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New Train Station Not Just a Terminal

By Frank Parlato

The latest rendering for the proposed Niagara Falls train station.

Like the train station or not, one has to acknowledge, it is Dyster's baby. Time will tell if he is right. (Photo Rick DiGregorio)

Rendering of the interior (above and right) show a modern and comfortable train station. Of course, the great question is, will enough people use it to justify the expenditures involved? Amtrak is expected to lease the bulk of the station and pay proportionate amount of the costs of operations and maintenance.

The City of Niagara Falls is relocating the city's existing Amtrak passenger terminal to a site near the border at the base of the Whirlpool Rapids International Passenger and Rail Bridge on Main Street.

Many people have criticized the plan as unnecessary, saying demand is not there and a new station is not warranted.

Few, however, understand the details of the project.

Wendel Engineers designed the project and coordinated the input and programming requirements from stakeholders including the City of Niagara Falls, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, Amtrak, CSX Transportation, CN Rail, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, and other public and private entities.

The design incorporates a new Amtrak passenger terminal, the renovation of the nationally registered historic United States Customs House for DHS border inspection processing, and an interpretative tourist use.  Additional modes of transportation to be accommodated include local bus, intercity bus, pedestrians, bicyclists, taxis, shuttles, and park-and-ride users.

According to Susan Sherwood of Wendel, the train station aspect of the project will go out to bid shortly.

She expects the bidding process to be completed in July.

The single winner of the bid, as general contractor, will be the lowest qualified bidder, regardless of whether the contractor is union or non-union. Wendel will evaluate bids and vet them for scoping.

The work, if the city funds their share of the project, may begin this year. Presently, the train station portion is estimated to cost $25 million.

This does not include the renovation of the Customs House or the demolition and rebuilding of a railroad bridge which are already completed.

As far as the station is concerned, it will be funded by a Federal TIGER 2 grant in the amount of $16.5 million, a federal highway grant of $3.4 million and a New York State Competitive rail bond for $2.5 million. It is projected that city taxpayers will have to invest an additional $2 mllion (on top of the $2 million already in the project, according to City Controller Maria Brown, for their share of the matching grants.

That's an estimate, according to Sherwood who says it's possible the city's contribution might be lower. "We've included significant contingencies to cover unforeseen conditions. For instance, we have assumed that we will find contaminated soils."  And while the standard figure for cost overruns is five percent, Sherwood said the city is using a 10 percent contingency and another 10 percent for construction allowances.

Sherwood said that before construction begins, Amtrak will sign a lease with the city that will require them to pay a pro rated share of operations and maintenance costs.

Amtrak is expected to take about half or more of the 20,000 square feet of the planned building. The remainder will be available for hoped-for tenants such as offices, a restaurant or recreational users. No tenant has been identified as yet.

The station is designed to accommodate 300 passengers per day. Presently Amtrak is averaging 68 passengers per day at its current location on Lockport Rd. That is 34 arriving and 34 departing. According to their projections, Amtrak expects ridership to double in five years - to 68 arriving and 68 departing.

While all admit that the city will not have high speed rail for decades to come, Sherwood said that on time arrivals and departures will increase for passenger trains once this station is built. State of the art Homeland Security inspections may speed things up, as well as a better interface planning system between passenger trains and freight trains. Freights presently have priority over passenger trains, she said.

Train enthusiast also hope to see a day, maybe decades down the road, when, as oil becomes too expensive, more people will use trains to travel and it might see a comeback of immense proportions. If it does, Sherwood said, the new train station is designed so it can be expanded.




Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Apr16, 2013