Niagara Falls, New York
2701 Willard Avenue 27th Street and Lockport Road Niagara Falls, NY 14305
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||Owasco River Railway, Inc.|
|Parking Lot Ownership||Owasco River Railway, Inc.|
|Platform Ownership||Owasco River Railway, Inc.|
|15 Long Term Parking Spaces||15 Short Term Parking Spaces||Accessible Payphones|
|Accessible Platform||Accessible Restrooms||Accessible Ticket Office|
|Accessible Waiting Room||Accessible Water Fountain||Dedicated Parking|
|Enclosed Waiting Area||Pay Phones||Restrooms|
|Ticket Office||Wheelchair||Wheelchair Lift|
- Maple Leaf
- Empire Service
(202) 906-3918 (ph)
Local Community Links:
The Niagara Falls station is located in a converted railroad freight warehouse that was originally built for the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1959. This unadorned contemporary brick structure stands on the northwestern edge of the CSX yards; passengers must cross a wide blacktopped area to the yard’s edge to reach the train. The station lies on the outskirts of the city, about three miles from the falls themselves and the Niagara Falls downtown, and about a mile from the international Whirlpool Suspension Bridge to Canada.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Niagara Falls was served by three passenger stations, two of which were downtown close to the falls and other popular attractions. The New York Central (NYC) station stood at Falls Avenue and 2nd Street, within sight of the falls, and the Erie Railroad station was a block away, at Niagara Street and 2nd Street (moved in 1901 to 4th Street). Close to the Suspension Bridge on the northern edge of the city, the NYC also had built a Union Station at Depot and 10th Avenue in 1887, within blocks of the Customs House. In 1925, ten railroads used Union Station, including the Erie Railroad, the Grant Trunk Railroad, the New York Central, and the Michigan Central Railroad.
The downtown NYC station, built in 1851, was rebuilt in the Italianate style after a disastrous fire in 1888 and continued in service until March 23, 1961; it was demolished in 1964, and a large hotel center now stands on that site. The Erie Railroad passenger station was removed altogether in 1930. The NYC station near the Suspension Bridge was also torn down in 1964. Passenger service to Niagara Falls did not revive until late 1978, when Amtrak reinstated service at the former Lehigh Valley freight station on Lockport Road, the current location.
Since 1987 the community has tried to acquire funding and support for relocating its passenger rail station to the site of the former Customs House at the foot of the Suspension Bridge; the new facility would include the historic building joined to a new structure. Built in 1863, the two and a half-story Customs House is built of rustic native Lewiston limestone and was used as the U.S. Customs House for the Niagara crossing into Canada. From 1908 to 1928, U.S. Customs relocated downtown and the building was used as a button factory. Then in 1928, the customs office returned and occupied the building until 1962 when the workers were transferred to Buffalo. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 16, 1973. The historic building had been used as offices for private owners, but it was otherwise unoccupied when the city of Niagara Falls purchased it in 2003.
The Customs House today faces west toward the bridge and sits in the shadow of the elevated Robert Moses Parkway, overlooking the modern customs barrier several hundred yards away. The two-and-a-half story structure is built into the railroad embankment. The north and west ends open at street level and the second story on the south side opens onto the railroad track; as a customs office for passing trains. The original building had been three stories; however the 1929 restoration after a fire lowered the roof leaving truncated lower portions of the third story below the new roofline.
In 2004, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer helped to secure $2.5 million in funding for the project through a U.S. Department of Transportation appropriations bill. By 2008, Schumer returned to the project with Representative Louise Slaughter, who had secured an additional $4.7 million. Schumer facilitated the Federal Highways Administration’s release of $4.6 million to begin design work on the new rail station at the Customs House. With this decision, the city was also free to spend the $500,000 it had committed to the renovation project. The House Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 next allowed Slaughter to direct another $950,000 to the proposed station facility.
In 2009, the state Department of Transportation applied for $22 million in federal grant monies for the relocation project. Plans progressed beyond renovation and then looked toward building additional facilities at that location. Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster went to the City Council in July 2010 for approval of just over $2.1 million in contracts to restore the Customs House for use as an intermodal center and interpretive historical site based on the Underground Railroad. He also asked for an agreement with Amtrak to use the “Niagara Falls International Railway Station and Intermodal Transportation Center.”
On October 15, 2010, Representative Slaughter announced the award of $16.5 million, obtained through the competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, that would allow for the completion of the project. In time, the city had developed a three phase plan for creating the intermodal center. Phase I, which cost $2.7 million and was finished in 2012, included stabilization of the Customs House; Phase II, which cost $6 million, involved upgrades to the railroad bridge over Main Street; and Phase III, estimated to cost $26.5 million, encompasses construction of the new structure adjacent to the Customs House. Work on Phase III is expected to begin in 2014.
The Underground Railroad museum and interpretive center will occupy the main floor of the Customs House. While neither subterranean nor a true railroad, the Underground Railroad provided a loosely connected escape route for enslaved persons making their way northward and across the Niagara River to freedom in Canada prior to the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865. Abolitionist reformer Harriet Tubman was known for taking many such escapees across the foot path of the Suspension Bridge’s lower deck to freedom.
Plans call for the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection unit to occupy the facility's second floor, which will become the primary security checkpoint for passengers arriving and leaving the platform. There will also be a passenger waiting room and possibly retail uses. When opened, the station will serve bicycles, pedestrians and buses as well as automobiles and intercity passenger rail. It is hoped that moving Amtrak service from an isolated and industrial part of the city will also breathe new life into Niagara’s main street.
The Suspension Bridge, itself important to the history of this region as a border crossing, was opened to rail traffic in 1855, replacing an earlier bridge put up in 1848 that only held foot and carriage traffic. Prior to building the bridge across the Gorge, only ferries and other watercraft provided connection between the American and Canadian shores. The brainchild of Canadian politician William Hamilton Merritt, the first suspension bridge across the Niagara Gorge was built by Charles Ellet, Jr. with the very first line across the chasm laid by means of a kite flown across the 800-foot gap. There were difficulties between Ellet and the bridge company, and after a three year hiatus, another accomplished bridge-builder, John Augustus Roebling, was hired to complete the suspension bridge project.
The double-decked bridge was opened for pedestrian and carriage travel on the lower level in 1854, and the first fully-laden passenger train crossed in a year later at five miles per hour. This bridge, which was the first suspension bridge to carry rail traffic, lasted until 1897, when it was replaced with a steel arch bridge.
Today there are six bridges that cross the International Border between Canada and the U.S. over the Niagara River, only two of which cross at Niagara Falls: the Rainbow Bridge, completed in 1941, and the Whirlpool Bridge, which only allows rail and vehicle traffic.
The Niagara River, the region’s centerpiece, formed about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago as the glaciers melted and Lake Erie overflowed down the Niagara escarpment to what would become Lake Ontario, and thus completing the Great Lakes’ connection to the Atlantic Ocean. Native Americans began populating the area some 9,000 years ago.
By the time the French explorers, Sieur de La Salle and Father Louis Hennepin, visited the falls in 1666, the five tribes of the Iroquois Nation had already sustained a 500-year-old regional confederation; the Europeans’ arrival upset the balance therein. The region was thereafter fraught with various conflicts through the time of colonial settlement in the late eighteenth century, culminating in the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States. The American assault on Canada came to a halt after the Battle of Lundy's Lane, one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on Canadian soil. After a six hour battle, American forces retreated to Fort Erie and the War of 1812 ended shortly after.
The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 opened trade up in Buffalo, and this led to a boom in both the milling and tourism industries of Niagara. At Lockport, N.Y., the canal required a series of five locks in order to pass the Niagara Escarpment; even today, the falls can be circumnavigated by canal. However, the canal era, although profoundly important to connecting the Great Lakes to the eastern seaboard, was short-lived as railroads developed. By 1840, the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad had arrived in the Niagara area from Tonawanda. This stretch of track eventually came under control of the New York Central, and is still in use today by CSX.
Water diverted from the falls has provided hydraulic power for mills since 1759, with the first sawmill built above the falls using water that flowed through a canal from the river. In 1853, the Niagara Falls Hydraulic Power and Mining Company was chartered to construct the canals to channel the water which would be used to generate electricity. The Niagara River's first hydroelectric generating station was built in 1881 to power local mills and light some city streets.
Further expansion came with the Niagara Falls Power Company, backed by large investors such as John Jacob Astor, J.P. Morgan and William Vanderbilt, who wanted to use the power of the waters racing over the drop to generate electricity which could be distributed to customers as well as used on site. Thomas Edison’s direct-current (DC) transmission could not propagate farther than two miles; it was Westinghouse Electric, using Nikola Tesla’s research in alternating current (AC) power generation that won the competition. Westinghouse Electric was hired and in 1894 the Niagara Falls Power Company #1 went on line to distribute power as far away as Buffalo—and AC power was here to stay. Tesla’s contribution has been honored with a bronze statue on Goat Island in Niagara Falls State Park, just above the falls; another lies across the border in Queen Victoria Park.
As early industry began to establish itself in the region in the early 19th century, the falls began to suffer as eager industrialists built mills and factories along the river to harness its power. By the late 1860s, a group concerned about the preservation of the falls founded the Free Niagara movement, which held that the natural beauty of the land surrounding the falls should be protected from exploitation and free to the public. Members urged New York State to reclaim the falls and the surrounding area. The leader of the Free Niagara movement was America’s first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, perhaps better known for designing New York City’s Central Park.
After more than 15 years of lobbying the state, the Free Niagara crusaders won their battle. The Niagara Appropriations Bill was signed into law in 1885, creating the Niagara Reservation. Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United states, and retains Olmsted’s vision by staying committed to maintaining native vegetation, unparalleled vistas and access to the general public—a fitting tribute to the man who believed that Niagara Falls belongs to all of us. The park was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1963. Today the 400-acre park sees approximately 4 million visitors a year.
The city of Niagara Falls, created by combining the villages of Manchester and Suspension Bridge from Niagara Township, was chartered on St. Patrick’s Day of 1892. In 1927, the primarily industrial city—tourism was not a primary economic factor on the American side until later—annexed the village of La Salle as well. Paper, rubber, plastics, petrochemicals and abrasives were among the major products of the region until the mid and late 1960s when the industrial mainstays of the city departed. Two large power plants remain on the American side in Lewiston, which combine to produce 4.9 million kilowatts, enough to power 3.8 million homes—most of which are elsewhere.
With the departure of major industries, the city sought to reinvent itself in the middle of the 20th century. Urban renewal had torn up the city’s once-festive central Falls street—a story common across the nation, where downtowns became ghost towns and then were unsuccessfully replaced rather than preserved. The region’s economic struggles have made the shift from industrial powerhouse to tourist mecca a long journey. Old Falls Street, a hoped-for revival begun in 2009, is anchored by the Seneca Niagara Casino, the Crowne Plaza Hotel Conference & Event Center and the Niagara Falls New York State Park.
Amtrak provides ticketing service, but not baggage service, at this station, which is served by four daily trains. Empire Service trains are supported by funds made available by the New York State Department of Transportation.