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Niagara Falls' new train station welcomes its first riders

NIAGARA FALLS -- The first Amtrak train and its load of about 35 passengers arrived at the new $43 million train station here just after 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Most of the travelers, including a large contingent from the United Kingdom, were a bit confused as they were greeted by applause, cameras and curious onlookers.

And while some called the new station beautiful, they were also confused by the lack of amenities. For now, travelers can't even buy a cup of coffee, a bottle of water or a snack in Niagara Falls' new mostly-empty train station at 825 Depot Avenue West.

"Is there anything to do here?" said Angela Honey, of South Wales, during a two-hour layover before the train headed to New York City. "We'll just sit, get back on the train and that's it."

The City of Niagara Falls is still searching for a tenant for 4,000 square feet of retail space there. It also plans to open an Underground Railroad Museum at the train station next year.

Passenger Greg Cugini, who was traveling from Vancouver to Albany, said he'd like to see more amenities and would "absolutely love to see the Underground Railroad Museum."

"People would really love a place to get a coffee. It's a simple thing, but it makes a big difference, especially six months out of the year when I'm sure it is very cold here," said Cugini, of Clearwater, Fla.

Photo gallery: The new Niagara Falls train station

But for Albert McFadyen, of Lockport, who grew up in Niagara Falls, the train was the thing.

Train enthusiast Albert McFadyen, of Lockport, on right, was one of the travelers to board the first train to depart from Niagara Falls' new Amtrak station on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Nancy Fischer / The Buffalo News)

Train enthusiast Albert McFadyen, of Lockport, on right, was one of the travelers to board the first train to depart from Niagara Falls' new Amtrak station on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Nancy Fischer / The Buffalo News)

McFadyen, 70, an admitted train enthusiast, was wearing a blue Amtrak cap and carrying a sack lunch in the station. He said he told his Facebook friends he wanted to have a ticket on the first train to pass through. So he bought a ticket to ride the Amtrak roughly 25 miles to Depew, and then planned to head back hours later to Niagara Falls on an Amtrak.

"I want to be a part of the good history of Niagara Falls - there's so many detractors," said McFadyen. "I understand the negativism, to some degree, but this is one city that needs a decent Amtrak station."

Unlike some of the other visitors he had a lot of perspective, noting the now closed station at 2701 Willard Avenue, off of Lockport Road, was once a freight warehouse.

"It's night and day. It's like comparing a Model T Ford to a modern day Cadillac Escalade or a Camaro Z-28," said McFadyen of the two stations.

And at least Niagara Falls has a new train station. Buffalo is millions of dollars and perhaps years away from getting a new train station.

The latest impetus for a new modern train station for Buffalo came when the ceiling collapsed in September in the waiting area of the shoebox-sized Amtrak station on Exchange Street. That station, which has reopened, has train service to and from Niagara Falls and Toronto but is not accessible for westbound trains. The Depew Station on Dick Road is the only Buffalo area station where trains head west.

Buffalo leaders are considering several potential sites for a new train station, including the historic Central Terminal, where train service ceased in 1979, at Canalside, or on Seneca Street in  Larkinville.

Related: 3 sites for Buffalo train station all pose problems

McFayden said he has ridden the train in Colorado where his daughter lives. He also takes the train to New York City.

"Whenever I travel I try to take the train," said McFadyen. "To go to New York City I wouldn't even consider an airplane. The trains take you downtown to Grand Central, to Penn Station. You are right there."

Cugini is also a train enthusiast who was traveling and taking photographs. He said he is seven months into a journey and plans to travel another month an a half.

"I thought I knew what to expect, but this is kind of intense," said Cugini, of his nearly year-long trek. He praised the U.S. Customs officers in Niagara Falls for letting him hand-check some of his film.

"I think (the station) is great. It is set up logically," said Cugini, who planned to stop in Albany for a few days and then head to Montreal.

"I do love trains. I used to do the New York to Florida run and I am comfortable with Amtrak. There's none of the stress you have flying. You don't get herded on the train and have to deal with TSA - get there two hours early and take your shoes off," said Cugini.

There was also a number of Niagara Falls residents who wandered in on Tuesday to get a glimpse of the new train.

Nancy Glass a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls was one of the onlookers.

"I just came down here to see (the train.)" she said. "It's just wonderful to have our train station up and running. We've waited so long for this. I can't wait to ride it."

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