Buffalo's now-superfluous station

Posted by Steve Sweeney
on Monday, April 24, 2017

Buffalo Central Terminal in 1999. Photo by Matt Van Hattem

Buffalo, N.Y., residents and newcomers rebuilding the City of Good Neighbors say they'll need a good train station to support their urban renaissance — but not Central Terminal.

I fear a local board's decision this month to replace the long-decrepit Exchange Street Station in downtown is the end of any grand plans to restore and use the New York Central's former Buffalo Central Terminal on the east side of the city. It's the end of the dream in my lifetime, anyway.

For those who are unaware, Central Terminal is an Art Deco cathedral the NYC completed in 1929 before the stock market crash that marked the start of the Great Depression. It saw its traffic peak and decline with the passenger business trends following World War II. By the early 1980s, Conrail and Amtrak mutually abandoned the building to rot even if Amtrak still owned it. A non-profit corporation got title to the station in 1997 and began promotions and clean up work.

By the time I last visited in 2009, volunteers hoped they could do enough clean-up work and weather-proofing to make a case that it should be fully restored. Ghost tours, arts events, and occasional beer festivals reintroduced the terminal to Western New York residents. Located amidst CSX Transportation's still sprawling yards, Central Terminal can claim easy access to the rail network. But being passed over means the station with a 17-story office tower and vaulted concourse will never again be a train station — the most compelling reason to award it scarce building grants and restoration dollars.

To the train station board's credit, a new downtown Buffalo depot makes sense. Over the past 20 years, leaders from the city, Erie County, and New York State have worked hard to reverse decades of economic decline and are seeing progress in the form of a thriving medical research district along with accompanying high-tech business incubators and ancillary arts and cultured neighborhoods. Oh, and it would be close to burgeoning venues near the city's Lake Erie waterfront. People who live in these neighborhoods deserve an easy way to get to Empire Service trains bound for Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and eventually New York City — and better service, to boot.

I can already smell the synergies from my desktop.

But as those Empire Service passengers move east at restricted speed through CSX yards, they'll continue to see a largely empty, massive complex with thousands of windows and a mighty, imposing tower — a sadly superfluous Central Terminal.

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