A new train station in Rochester, N.Y., has been a priority for several decades. In 1978, an Amtrak station opened in the city as a temporary facility, but 34 years later, it's still in operation.
The reasons the city needs a new permanent station have continued to mount over the years. The outdated facility is in a deteriorated state, has minimal amenities and isn't compliant with federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. The low-level platform doesn't allow trains headed in opposite directions to use the station simultaneously, and the platform can't be upgraded to a high-level one without new or realigned tracks. Moreover, the facility doesn't meet Amtrak's comfort, convenience and safety requirements, or serve the needs of residents who use other transportation modes.
That's why the city has been working with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to complete a scoping study for a new $26 million intermodal transportation center that would be used by Amtrak, Greyhound, New York Trailways, and local buses, taxis and shuttles. And why Rochester officials worked to land a $15 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant to help pay for the project, along with a $7.5 million pledge from the NYSDOT and $500,000 in city funding.
Last year, 140,000 people used Rochester's station, up 5 percent from 2010's level. And usage is projected to double by 2035, primarily because of growing demand for commuter rail.
"There will be growth in the area's rail market for the next 10 to 15 years," says Tom Hack, project manager for the city of Rochester. "The new station will lead the way for the next 25, 30 or 50 years."
Planning efforts for a new station date back more than four decades. In 1965, a former New York Central station in Rochester was demolished. The station was nicknamed the "Bragdon Station" after renowned New York City architect Claude Bragdon, who designed the facility.
"Once the old station was gone, people realized there was a hole there, a void," says Hack.
That led to the development of the so-called temporary station by 1978. Through the 1980s and 1990s, planning efforts continued to gain steam for a permanent station. In 2002, the city began to work with the Genesee Transportation Council, a metropolitan planning organization for the Genesee-Finger Lakes region that eventually became the intermodal transportation center's champion, says Hack
In late 2011, the city hired architectural/engineering/planning firm Bergmann Associates to begin initial design.
"The project accelerated [last year], when people saw renderings in the newspaper and discovered what the station actually could be," says Hack.
The intermodal transportation center is overseen by a steering committee comprising representatives from the city, NYSDOT, FRA, Amtrak, New York Trailways and U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter's (D-N.Y.) office. An advisory committee — which is helping to provide design input — includes representatives from the city, Monroe County, CSX Corp., Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, Genesee Transportation Council, Empire State Passenger Association and Empire State Development, among others.
The advisory committee and Bergmann Associates aim to develop a facility that's ADA-compliant; improves functionality and safety; enhances passenger comfort and convenience; eliminates train delays and improves on-time performance; preserves freight-rail service in the area; and spurs economic development and revitalization in downtown Rochester.
But perhaps the No. 1 objective is designing a station that's modern and functional, yet reflects railroading's glory days in Rochester. Input from the public during preliminary design workshops showed a strong consensus for a facility that emulates the character of Bragdon Station, says Jim Durfee, design principal for Bergmann Associates and the project's principal architect.
"They want it to be a top architectural piece in the region, a reworking of a prominent old station," he says. "Our focus is on trying to recall that."
Based on feedback from focus group meetings with transit and rail enthusiasts, the design also should quench a desire for a station that serves as a source of pride and enhances rail travel, in addition to offering "a snapshot of the past," says Mark McAnany, manager of transportation and transportation group leader for Bergmann Associates.
History will play a role in the facility in another way: The intermodal transportation center will feature an area where artifacts from the city's railroading past are displayed.
"For example, we have a station master's clock from the 1930s that was in the master's office and was never publicly displayed," says McAnany.
With the scoping study just completed, preliminary design now is under way. According to the project's timeline, preliminary design should be finished by mid-2013, bids will be sought in summer 2013 and construction could start in fall 2013, says Durfee. Construction is tentatively slated for completion in late 2014.
By that time, the city should have a facility that's better suited to accommodate today's and tomorrow's traveler or commuter, says McAnany.
"It will have historic aspects, but will be a modern station to meet modern needs," he says.
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