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Dyster’s New Train Station Open House Event Will Feature Toy Trains But Not The Real Ones – Yet!

The modest size of the current train station - which costs taxpayers nothing - is more than ample to accommodate the 87 train passengers who on average come here daily.

The modest size of the current train station – which costs taxpayers nothing – is more than ample to accommodate the 87 train passengers who on average come here daily.

Despite the fact that no contract exists between Amtrak or any other entity to actually use the facility, city officials are ready to show off the new $44 million Niagara Falls International Railway and Intermodal Transportation Center to the public.

A “sneak preview” of the new train station will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at its Whirlpool Street location in the city’s North End.

Hosted by Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster and acting City Planner Tom DeSantis – who led the charge to develop the new train station – the general public is invited for a “free self-guided tour” of the new, albeit empty, building.

Although the station is new and clean and the railroad tracks are just outside the station there won’t be any trains arriving or departing.

Are crowded train stations a thing of the past or of the future?

However children can watch toy trains that will be set up for the occasion.

City officials have not announced when the train station will begin regular operations, but it will certainly not be before a contract with Amtrak is signed, which to date hasn’t happened.

Contracts are also needed with U.S. Customs and the Underground Railroad Heritage Commission who the city has sadi will occupy a portion of the building.

Neither the railroad nor the other entities has seemed ready to commit to using the facility.

Likewise, no tenants have been found willing to rent part or all of the 4,600-squarefoot retail space, located to the left of the station’s main entrance.

The main entrance itself consists of a two-story glass structure with a terrazzo floor atrium designed to mirror the colors of crashing water at Niagara Falls.

According to a news release put out by the city, “The space functions as a public area, welcoming individuals catching a train, grabbing a bite or attending the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center’s museum.”

The new train station at 22,000 is more than 10 times the size needed by Amtrak to operate a station. Why was it built so big? How much will it cost taxpayers? Will it be empty most or all of the time?

As of now the building is empty. Critics, including this newspaper, have said that the spending of $44 million of taxpayer money on a 22,000 square train station for a city that lacks the demand for such a facility suggests that the train station will be mostly empty all the time.

Annual ridership at the current Niagara Falls train station was 31,831 in 2015, according to Amtrak. That is an average of 87 passengers per day (about 43 coming and going).

Part of the reason Amtrak may not have agreed to lease space in the new train station is that it is 10 times larger than what published Amtrak guidelines call for based on ridership figures.

Since 1978, Amtrak officials have used about 800 square feet on Willard Avenue near Lockport Road.

Peak traffic at the present Niagara Falls station averages not more than 30 passengers during an hour. The present waiting room, about the size of a dentist’s office, never lacks for seating, with 15 people getting on a train as another 15 disembark, plus the people who come to meet and drop off riders.

Dyster and DeSantis stressed that only a relatively small part of the $44 million was paid for by city taxpayers. Most of it was paid for by state taxpayers and federal taxpayers.

They have also not disclosed estimates of maintenance and operational costs will city taxpayers will fund.

Presently, Niagara Falls taxpayers pay nothing for the Amrak station. Amtrak pays expenses for its modest station.

City taxpayers will pay for security, 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 costs.

In studies available online, operational costs are calculated by annual cost per square foot.

The newly renovated Union Depot Intermodal Transportation Center in St. Paul was estimated to cost $40 per square foot per year to operate. The Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center was estimated to cost $53.71 per square foot per year.

Taking the lower figure of $40 per square foot cost, the Niagara Falls Intermodal will cost $885,721 per year.

If a contract is reached with Amtrak, the federally subsidized and regulated company will pay an estimated $50,000 per year.

US Customs will not be required to pay rent.

An Underground Railroad exhibit will occupy a potion of the fitst floor in the adjacent old Custom House. It is a not for profit and based on demand for visitors to an exhibit may not be able to pay much rent at all.

That leaves about $800,000 to be paid by city taxpayers this year and every year no matter how few riders appear at the station.

“This (train station) is designed for 75 or 100 years in the future, and I’m guessing that long before you get to 50 years, this will seem cramped, in terms of the people going through it,” DeSantis told the Buffalo News in an interview this week.

Will trains be a major form of travel in the future as they were in the past? Will there even be passenger rail service 50 or 100 years in the future?

Amtrak has been cutting lines and closing ticket offices in recent years rather than adding them. Since its founding in 1971, the heavily taxpayer subsidized railroad has never turned a profit, and billions of federal tax dollars are all that has kept the trains rolling.

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