No Lease Between Amtrak, City May Mean Future Surprises for Train Station

by Mike Hudson & Frank Parlato

Since no lease agreement exists between Amtrak and the city for space in the Whirlpool Street “Intermodal Transportation Center,” there is no guarantee that Amtrak will move into the $44 million facility at all, much less any sort of agreement as to how much of the 22,000-square-feet of space it will require or how much it will be willing to pay to rent that space.

Saratoga more riders than Falls.

Saratoga more riders than Falls.

Since 1978, Amtrak officials have been quite content with the 800 square feet they operate on Willard Avenue near Lockport Road. Peak traffic at the Niagara Falls station averages 30 passengers an hour, an event that occurs no more than four times each day. The smallish waiting room, about the size of a good sized dentist’s office, never lacks for seating, even with the hustle and bustle of 15 people getting on a train as another 15 disembark.

Hudson NY - way more riders

Hudson NY – way more riders

The Rensselaer Rail station – the second busiest station in New York and the 9th busiest in America is an example of, to what extent Niagara Falls may have been overbuilt.

Utica - a simple old bldg.

Utica – a simple old bldg.

Last year Rensselaer had 781,597 passengers – 20 times the number Niagara Falls had.

Amtrak generated more than $38 million in sales there to Niagara Falls $1.9 million or 20 times as much money.

New NF Station - wrong-sized

New NF Station – wrong-sized

While the Rensselaer Rail Station building has a total of 67,000 square feet on four floors, including offices for rent, and a post office, the public space for the train station is 27,000 square feet.

Amtrak only leases 17,000 square feet of that.

Syracuse NY- way more riders.

Syracuse NY- way more riders.

For the 9th busiest train station in the nation Amtrak needs less space than the Niagara Falls International Railway and Intermodal Transportation Center.

Niagara Falls should expect the same.

Amtrak will not need more than 4,000 square feet in rent.

Niagara Falls Old Station - right sized for Amtrak and city, cost taxpayers nothing.

Niagara Falls Old Station – right sized for Amtrak and city, cost taxpayers nothing.

The Schenectady Intermodal Station is 4,300 square-feet – one fifth the size of Niagara Falls and accommodates about double (61,803 in 2014) the passengers Niagara Falls gets.

Schenectady - twice the riders, one fifth the size of NF.

Schenectady – twice the riders, one fifth the size of NF.

Dyster admitted the city will be responsible for maintaining the station once it opens, but because he is not a developer and has no staff competent enough to calculate such things he is alone among all who built a train station in that he does not know what the estimated cost to maintain this train station will be.

A sleeper car is the way to go for long trips.

A sleeper car is the way to go for long trips.

Fortunately, there are studies of intermodal stations built in other cities.

These studies are easy to read and they pinpoint costs of overhead and operations – since from one train station to the next – there are standard expenses.

Will passenger train travel make a comeback? Three Niagara Falls men (l) think it will.

Will passenger train travel make a comeback? Three Niagara Falls men (l) think it will.

Security, for example is required. Janitorial and cleaning services. Window cleaning, escalator maintenance, HVAC maintenance, plumbing & electrical, maintenance and repair for buildings and grounds, utilities – heat, water, electric, supplies, and planning, supervision, and other operational costs.

So what will it cost?

The newly renovated Union Depot Intermodal Transportation Center in St. Paul was estimated to cost $40 per square foot per year.

The Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center was estimated to cost $53.71 per square foot per year.

Now doesn’t this make more sense than driving a car?

Now doesn’t this make more sense than driving a car?

Based on $40 per square foot, the Niagara Falls Intermodal will cost $885,721 per year.

The estimates of Amtrak rent based on leases also available online suggest that Amtrak will pay not more than $55,000 in rent.

The difference – as much as $550,000 per year – will be borne by city taxpayers.

“The Niagara Falls Rail Station and Inter-modal Transportation Center is elemental to the redevelopment of Niagara Falls,” said Mayor Dyster. “This facility will play a critical role in the future development of rail transportation.”

The Niagara Falls Reporter at this point is not sure we believe that.

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