomas J. DeSantis, who termed the final months of completing construction, signing a lease and making the move "barely noticeable."

The project cost $43 million, with the bulk of the fundingcoming from the state and federal governments. The local share -- about $5 million -- came from city casino revenue.

"It feel really good. It's a relief," said DeSantis, who reacted to the opening. "This is the thing everyone has been waiting for -- service to start at the station. We all wished it would have happened a little sooner, but sometimes these things just take a little longer to happen."

Under the 20-year agreement, Amtrak will lease 29,360 square feet of the station, 63 percent of the entire building and  pay 63 percent of the operating costs. There is a separate lease for Homeland Security/Customs and Border Patrol, which is located within the Amtrak portion of the station.

"We are a tourist city and we are fortunate to be located on the rail line between two of the great metropolises in North America - Toronto and New York City," said Dyster. "It's also a great responsibility because we have to have a custom facility, which made this a more complicated project."

Dyster noted that the city's share of operating costs will be further reduced as more tenants move in.

The 40,000-square-foot property includes the adjacent customs house, which was built during the Civil War. The building was renovated to accommodate the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. The 2,880-square-foot museum is expected to open in fall 2017. Another 4,650 square feet will be leased in the future  to commercial tenants.

The old Amtrak station, a converted railroad freight warehouse, was built in 1959. It became the city's rail station in 1978, when Amtrak reinstated passenger service to the city. It had always been considered a temporary solution.

The new station features  a two-story building and 70-foot clock tower, attached to the brick customs house, purchased by the city in 2009. Groundbreaking for the customs house began in 2010 and was completed in 2012. The train station was supposed to break ground that same year, but was held up another two years in part by contaminated soil removal on the property.

There have been complaints that the new station is too big, based on ridership, which was listed at 31,831 in 2015, according to Amtrak. DeSantis said  ridership is expected to increase, however.

 

"I'm guessing someday in the future this will seem small," he added.

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