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JULY 07 - JULY 15, 2015

Early Morning Fog Befuddles Dyster’s
Grasp of Railroad Station Time, Budget

By Mike Hudson

JULY 7, 2015

Unless you think more people will make their decision to ride trains because of the new station, there will not likely be more train riders than those who ride today and are amply accommodated at the present station on Lockport St.
New train station interior will be about 10 times the size of the old one.
Union electrical workers work on the train station making Dyster - who got a campaign endorsement from the IBEW this year- proud.
Artist's rendering of how the passengers will line up to get on trains at the new train station.
The 20,000 square foot plus Niagara Falls Train Station to be paid for and maintained by city taxpayers is under construction. It will accommodate the same number of passengers that the present 800 square foot train station which is paid for by Amtrak does now.

Early Saturday morning, shortly after midnight, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster played giddily on Facebook.

He seemingly wasn’t concerned about the possibility that a serial killer may have already turned the city into a personal hunting ground, the looming financial crises he engineered that has already taken a toll of the city’s bond rating or whether or not some LaSalle residents would be forced to go without running water this winter for the third year running, he had bigger fish to fry.

Sounding almost intoxicated with excitement at the prospect, Dyster reached deeply into his rhetorical vault to pen an ode to accompany a photograph of a couple of guys from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 237, who were busy at his new Whirlpool Street train station.

“IBEW 237 kickin' a** to get Niagara Falls International Railway Station & Intermodal Transportation Center done on-time and on budget,” he wrote. “That's what this union thing is all about, don't ya know. Russ Q, doin' it all for you. Get well soon. Go Union!”

On time? On budget? Hardly.

Perhaps the mayor can be forgiven the post-midnight memory lapse, as the history of the train station project dates back fully five years, with numerous and ever shifting dates being thrown about. Back then, everyone was excited about President Barack Obama’s commitment to have high speed rail up and running in this country by 2020.

Like many of Obama’s other wishes, additional funding for high speed rail never came true and, in fact, money for existing passenger rail service here has been sharply curtailed in the five years since. In California, which went ahead with plans to initiate high speed rail service on its own seven years ago, costs are threatening to bankrupt the state and the prospect of a high speed ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco isn’t envisioned until 2028 at the earliest.

“The Niagara Falls Station will immediately energize our ongoing local revitalization efforts —to create a hub for transit-orientated economic development and a centerpiece for cultural tourism development,” Dyster said in January 2011.

That was back when, and the Underground Railroad museum, later downgraded into an Underground Railroad interpretive center, was going to provide a major tourist draw for the millions interested in what Dyster called “cultural heritage tourism.”

To date, the commission empowered with establishing this institution has yet to uncover any significant link between the city and the Underground Railroad.

Furthermore, after accepting more than $1.7 million ($350,000 per year in casino cash) in public funding, not a single artifact or display has been purchased and a lack of accounting has made it virtually impossible to determine what, if anything, the commission is doing with all that cash.

Last June, at the third “groundbreaking” the project has had, Dyster misstated the distance between the new station and the city’s tourist district in relation to the old station.

“Someday soon, visitors will step off the train not in an industrial district far from the City center, but on the very lip of the great Niagara Gorge, just a short hop from the downtown center and the falls itself,” he said.

Actually, the new station is closer to the falls by only a few hundred feet, and is still about two miles away from the downtown tourism corridor and the Niagara Falls State Park.

But as much as the haze of early morning and a project that has already dragged on for five long years may excuse the mayor’s “on time” comment, there’s really no excuse for the “on budget” remark.

That’s because, just this past Monday, Dyster presented the city Council with his latest change orders on the train station that raised the cost of the contract awarded to the Scrufari Construction Co. by more than $1 million, from $22,691,000 to $23,693,469.

City lawmakers by a vote of 4-1 approved the change orders which was the fourth change order approved so far in the $26 million project.

The original construction contract with Scrufari Construction was $22.7 million.

Only Councilman Glenn A. Choolokian voted against approving the change order stating he opposes the concept of building one of the largest train stations in New York State for a city with one of the lowest ridership numbers.

“At the old train station, the couple of dozen train riders arrive and depart daily at no cost to the taxpayers. Now we are building a mammoth train station with no increased demand that will cost the taxpayers millions to build and millions over time to maintain,” Choolokian told the Reporter.

The latest change order includes the installation of poles, wiring and LED lighting for the parking lot and for Depot and Whirlpool streets. The original contract called for National Grid to install these items, but with the yearly fees the cost would add up to more than $1 million over the life of the equipment.

More cash, around $300,000, was earmarked to secure railroad protection, a sort of insurance policy, which was required by the contract for the remainder of the project.

A number of other unforeseen extras, including “fixed audience seating,” additional Amtrak flagging, street lighting and addressing the non-uniform surface at the Old Customs House are additional expenditures that bump the price up more and will be taken out of a so-called “emergency contingency fund” already dedicated to the project, Dyster’s resolution stated.

According to Amtrak, an average of 89 people each day arrive at or depart from Niagara Falls via train. The bulk of this traffic is commuters traveling between Niagara Falls and Buffalo.

Dyster has long maintained that, once his new station opens, that number will explode, and the $44 million total the city is spending on the project will be justified.

To invest $44 million into a money losing business that generates an annual revenue of just $1,899,875 would be ridiculous even if the investor was the recipient of that revenue. No sane businessman in the private sector would ever consider squandering money in such a fashion.

But, in this case, the revenue will be going to Amtrak, while the taxpayer bears the burden of the entire cost, not to mention ongoing annual expenses for everything from security to snow plowing to janitorial services. The cost of heating and keeping the lights turned on 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the massive structure will be astronomical.

Amtrak, which has not entered into a lease agreement with the city since the council has not been asked to approve the contract as required by law, is not expected to pay much more than a small fraction of the expenses based on Amtrak’s operating and leasing procedures as evidenced in every Amtrak station lease where Amtrak does not own the station.

Amtrak pays only for the space it needs to service the amount of passengers it gets at a location, and their leases are not based on the size of the facility.

A number of high profile surprises caught city planners unawares in other cities when they built an oversized facility and found out Amtrak would only pay for a few thousand square feet.


The Niagara Falls Station is more than 20,000 square feet.

The whole train station project is not one that is meant to be friendly to the taxpayer.

The number of tourists arriving daily via train and with their pockets stuffed with cash would have to be in the hundreds, if not thousands, to make Dyster’s hare brained, $44 million scheme viable.

In his pre-dawn reverie, however, gazing wistfully at a photo op of two workers pretending to be doing something, his fancy took flight.

“That’s what this union thing is all about, don’t ya know?” Dyster typed.

Sadly, the taxpayers of Niagara Falls know all too well.






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