Tag Archives: amtrak

Buffalo Central Terminal

Looking up at the Buffalo Central Terminal

Buffalo Central Terminal, built by the New York Central Railroad, opened in 1929, just months before the stock market crash of October. The art deco building was designed to handle over 200 trains and 10,000 passengers daily.

Station visitors were originally greeted by a stuffed American bison. Passengers, including thousands of WWII soldiers, rubbed their hands through the fur, causing the large buffalo to go bald. It was replaced by a bronze statue, which was destroyed by an eventual owner of the terminal. A bronze recasting using the original molds, can be found outside the football stadium on the University of Buffalo North Campus. The current statue in the station, is a fiberglass replica.

Buffalo Central Terminal saw active train service from 1929 – 1979. In addition to New York Central, the Canadian National Railway, Pennsylvania Railroad, and Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway also serviced BCT. The terminal saw its peak during World War II.

While touring about Buffalo, the Frozen Foursome received an unexpected invitation to tour the main concourse of Buffalo Central Terminal. As a perfect example, of “it doesn’t hurt to ask”, one quick question had us in the door, and once it became apparent that we were in no hurry to leave, an additional invite to explore further inside was offered.

All of us were excited to see inside the abandoned terminal, but it was far more personal for The Curator. His father was an engineer for New York Central, and he remembered running throughout the concourse when he visited Central Terminal with his dad and siblings.

BCT is a beautiful terminal, and must have been something very special in its day. It is currently owned by the Central Terminal Restoration Corp., whose volunteers we met and talked with during our visit. I reminded one volunteer that Union Depot in Saint Paul, Minnesota has been brought back to life and train service restored. There is certainly hope for Buffalo Central Terminal, although it’s a damn shame that the building has suffered such neglect.

BCT opened with a Western Union office, a restaurant with dining room and lunch counter, a coffee shop, soda fountain, and, of course, a street car lobby.

Central Terminal is located 2.5 miles from downtown Buffalo. The current Amtrak station, is a tiny building a bit closer to downtown. Throughout its history, Buffalo Central Terminal was always larger than needed, but hopefully the CTRC will be able to repurpose BCT now that Buffalo itself is seeing a revitalization.

Sawmills and Hardware, and Lugosi

Saint Paul’s Union Depot

Saint Paul’s Union Depot in 1881

Union Depot first opened along the Mississippi River in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1881. Nine railroads joined forces to form the Saint Paul Union Depot Company, they included the Great Northern; Northern Pacific; Chicago, St Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha; Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul, Chicago Great Western; Chicago Burlington & Quincy; Minneapolis, St Paul, Sault St. Marie; Minneapolis & St Louis; Chicago Rock Island & Pacific.

Union Depot in 1889

The original depot was damaged by a fire in 1884 and was rebuilt. By 1888, 8 million passengers went through Saint Paul’s Union Depot, and 150 trains departed daily.
In 1913, the original Union Depot was completely destroyed by fire.

Union Depot today

New construction of the Saint Paul depot was driven by railroad tycoon James J. Hill. Architect Charles Sumner Frost was chosen to design the new Union Depot. Construction began in 1917, but World War I slowed the project considerably. It didn’t help that James J. Hill had died the previous year. The new Union Depot was completed in 1923 at a cost of $15 million. By contrast, the original depot cost $125,000 in 1881.

Inside Union Depot’s Great Hall

As luck and plans would have it, I’ve traveled through Saint Paul’s Union Depot several times over the past year. As a stop on Amtrak’s Empire Builder Line, there is daily service to/from Chicago and Seattle.

In 2010, Union Depot underwent a massive renovation by the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority. 10,000 square feet of Tennessee pink marble floors, walls and columns were cleaned of close to a century of use. The electrical, HVAC, and communications received extensive upgrades. One acre (38,000 square feet) of decorative ceiling plaster was restored. All 63 arched windows were removed & restored. The original oak cabinets, like the one in the photo above, were restored in St Paul, and put back in their original locations, complete with modern screens for train information.

After the $243 million restoration, Union Depot reopened to the public in December of 2012.

There is a small display of Union Depot’s history located near Gate B. Many of the items displayed here were found during the restoration in 2012.

Currently, Amtrak, the METRO light rail, Metro Transit bus service, Greyhound Lines, Jefferson Lines and Megabus all service Union Depot.

The Twin Cities Zephyr in Saint Paul, circa 1935

The Empire Builder

Saint Paul to Seattle

Because I never seem to do things the easy way, I decided to take Amtrak across the northern border of the U.S. to Seattle from the Twin Cities.

The Empire Builder lounge at Union Depot- St Paul, Minnesota

The entire Empire Builder line from Chicago is 2206 miles, and I had already done the Chicago to Saint Paul section.

The line originated in 1929 by the Great Northern Railway and James J. Hill.

The Great Northern was eventually succeeded by Burlington Northern in 1970.

Minot, NoDak train depot

The Empire Builder averages 1285 riders daily, which is Amtrak’s busiest long distance route. The max speed is 79 mph, with an average speed of 50 mph.

Stanley, NoDak

I did not get a sleeper car for the roughly 36 hour ride, although they are available. This isn’t air travel: the seats are wide and they actually recline, complete with a foot rest. I did not get a seat mate until Spokane, and that only lasted until Everett.

Sunset from the observation car

The Empire Builder runs the double decker rail cars. There is seating below, but I have always gone up the narrow staircase to the top section. The restrooms are on the lower level.

Since I had been visiting family in Minnesota, I was loaded down with food for the ride. I had no need to visit the dining car on this trip. I did spend a fair amount of time in the observation car, which also offers a basic cafe.

Eastern Montana

Lately, I find myself in no hurry to climb on board an airplane. Plus, Amtrak has been running some super saver fares, so the rail ride and flight from Seattle to Fairbanks was actually cheaper than the flight from Minneapolis to Fairbanks.

But that had very little to do with my decision to ride the rail. I simply wanted to experience the Empire Builder, and this was the only way to get that thought out of my head.

Skykomish River, eastern Washington

The Empire Builder travels through some beautiful country, as well as some that one wouldn’t mind speeding through. It does stop within Glacier National Park, and the trek through the Cascades is simply wonderful.

Cascade Tunnel

The Cascade Tunnel was built in 1929 by Great Northern. It’s just short of 8 miles long. Not much is visible for those eight miles, as you can imagine/see from the photo above. The tunnel is near Stevens Pass, Washington, and there was much grumbling about the lack of cell coverage during those dark, eight miles.

Puget Sound

Like cell-free tunnels, Amtrak doesn’t have much say in the weather either. A fog rolled in for our arrival to western Washington, and not much was visible from Everett on.

King Street Station, Seattle

Our train pulled into the King Street Station nine minutes early. Not bad, considering the distance. Amtrak also does not get priority over the freight trains. There were a few times when we had to wait for a freight train to get out of our way.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. Once again, this isn’t air travel. One needs to have the time available to ride the rails. One also must be in the proper frame of mind. It’s a good time to drop the petty thoughts and just sit back and relax. I watched one woman get incredibly upset that we were late getting into Havre, Montana. We had just spent 20 minutes waiting for two freight trains to pass, so the delay was hardly a surprise. She was on the train to Seattle, so I couldn’t figure out why she was so upset. Of course, my lackadaisical attitude about the delay didn’t improve her mood either.

King Street Station

Other than her, I met some pretty cool people on the train, and had some great conversations in the observation car. I do recommend the trip, if you have the time.

Travel Update

Trudeau International Airport-Montreal

The Curator and I dropped off Brazil Lucas at the Montreal airport in the afternoon, then drove south across the Saint Lawrence River and back into the United States. There we met with two good friends from Ogdensburg, NY for dinner.

The following morning we picked up another wonderful friend from Iowa at the Syracuse airport, then had lunch with The Catamount Fan. It was a great lunch, and nice to finally meet Mr Catamount.

Syracuse Train Depot

After visiting the William H. Seward House, I was dropped off at the Syracuse Amtrak Depot for the trip to Saint Paul. I checked my bag for the first time while traveling Amtrak, because I didn’t want to lug it around Chicago’s Union Depot. That worked out great, and the bag was immediately available for pick up once I reached baggage claim.

The route to Chicago saw a 2-1/2 hour delay, which cut into my 4 hour layover in Chicago. Still, I had more than enough time to eat lunch and explore the Depot a bit before boarding my train to Saint Paul.

Wisconsin zipping past

Eventually I will have to board a plane again to get back to Fairbanks, but I wasn’t quite willing to do so just yet. I enjoyed the leisurely pace to the Twin Cities, and met a couple of people on board both trains to keep me entertained for at least part of the journey.

Milwaukee from Amtrak