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Central Terminal vs. Canalside: Where to put a new Buffalo train station?

Supporters of a new train station at the Central Terminal show the most passion.

They see returning train service to the art deco structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a last chance to restore the endangered building and breathe life into the surrounding neighborhood that hasn't seen significant investment in decades.

"If we can follow through and restore this great historic structure, and give it back to the people of Buffalo and to future generations, we will have done a great public service," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

[Gallery: Inside Buffalo's Central Terminal, an art deco marvel in decay]

Backers of a downtown train station point to logic.

Two sites believed to be in the running – one on the other side of the tracks from the current station, the other where Memorial Auditorium once stood – are close to Metro Rail, bus service, hotels and other amenities. They say downtown would be a gateway for passengers arriving in Buffalo.

"When you invest in the future, the action is always going to be downtown, adjacent to Canalside and the transit system," said Robert Dingman, president of the New York and Lake Erie Railroad.

On Tuesday, engineers will weigh in on the pros and cons so far of the various sites. The engineers will present their findings from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in a public meeting at the Buffalo Museum of Science. Next month, a 17-member committee established by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and chaired by Mayor Byron W. Brown will decide the location for Buffalo's new train station.

Most signs point to the station being located either at the Central Terminal, where passenger trains ran for 50 years until 1979, or near the present downtown Exchange Street station, a short distance from Canalside. Or, both could be chosen, with one designated as the main station and the other as a secondary stop.

The opinions of Amtrak and of CSX, the freight railroad that owns most of the track Amtrak rides on, will also likely influence the final decision.

The desire to combine a new train station with city bus service – and possibly bus service between cities – could be a factor, too.


Here are the pros and cons for each location, based on proponents and detractors for each site:

The case for Central Terminal:

*The Central Terminal is best able to service trains going east or west, which is why it was put there in 1929. Amtrak trains continue to travel past the station.

*The site has infrastructure that can handle trains, buses, taxis and has over 1,000 parking spaces.

*Returning train service would be a catalyst for new investment into the Broadway-Fillmore area.

*A station-within-a-station, proposed for the Central Terminal, is found in many refurbished train stations including Kansas City, Cincinnati, Erie and Utica. It was the case here before, when only the eastern end of the Central Terminal was used from 1964 to 1979.

*Buffalonians have a deep connection with the station, dating to the Second World War when those in the service said goodbye to their families to join the war effort.

*Bringing trains back would help return the art deco marvel into one of the nation's most majestic train stations.


"The infrastructure was invested in a century ago, and we just need to build on it," said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo. "It goes part and parcel with the new Buffalo we are trying to promote based on historic adaptive reuse. We cannot have the new Buffalo we want with this building empty."

Higgins said the successful development of Larkinville, a mile from downtown, has expanded the boundaries – and the possibilities – for downtown Buffalo.

"You will see development all along Broadway that could not occur unless there is this kind of commitment to this facility," Higgins said.


The case against Central Terminal:

*The neighborhood is not inviting. Abandoned and vacant housing pockmark nearby streets, sidewalks often go unshoveled in winter and, with the Broadway Market a mile away, there are no places to eat nearby.

*With major bus routes originating downtown, relocating to the Central Terminal would wreak havoc with and prolong many routes, requiring time-consuming transfers.

*Reusing the Central Terminal would not result in future spinoff that benefits the Broadway-Fillmore area. In its heyday, the Central Terminal was self-contained, with travelers having little connection to the commercial district.

*Restoring the building does not depend on reintroducing passenger rail.

*It's too big a space for eight train rides daily, unlike when there were once 200 trains a day traveling in and out of the Central Terminal.


"The train station is not the silver bullet for the East Side," said Paul Battaglia, a former principal architect with HHL. "Amtrak is not big enough, or have enough ridership."


The case for downtown:

*Amtrak passengers can walk or take Metro Rail to nearby hotels, amenities and attractions.

*The station can capitalize on an existing nearby transportation network of buses, metro rail, trains and cars.

*A downtown station would put travelers a short distance from KeyBank Center and possibly a new downtown Buffalo Bills stadium in the future.

*An Amtrak study in 2003 concluded trains could potentially go west from downtown. That would involve having to back up in order to head west, and would need the approval of Amtrak and possibly CSX, the freight company that owns much of the track Amtrak rides over.


"The center of Buffalo's transportation network has been, is and always will be downtown Buffalo, within a couple blocks of Main Street," said Tim Tielman, executive director of Campaign for Greater Buffalo.

His group proposed a train and bus facility on the other side of the tracks from the current station.

"Our population, commercial and business density, and transit efficiencies all adhere to those geographic facts," he said.

Tielman continues to push for the Central Terminal to be restored, but called the train issue a distraction from "the dire need" to restore the building itself.

"Everything we're doing around transportation is striving to connect different forms of transportation, and downtown has the ability to connect to light rail and the bus hub," said Dan Leonard, senior director for economic development with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. A new downtown station would also bring added impetus toward integrating Niagara Falls and southern Ontario with downtown Buffalo, he said.

Larkinville is no longer under consideration, but a location off Exchange Street, between Larkin and Hamburg streets, is believed to be. It's just under a mile from the current station.

"It's the best location from two perspectives," said Timothy Allan, a retired history professor from SUNY Fredonia and one of three former railroad workers who proposed the plan. "It offers rail transportation in every direction, and it's close to downtown."


The case against downtown:

*A train station could interfere with the goal of creating a neighborhood of multi-story residential buildings with commercial storefronts.

*There are not enough train travelers to justify using valuable downtown real estate for a new station.

*The train station is not part of Canalside's master plan.

*A new station should be part of an economic development plan, which is not needed at Canalside.

Higgins: Buffalo is about to make 'big, big mistake' backing Canalside for train station

"The community has high hopes for private development at Canalside," Ryan said. "I believe that's what Erie Canal Harbor Development has been building up to. It seems like we're poised to have private development take off, so it's puzzling why we would want to take this valuable land out of the private development mix."

A number of other variables could also come into play as the train committee continues to weigh each station location's pros and cons.

Logistical or engineering obstacles could emerge. Criteria set by the federal government for where to locate stations could be a factor in obtaining critical federal dollars. High-speed rail planning could also impose other requirements.

On Tuesday, the public will get to hear from WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering consultant hired by New York State. Their findings should help nudge the process further down the track.

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