Council Approves Study For Amtrak Stop
The Dunkirk Common Council has agreed to pay $20,000 for a feasibility study on an Amtrak station at Tuesday’s meeting.
“One of the topics and issues that I’ve had so many people ask about, including President (Stephen) Kolison from SUNY Fredonia is, can we work on getting an Amtrak stop here,” said Vince DeJoy, the city’s planning and development director, in a workshop before the meeting.
“This is an opportune time, because there’s $1.2 trillion in the (federal) Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Amtrak is going to be receiving somewhere in the neighborhood of $66 billion to develop new stops, buy new train sets, and so forth.”
DeJoy said the stop would “greatly benefit” ImmunityBio, the California biotechnology outfit that’s moving into the Athenex space. He said the company’s CEO wanted to offer support for the concept. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer also supports it, he added.
“We now have better opportunity to acquire property on the north side of the tracks with some demolitions and some available sites that could potentially serve as this Amtrak multi-modal train station,” he said.
Stone Consulting, of Warren, Pa., specializes in railroad issues and will conduct the study. DeJoy, formerly Jamestown’s top planner, said he had worked with them previously on other train issues.
“They’re going to be meeting with CSX, with Amtrak and try to pave the way for this…proposing sites, passenger platform design and infrastructure that is needed,” he said.
“My concern is, 21 years ago they did a feasibility study on this and it did not prevail to be worthwhile for the city of Dunkirk,” said Councilwoman Nancy Nichols. She added that most SUNY Fredonia students get to the area by car.
“I’m having a hard time grasping how this will be beneficial to the city of Dunkirk,” she said.
DeJoy said the earlier study looked at using the CSX terminal at Third and Main streets for an Amtrak station. “It really wasn’t feasible, the track configuration … the building is basically in disrepair,” he said. The upcoming study will look at other sites.
Mayor Wilfred Rosas said getting a train station will be a competitive process, with Westfield also vying for it.
“This will have a regional impact and the city will benefit in so many different ways,” he said. “There’s a lot of major employers that are looking for staff members they don’t have now… the $20,000 is the seed we can use to get more partners to come on board this initiative.”
Councilman-at-Large Dave Damico expressed skepticism that Amtrak would help much, as its current service only comes through Dunkirk once a day.
“We don’t know what their schedule is going to be. Things are changing right now. They were just awarded billions of dollars,” Rosas said.
Nichols asked if the $20,000 would commit the city to anything other than a feasibility study. DeJoy said it did not, that it just begins the process of seeing if Amtrak will site a station here.
Later, once the meeting started, two citizens spoke in favor of an Amtrak station. They were Ned Divine, chair of the Dunkirk Democratic Party, and Marie Tomlinson, a Fredonia resident who said she was part of a committee that sought a station for the city.
“We could put Dunkirk on the map — literally, on the Amtrak map,” she said. Tomlinson added that Amtrak is proposing a Cleveland-to-Albany route that would run three times a day and go through Dunkirk.
Councilwoman Natalie Luczkowiak also spoke in favor of the study and the station.
“Our city has such potential that will be realized with time, such as the amazing plans for the NRG plant, that we will want to seize this opportunity while we have the backing and/or help from the Senate. SUNY Fredonia, ImmunityBio, etc. and area citizens,” she said.
Luczkowiak added that there was a program where Amtrak would fund the first two years of a station’s operational costs.
When it came time to vote, DeJoy offered a summary of the study similar to what he gave in the workshop.
“Without it, the city of Dunkirk will likely never be considered. This won’t happen organically. We need to help,” he said.
“$20,000 is still a lot of money. Ideally we’re supposed to look out for the taxpayers’ money,” Damico said. “I hear a lot of ifs here. If this happens, if we can do this, if we can get more routes… I hope you’re all right. We’ll see where it goes.”
The council approved the study by a 4-0 vote. Councilman James Stoyle was excused from the meeting.
“With much regret, I will say aye, as long as it’s not locking us into anything other than a feasibility study,” Nichols said.