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New train station, old problems


[UPDATED AND REVISED 7/5/17] Rochester's new train station is expected to be open for business later in the summer. The 12,000 square foot facility and $29.5 million project is nearing completion, and some government officials have touted that it will improve business and tourism. But how the new station will impact ridership over the long term isn't clear, since Amtrak is facing a number of challenges.

Delays are a frequent passenger complaint, for instance. "On-time performance" was a lackluster 73 percent for trains serving Rochester in April 2017, and it was the same for April 2016, says Gary Prophet, president of the Empire State Passenger Association. The organization works with a wide range of government, business, and transportation organizations to promote passenger train ridership in New York State.

The tracks between Niagara Falls and Albany were badly in need of repairs in some areas, says Prophet. Work on the tracks is done primarily during the spring and summer months, and accounts for some of the delays in Upstate New York, he says.

"Amtrak service is much more reliable between Albany and New York City," he says.

Another challenge for Amtrak is the need for more cars and service during the summer months. Ridership out of the Rochester station in 2016 was 123,000, Prophet says, and it's been up and down for the last seven years. Trains are operating at capacity and weekends are often sold out in advance, he says. The need for better service between Rochester and Albany is a particularly important issue, he says, because there are no direct airline flights that go from Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse to Albany.

"Telling riders that you've sold out of seats is never good," Prophet says.