A Buffalo preservationist on Monday made a last-minute appeal for a downtown train station as the committee charged with recommending a site prepares to weigh in.
Tim Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, has lobbied on behalf of constructing a station just to the south of the existing Exchange Street Amtrak station that would serve train, Metro Rail, bus and taxi passengers.
Tielman said building a station there makes the most sense because downtown Buffalo serves as the Buffalo Niagara region's transportation hub. It would connect the train station to Buffalo's already reviving downtown and waterfront, he said.
The few Amtrak trains that arrive in Buffalo daily aren't enough of a reason to build a station within the hulking former Central Terminal on the East Side, he said.
"This is an ideal location for a transit system," Tielman said during a presentation to a group of about two dozen people in an auditorium at One Seneca Tower.
The Washington Street proposal is one of several under consideration by a 17-member committee formed by Mayor Byron W. Brown last year to study the best site for a new train station to replace the current Exchange Street station.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pledged $1 million toward the study, as long as the committee finished its work by the end of this month, and another $25 million toward the cost of building the new station. The committee is set to reconvene Thursday, and a decision could come as soon as then.
The primary possible locations vying for the new station are the Central Terminal, which previously hosted Amtrak service, and one of several sites downtown near the existing Amtrak station.
Advocates of building at the Central Terminal say it would revive the Art Deco structure and the neighborhood around it.
Tielman, who wants to see the terminal redeveloped, said it doesn't make sense to build a train station in the building because so few Amtrak trains and so few passengers come into Buffalo each day. That's not the kind of development that would have a dramatic effect on the surrounding community, he said.
He also said the best and natural place to build a train station in Buffalo is where the city's train, Metro Rail and bus lines converge, and that's in downtown Buffalo. Constructing a station that combines several forms of transportation would mean many more people would use it than if it were built for train only, Tielman said.
"This is a very well-connected place where the most people can get the most benefit at the least cost," Tielman said.
His plan calls for building a station on the south side of the tracks and covering the platform to Washington Street. It also rebuilds the existing platform between Washington Street and Michigan Avenue. A transit plaza with room for local buses would be located between Washington and Main streets. Intercity buses would also be located at the current station site, with a taxi stand close to Washington and Exchange streets.
Tielman showed his audience an artist's rendering of the station that incorporates support pillars from the I-190 as design elements in the station, and that relies on a portion of the I-190 as the roof, in essence, of the station.
Tielman had noted how much of a disturbance noise from traffic on the I-190 is for visitors to the current train station, which he derisively called the "Amshack" station. One audience member, Bruce Heatley, then asked how Tielman would block this noise if his new station uses the I-190 as a roof.
Tielman said the plan calls for isolating the Thruway superstructure from the station building, so that the station doesn't vibrate as vehicles travel overhead. The station would be constructed with modern, noise-dampening materials, he said.
Heatley, in an interview after the presentation, said he doesn't agree with the value of putting everything in one site downtown.
"There's no perfect location," said the retired railroad employee from Buffalo. "My overall feeling is, spread the wealth. I think there's loads down at Canalside. Canalside's overused."
Another audience member, Lauren Pacheco, an architect who lives in the city, said Tielman's argument about the paucity of rail traffic persuaded her a downtown station makes more sense than the Central Terminal.
"I don't think that's enough business to help revitalize that neighborhood, so I would lean toward this location," Pacheco said. "But it's tough, because it's a beautiful building and it would be wonderful if there was another opportunity for that train station to be restored."
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