Author: Rich Sampson
This weekend, the Buffalo News shared a commentary by Patrick J. Whalen of the Niagara Global Tourism Institute, suggesting that plans for a new Buffalo Amtrak station be put off until the reliability and time of Amtrak’s trains in New York State improves.
Mr. Whalen cites low ridership numbers at both existing Amtrak stations and frequently delayed trains as not worth the sizable investment required for a new station. Mr. Whalen’s intentions seem to be well-placed, and the data he references are accurate. There’s no doubt Western New York would benefit from more reliable and frequent intercity passenger rail options. However, the time is now to move on a new station for Buffalo, regardless if its at Central Terminal, Canalside, Larkinville or elsewhere. We’ll leave it to the local study team appointed by Mayor Brown to make that decision.
Political will for a new station has clearly coalesced at the present moment. Sen. Schumer and Rep. Higgins seem confident they can line-up federal funds that would support much of the project. Given Western New York’s legacy of inaction, any time when political leadership comes together to forge a solution, its best to take advantage of those rare circumstances. There presently is no similar will to substantially upgrade passenger rail infrastructure in Upstate New York, as desperately as that is needed, to concur with at least part of Mr. Whalen’s argument.
Moving forward with a new Buffalo station does not preclude improving the rail infrastructure, either in the short- or long-term future. To use a holiday season analogy, it would be similar to arguing we cannot cook the turkey until the mashed potatoes are ready. Both are needed. It’s rather unlikely the station momentum would shift to the rail infrastructure. Instead, it would likely evaporate and the current dreary ‘Amshacks’ would remain.
Moreover, whichever station site is selected, it’s envisioned to serve as not only a train station but a community gathering point to spur redevelopment projects (Central Terminal and/or leverage existing activity centers (Canalside, Larkvinville), which may attract additional ridership for Amtrak service. Neither current Amtrak facility inspires much in the way of wanderlust. The Exchange Street station borders on condemned status.
Many are also eager to speculate on the impacts on Amtrak operations vis-a-vis the Belt Line or Niagara Branch, whether Metro Rail might be expanded Terminal or a new commuter rail service be launched should Central Terminal be chosen as the location. I’ll return to that discussion in about a week’s time to scratch our collective itch about rail transit plans, however unlikely they are.