Daina Richards & Karla Weidenboerner
(Buffalo, N.Y.) – A 17-person committee is set to meet this month to decide where a newly purposed Amtrak train station should be located.
There has been much debate about whether Buffalo’s historic Central Terminal, which served as the main railroad station from 1929 to 1979, should be the location for the new station.
The current Buffalo train station, located on Exchange Street, has had some issues recently with its roof deteriorating.
This prompted N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo to give $25 million for a new station with $1 million of that allotted for a study on the location of the new station.
The study started with eight different proposed sites and has since been narrowed down to two, the Central Terminal, located in the Broadway-Fillmore district on the east side of Buffalo, or downtown.
Buffalo News reporter Mark Sommer, who has written a number stories on the issue, appeared on the Buffalo Review April 3 to discuss the topic.
An engineering consultant hired by the state Department of Transportation estimated that the Central Terminal could be the most expensive option, according to Sommer’s reporting.
It has been estimated that the Central Terminal location would cost in the range of $75 million to $100 million, which is about twice the amount for the downtown location.
However, the Central Terminal appears to have many supporters who are quite passionate about the issue, according to Sommer.
The Central Terminal, which was was closed in 1979 when the Depew Amtrak station opened, has a long history and architectural value.
The art deco station was placed on the state and national Registers of Historical Places in 1984. Since 1997, the station has been in the care of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation, which has worked to preserve the landmark.
“At one point in time that station could handle 200 trains per day. It also happened when that neighborhood was in its sort of heyday,” said Sommer. “As the trains left so did a lot of the people in the neighborhood.”
Many on the east side have long been hoping for the restoration of the Central Terminal and redevelopment of the area. According to Sommer, if the Central Terminal is restored, to offer a new train station, it could serve as a catalyst for that revitalization.
Sommer also said there is concern that if nothing is done with the Central Terminal, which to date is structurally sound, it could fall apart.
In 2015, Sommer wrote a piece on a similar situation with the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Union Terminal was an old rail station that was restored in the 1990s and converted into a museum and cultural center, with attendance reaching 1.3 million visitors in 2014.
“That train station was designed by Fellheimer and Wagner, the same two architects who designed the Central Terminal in Buffalo. It’s also an art deco landmark, however, there are some big differences. There were a lot of significant attractions that wanted to go into the Union Terminal in Cincinnati,” said Sommer.
The building, which was renamed Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal is still used as a train station, but the museums and entertainment attractions draw most of the visitors.
Much like the Union Terminal, the Central Terminal is located about two miles from downtown, which many have said is too far from downtown.
“People would have an option of grabbing a taxi, or maybe Uber will be legalized in the near future here in the city. There is also talk of shuttle buses that would go from the Central Terminal to downtown,” said Sommer. “So there could be alternative transportation ideas to help bridge the gap, but that remains to be seen.”
According to Sommer, there is also the possibility that both sites could host train stations, as Bob Shibley, facilitator of the 17-member selection committee and Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, has proposed the idea of two locations.
Amtrak and CSX Transportation likely will play a large role in the decision making process. If they do not agree with a decision made by the committee, they have the power to veto it.
“They have the last word. CSX owns the track and Amtrak has to work with CSX. So that could certainly be an obstacle for some of the ideas that are out there,” said Sommer.
Regardless, if the new train station isn’t located the Central Terminal, there is still a push from the community for the historic building to be restored.
* Christopher Baggs contributed to this report.