Train Station Will be Empty With or Without Amtrak

There she is, the most beautiful $43 million vacant building in Niagara Falls. But don't worry, some people made a lot of money on this baby...

There she is, the most beautiful $43 million vacant building in Niagara Falls. But don’t worry, some people made a lot of money on this baby…


By Frank Parlato

Only in Niagara Falls would government officials be stupid enough to build a train station without a tenant that can run trains.

But city leaders, not known for either brains or heart, built a $43 million train station without ever once considering the fact that before you build a train station you need a company to run the trains, a company like Amtrak.

Amtrak still hasn’t signed a lease to move in and, quite frankly, they may never move in.


Because Niagara Falls didn’t need a new train station.


Because Amtrak already has one that’s more than sufficient for the 80 train travelers per day that come here on Willard near Lockport Rd.

Honestly, we didn’t need a $43 million train station.

The present Niagara Falls train station is just the right size for the few people who actually ride a train here.

The present Niagara Falls train station is just the right size for the few people who actually ride a train here.

And the fact is, the only company that has trains and can operate here is Amtrak.

The city is now foolishly trying to negotiate a lease with Amtrak – now, after the train station is built instead of before it was built – for you, or anyone with a pea brain, wouldn’t have built a train station if Amtrak is not going to use it.

Unless, of course, somebody is going to make a lot of money no matter if a train station goes in or not.

Someone who designed and engineered it and built it with taxpayer, not their own, money – and got paid lavishly to oversee it.

They will not mind building first and finding a train operator later. But the people who pay for it- you and I –  do you get the point  — nobody in their right mind would build a new train station without having Amtrak locked in first.

If you don’t have trains it’s not a train station, it’s just a big empty building.

But let’s face it, Amtrak doesn’t need us.

The train station they have on Lockport Road suits them perfectly.

And the city, led by a man named Paul Dyster, is now trying to get Amtrak to pay more for the lease of our brand new empty $44 million, 22,000 square foot vacant building than Amtrak will pay.

It’s just how it works. Amtrak is a publicly subsidized company and there are rules for how much it can pay.

Simplest thing in the world really. The smaller the ridership the less they pay.

It doesn’t matter how big Dyster builds a taxpayer funded train station, Amtrak will only rent a portion of the station based on the ridership that comes to the Falls.

Not ridership Dyster or his Senior Planner Tom DeSantis say there will be – but actual ridership which is down this year and averages about 90 riders a day – 45 coming in and 45 leaving – more or less – per day.

So why did we need a giant train station like the one Dyster built?

We didn’t. And Amtrak knows it.

And the new train station building is empty. There are no trains servicing the station. There may not be for a long time.

Amtrak will not be leasing the entire giant building, but only the small portion they need to service 45 train riders in and 45 out through the course of the day.

A small classroom could handle that. You don’t need, we never did need, and probably never will need a 22,000 square foot facility.

“Amtrak continues to work with the City of Niagara Falls toward execution of a lease agreement allowing us to occupy space in the new train station” said Amtrak Representative Craig Schulz. “We are working through the remaining issues which we are optimistic can be resolved. We look forward to moving Amtrak operations into the new building and inaugurating service to the new station.”

Don’t hold your breath.

Currently Amtrak is operating out of their old, 800 square foot train station near Lockport Road, and they’re doing fine. Never has there not been enough room to sit in the waiting room. The trains (since few people take trains anymore) are rarely full. And the best part of all is that the old train station doesn’t cost local taxpayers anything. Amtrak foots the bill.

Amtrak will not be footing the bills for the new train station. You are, if you’re a local taxpayer.

The new train station is already costing local taxpayers money –- and it has been estimated that it will cost Niagara Falls taxpayers from $500,000 -$900,000 per year to operate it after Amtrak moves in and pays about $3000 a month.

While federal and state taxpayer money (plus casino cash and local taxpayer money) was used to build the new train station, the maintenance will forever be paid for by Niagara Falls residents.

Now a lot of clowns out there will be quick to say that we need a new good looking train station –  as if more people will ride trains here because the train station is neat and shiny and new.

After all people don’t spend much time at a train station. When they arrive they leave. A train station is not an attraction, it is a place to depart.

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.

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.

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. 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.

The 9th busiest train station in the nation is only 20 percent larger than the Niagara Falls train station. For a top 10 station, Amtrak doesn’t need a train station as large as Niagara Falls.

When Amtrak first leased Rensselaer from the Capital District Transit Authority in 2002, the rent was $50,000 a year. The CDTA estimated operations and maintenance costs for their new station at $900,000 a year. At $50,000 per year, Amtrak offered to pay in rent what was expected to be six percent of  overhead cost of running the station.

Niagara Falls should expect the same.

Amtrak is in control of the game. Amtrak already has a station, it has the trains and it has the tracks. All the dummy who built a station has is a building. A worthless building – if he doesn’t have Amtrak.

Amtrak will hardly pay anything in Niagara Falls (they can’t. They have a small station now and few riders and they can’t make a profit. How do you expect them to increase their expenses without increasing ridership. And ridership is down.)

So no, Amtrak will not care how much love or effort the people who designed the facility – those Wendel Engineers – put into it. That Niagara Falls overbuilt is not their problem.

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.

The Schenectady train station has twice as many riders and is one-fifth the size of the new train station.

The Schenectady train station has twice as many riders and is one-fifth the size of the new Niagara Falls train station.

Not only is Niagara Falls unique in building a station far too large for its needs, but of all the cities that ever built or are building, or planning to build a train station or intermodal center, only the Dyster administration built one before they made a deal with a company to run the trains.

Security, Janitorial and cleaning, escalator maintenance, HVAC maintenance, plumbing & electrical, maintenance and repair for buildings and grounds, utilities – heat, water, electric, supplies. What will it cost?

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

But since there will be very few people in this station compared to other stations of its size, money can be saved on cleaning and supplies and during the many hours when there is no one in the station, and no train coming, the maintenance person could turn down the heat. And turn out the lights. Maybe lock the doors at 4 pm each afternoon.

“The Niagara Falls Rail Station and Intermodal 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.”

That’s fancy talk but what does it mean?

At the end of the day, this train station was not built because we need a train station. It was built partly on ego and partly on corruption. Certain companies made millions pushing this gig through and feathering their nest. Certain city hall players were only too glad to grab a slice of the gravy train. Others are just plain fools who want to build something that no one will come to just to brag that they built something.

Follow the money. Dyster just built an oversized building which may become a mostly empty train station and some people made millions from this.


While the taxpayers rot again.

Will train travel make a comeback? Some say it is so...

Will train travel make a comeback? Some say it is so…

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