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Cost estimates favor downtown train station over Central Terminal

Central Terminal supporters made up the majority of an overflow crowd at Tuesday's public meeting on where to put a new Buffalo train station.

Many didn't like what they heard.

The cost of putting the station at the East Side landmark was estimated at between $68 million and $149 million, compared to between $34 million and $86 million to put a station downtown, according to an engineering consultant hired by the state Department of Transportation.

The range of costs was for accommodating current train service; service also including long-distance trains; adding local buses; and also adding inter-city carriers. Each came with its own engineering and architectural challenges.

It was also clear some criteria used to choose the station location, including "neighborhood character," "location relative to population, employment, entertainment, tourist and activity centers" and "passenger experience" weren't in Central Terminal's favor, either.

"I don't like how this is all going down," said Eddy Dobosiewicz, who operates Forgotten Buffalo Tours on the East Side. "It certainly seems like a decision has already been made."

"Logically, it doesn't make sense to put it anywhere other than the Central Terminal," Dobosiewicz said. "We've had this argument before, and it's the only place."

The decision won't be made until next month.

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

Marilynn Martin also hoped the Central Terminal would gain the upper hand.

"The East Side of the city needs an injection," Martin said. "That terminal at one point was a major terminal for the city of Buffalo. Why couldn't it be restored and brought back to the grandeur it was?"

But a downtown location had its supporters, too.

"The consultants have done a wonderful job in a very short window of pulling together information that is relevant for the committee to make a decision, particularly because of the range of cost estimates for the two locations," said Bruce Becker, the National Association of Railroad Passengers' vice president of operations.

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

Wesley Frechette, a member of the public who attended the event, added: "I like the proximity to light rail and other attractions. We're not there with the Central Terminal location."

The technical analysis and costs were presented by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff at the Buffalo Museum of Science, with displays set up on easels on the second-floor concourse.


Down to two locations

The number of locations has narrowed from eight locations to either the Central Terminal or downtown.

Others previously looked at included two locations near Larkinville, as well as other downtown sites and a station proposed for a Central Terminal platform.

The downtown site, the consultants said, can fit somewhere between Main Street and where the current Exchange Street station is now, on either the north or south side of the track.

One of the areas is an undeveloped parcel where the Memorial Auditorium once stood.

Another, proposed by the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, would be across from the current station.

A rendering by Tim Tielman, of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, of a proposed downtown train station.


Central Terminal challenges

The engineers highlighted several factors that make the Central Terminal the more costly option.

They include replacing tracks, switches and signals, as well as a bridge that connected the terminal and platforms. All were removed after Amtrak left in 1979.

The platform and concourse would also have to be made ADA-compliant, and improvements to the concourse were deemed necessary for safety.

Mark Tytka, Parsons' manager for the Buffalo office, said his office gave a track plan that would return track service to the former passenger area to Amtrak and CSX, the freight company that owns most of the tracks Amtrak rides on.

Options also came from Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a strong backer of returning train service to the Central Terminal.

He said about 11,000 square feet of the massive building would be used for a train station.

The Central Terminal, located in the Historic Polonia District on Buffalo's East Side, is a contender for a new train station. (New file photo)


West from downtown

It's been widely said that trains can't go west toward Cleveland and Chicago from downtown.

But Tytka said it is possible to do so by heading in reverse about a mile from downtown. Discussions are being held with the railroads to do so, he said.

Amtrak and CSX are generally reluctant to approve the maneuver, Tytka said. But the new Niagara Falls Station got the go-ahead to do so, joining the Vermonter Service in Springfield, Mass., the Silver Star Service in Tampa, Fla., and a new station opening later this year in Miami.


What's next

The engineer said they would continue to compile and present information to the committee, which is aiming to make a decision in the third week of April, according to Robert Shibley, the committee's facilitator.

Shibley emphasized in opening remarks that the presentation was intended to deal chiefly with facts.

But it appeared from reactions by the mostly pro-Central Terminal crowd – vocal at times about parts of the presentation – that the decision needed to be made with the head and heart.

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