By Elizabeth Giles
How uplifting to read in a recent Buffalo News that Detroit secured a buyer and anchor occupant for Michigan Central Station, Buffalo Central Terminal's sister structure in so many ways.
We're actually at a pivotal moment for our grand train station's future: the regional transportation council is laying out a transformative vision for 2050 in keeping with smart growth and sustainable practices; Erie County has announced plans to comply with the Paris Climate Accord (to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, 40 percent of which are transportation-generated); and New York State is soon to unveil next steps for high-speed rail just as Toronto is bringing its commuter GO Train to Niagara Falls, uniting upstate New York with the Golden Horseshoe. Central Terminal has advantages that can facilitate all of these plans and maximum their benefits, even if the plans are realized incrementally.
Once a major railroad hub, Buffalo has many disused rail rights-of-way that can be reclaimed as we move into an era of less car dependence. Metro Rail trains can each move the same number of people as 560 single-occupancy automobiles while running on clean hydroelectricity from Niagara Falls – a good argument for building out our 46-mile regional Metro Rail system as originally planned. Ten Western New York municipalities and more than 100 community organizations and businesses have formally endorsed the idea. The Amherst extension is already underway, but what next?
Strategically, Central Terminal sits on the intersection of the Belt Line (which loops around the city, connecting many large, adaptive reuse projects), all Amtrak lines, and the “Airport Corridor,” which could, by virtue of public ownership, readily host a Metro Rail extension above ground from Canalside to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, serving Larkinville, the Walden Galleria and many East Side neighborhoods and inner ring suburbs ripe for investment in between.
Redeveloped as a major mixed-use facility, Central Terminal could replace the Depew Amtrak Station (still necessary as the downtown station can't serve westbound trains), claiming its rightful place as a truly multimodal regional transportation hub and worthy gateway to the Queen City of the Great Lakes. Central Terminal can accommodate local and intercity rail – including high speed rail – with ample space on its grounds for bike-share, car-share, short-term and long-term parking, and eventual relocation of the intercity bus depot. The Airport Metro Rail extension would make this feasible.
The public is invited to join elected officials and community organizations at the Central Terminal on Saturday, to recognize its inclusion on the 2018 World Monuments Fund List and to celebrate New York State's initial investment in restoration of the concourse. What citizens demand now will be crucial to the future of the terminal and the region.
Elizabeth Giles is an executive board member with Citizens for Regional Transit.