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MAY 19 - MAY 26, 2015

To Achieve Success, New Intermodal Transportation Center Must Be More Than Train Station

By Frank Parlato

May 26, 2015

Big for its britches. The Niagara Falls Station is bigger than other city’s stations that do 10 times the passenger rides.

Big and empty - that’s the real deal.

Dyster’s view of the new train station.

What has not been generally reported and therefore is little understood is that for the new Niagara Falls International Railway Station and Intermodal Transportation Center, being built at a cost of what will be more than $44 million, on Whirlpool St., to be a successful transportation center, filled with travelers and commuters, as opposed to a large and empty and expensive to maintain building, it must become more than a train station.

By designating it an Intermodal Transportation Center, the goal of its developers, on behalf of its owners, the people of the City of Niagara Falls, is that more than one form of transportation, preferably many, converging in one facility, will create a hub for this city for those traveling by train, bus, auto, and airplane, where people can arrive to and, with relative ease, switch modes of transportation for their convenience and economics, and travel within the city and the region, and to depart from this city on any number of convenient transportation options.

Ideally this hub will accommodate residents who are commuters and occasional travelers and tap into the market of an estimated eight million tourists who come to see Niagara Falls annually, coming mainly now by automobile and secondly by airplane.

As a train station alone, the new Niagara Falls facility, at 22,000 square feet, is 10 times the size Amtrak requires for the number of passengers that arrive and depart from Niagara Falls currently. The present 800 square foot train station on Lockport Rd. and Willard Ave. is more than ample for present ridership numbers.

According to Amtrak's 2014 published figures, 32,598 passengers either departed or arrived at the present train station last year, out of 11.6 million train passengers statewide. That’s on average 45 people arriving and 45 people leaving Niagara Falls by train each day.

Niagara Falls, in fact, ranks 15 out of Amtrak’s 19 stops at cities with populations of more than 15,000, along the entire New York Empire Service line.

Presently, Amtrak offers Niagara Falls  two arrivals and departures on the Empire Service - headed to New York City and back, and one Canadian Maple Leaf arrival and departure to Toronto and back - each day.   

Ninety passengers divided amongst six trains means that about 15 people on average are getting  on or off a train at any one time.

Inside the modest terminal - which is open from 6:15 am to 4:25 pm each day- there is one ticket window with a single Amtrak employee working at any one time to accommodate the score or less of passengers who buy tickets in a cluster.

Finding a chair to wait for the train has not been known to be a problem.
Amtrak’s published regulations call for a depot of no more than 1,150 square feet for destinations, like Niagara Falls, that serve between 25 and 50 passengers during the “peak hour” of the day.

Amtrak's regulations also call for no more than 18,100 square feet for stations that handle more than 300 passengers during the peak hour such as the new  Miami Central Station. A true intermodal center, Miami can boast of Amtrak, Tri-Rail, Metrorail, Metrobus, and a people mover connection to nearby Miami Airport via the MIA Mover.

In Niagara Falls, even if Senior Planner Thomas DeSantis' projection of increased train travel is right, and, as he said recently, "Approximately 50,000 people a year will be arriving [by train] at the north end of Main Street and be walking distance away from many things to do in Niagara Falls", the new station here is still far too big.

And, as an aside, by the settled doctrine of the Niagara Falls Reporter of holding government officials accountable for their pronouncements, to separate fact from propaganda, there is no reason we know of to give credence to DeSantis' figure of 50,000 arrivals by train since there is not known to exist even one objective study by a disinterested transportation engineer or qualified consultant published anywhere that supports this supposed tripling of train riders to Niagara Falls, or anywhere else, in the foreseeable future and thus to call it for what it is, DeSantis' 50,000 figure is to be categorized under the heading of "wishful thinking."

His best argument - and the only thing that keeps him from being labeled as certifiably nuts - is that the new station promises that border crossings from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada to Niagara, New York, USA  via an updated customs process - aided by the facilities at the new station - and its propinquity to the Whirlpool International Bridge - will expedite border crossings enough that auto travelers, once they habituate themselves to such speedier custom service as DeSantis envisions will abandon their automobiles and the supposed long two and longer hour bridge crossing times they have come to abhor and exit exhausted and depleted and come instead to Niagara Falls, having napped half the way and worked or played on their laptop coming bouncing off the train.  

Maybe he's right.

But even allowing, then, that DeSantis' train station 50,000 number is his dream come true, the Niagara Falls facility is still too big - at least according to Amtrak's published space requirements.

Amtrak's 20 year lease at the Intermodal Transportation Center at Union Depot in St. Paul, with three times the ridership of Niagara Falls, requires 3,800 square feet of space.

Rochester, with four times the population of Niagara Falls, and nearly five times the train ridership - at 141,576 riders last year- is building the Rochester Intermodal Transportation Center. At 12,000 square feet, Rochester's Intermodal is about half the size of Niagara Falls' new center.

Amtrak is expected to require about 25 percent of the Rochester facility.

Presently, other than the planned train station, city officials have mentioned that buses, taxis, and park-and-ride services will be available.

These have been presented to the public without the evidence of a contract, lease or letter of intent and therefore more along the lines of what is hoped to be accomplished.

While intercity buses - such as greyhound and intra city buses - such as metro, a taxi stand with cabbies waiting to take their next fare, and an Amtrak depot are the heart of an Intermodal Center, shuttles to airports, hotels, and points of interest, tour services, long and short term parking, automobile rentals, limousine services, secure bicycle parking stations and bike rentals, luggage storage, lockers, even electric vehicle charging stations, this is what is visualized as being in the vanguard of intermodal transportation.

Inside amenities such as restrooms, telephones, meeting rooms, food and beverage services, ATMs, retail outlets, tourist information centers, hotel reservations, offices that provide a host of services, currency exchange, banking facilities,  all these are needed or to be desired if tourists and the community are to be expected to use this facility as a hub for transportation.

This building - even if these goals are met  - will likely require a city-subsidized development effort for years. If it succeeds.

That it will prove to be a wise investment for a city far from economically stable is something no one can say for certain at this time.

That the government officials who planned it - spearheaded it - namely DeSantis and Mayor Paul Dyster - have presented the public with, to date, primarily, wishful thinking - and to be sure - not the highest level of forthright transparency one expects from the highest minded and the most devoted to the civic welfare of the people they represent.

To date these two men have not  produced a single, substantial, objective study or series of provably factual reports or even verifiable facts prepared or formulated by a disinterested, qualified authority to support their notion that this project has the remotest chance of accomplishing the reasonable occupancy and variegated intermodal usage that would justify building it and maintaining it.

That a $44 million project - even if it is 90 percent federal and state taxpayers' money -should be undertaken on such flimsy grounds as "this is what we envision" or "we got federal and state grants so we should (over) build it" is a menace to the public weal.

Sold as a bright shiny toy, downplaying the true costs or the real challenges to make this building anything more than a long term burden for taxpayers, it was built upon a foundation of wishful thinking - and the childish glee of getting something for nothing and driven behind the scenes by the profit motives of those who designed it and worked clandestinely to make money off this, perhaps, unnecessary project, and by those whose eye are on their legacy - or their short term ambitions  - and by those who to an extent buy into the liberal - non individualistic but not entirely irrational uber devotion to the ideal that the future populace must for the future of the planet veer away from the personal, environmentally destructive  automobile.

That and the infantile -  if we build it they will come - an argument only justifiable when the builder is using his or her own money has brought this project to the status of nearly complete.

In time we will discover what it will become.





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Contact Info

©2014 The Niagara Falls Reporter Inc.
POB 3083, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14304
Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina