In November, I traveled to Lausanne Switzerland for a two-week vacation. I didn't know I'd find so many lessons that Buffalo can leverage as it becomes 'what it will be'. I encourage us all to look at Buffalo from the outside and see what other successful cities do to achieve and retain tourism and a higher quality of life.
Part 1 - Take The Train!
In Lausanne, I could take a driver-less metro down the five minute trip from the Chuv Hospital Station to the Train Station every seven minutes. I loved the Lausanne Train Station. It was full of life, activity, and trains that represented a way to anywhere in the world: Paris, Montreaux, Italy or Germany, every 15 minutes! All trains were 100% on time and travel was pricey, but fair.
It reminded me of my hometown Buffalo and its historic second place, only to Chicago as one of America's big rail hub cities of the past.
^Photo: Lausanne metro station - note organic roof garden
Although I live in Buffalo, I work for a consulting firm in Rochester, located in the High Falls Historic Site, sitting just across from the Genesee Brewery and the Amtrak train station. The CSX freight trains remind us daily of past and present economic life in America. I had dismissed train travel in the United States after a recent trip from Washington, DC to Charlestown, VA where the cars seemed dirty, in disrepair and absent of employees interested in meeting my needs as a passenger.
After a recent trip to Switzerland, with its train stations, metro rails and electric-powered bus lines, I had a fresh perspective on what train service in America might offer.
After investigating the Amtrak website, and realizing that there were no less than three daily trains between Buffalo and Rochester, as part of service from Toronto, ON to New York City, I decided to reconsider the option. The trip was a mere 1:06 and started in Toronto, so the chances of delay were minimal, a major concern. The cost was competitive at $19.00 USD coach and a whopping $31.00 USD for first class.
I decided to make an adventure out of it in my mind. Like some kind of twenty-first urban orienteer I made the commitment, took the Number 7 Baynes/Richmond bus downtown at 6:40 am, arrived ten minutes later blocks from coffee and a breakfast sandwich and walked in the 10 degree windy streets of downtown Buffalo to buy my ticket.
To my surprise the ticket office was open at 6:50 am, the ticket was the same price as online and the train was right on time! I ate my snack, and waited outside in the cold, like some crazy person so I could hear the train blow its whistle as it strolled into the Exchange Street Station.
The conductor had a newspaper from Canada with him and instead of tossing it on the ground, he nailed me right in the chest with it. I was shocked! He couldn't have done it if he had tried - it was that natural. I boarded and was further surprised by the conditions of my coach class seat. It looked brand new! There was as much space as any business class plane seat, there was more fresh hot coffee and any array of unhealthy snacks at my disposal one car away. The first class seats were leather and slightly larger, but offered no real advantage.
The train left within minutes of schedule and slowly crept up to 79 miles an hour, after a stop in Depew to pick up suburban-Buffalonians.
The wintery scene flashed by, with ice crystals on the window, small farms and forest after forest and ponds to enjoy. Before I knew it the conductor announced, "Five Minutes to Rochester!" Again, right on time.
The biggest challenge was finding my way from the Amtrak station, a mere eighth of a mile from my High Falls office. I had to take a detour through the Genesee Brewery to a terrific pedestrian walkway across the Genesee River with the most magnificent view of the High Falls. It was plowed, unlike the city streets on the station side of the river. I stopped to warm up at Spin Coffee and here I write this tale.
So, it worked, I'm alive. I'm on-time, ready to work, a mere 90 minute after I left the house on Breckenridge, in Buffalo!
Whether visiting Rochester from Buffalo, or vice versa, I encourage you to take the train and make a day out of it. Go see a play or concert or get a garbage Plate at Nick Tahoe's. Or plan a trip to Pearl Street Grille and Brewery. Explore, trust the public transportation system. You pay for, you might as well!
Michael R Weekes is author of Everything is a Process, President of Whataboutquality LLC and Co-founder of Fandemoneum Sports Museum. He returned to Buffalo after 25 years of rambling the high tech trains of America.