Editorial: Train station shows little accountability

Why not spend less, use extra money for other needs?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Tuesday with a rendering of the new Schenectady train station projected behind him.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Tuesday with a rendering of the new Schenectady train station projected behind him.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

There’s no doubt Schenectady has long needed a new train station to replace that embarrassing rusty tin can that travelers endured for the past 40 years.

We’ve got new development, a new casino, a vibrant downtown and many other reasons for people to visit the city by train. 

RELATED: 2nd railroad track opens between Schenectady, Albany

Having a nice, clean, modern train station will give visitors a positive first impression of our city and encourage more people to use the station, helping draw more visitors and more business here — boosting the local economy for many years to come.

The old train station was like going to a job interview in cut-offs and a dirty t-shirt. It sends the message, “I don’t give a damn, so why should you?” A replacement was needed and long overdue.

Since the entire $23 million project will be paid for with a combination of state and federal funds, not local money, it’s almost like we’re getting it for free. And why not?

Our tax dollars pay for other communities’ big projects. We helped pay for the new $43 million train station in Niagara Falls that opened last year and the new $29.5 million station in Rochester that’s opening this summer. Let them throw in a few bucks for ours. 

And that’s just the problem we have with this whole concept. We have real needs in our state. Crumbling roads, century-old water pipes, dangerous bridges. Yet our government sees nothing wrong with spending outrageous sums of money in places where it could easily get away with spending much less.

Couldn’t Schenectady have gotten a nice new train station for the original estimated price tag of $15 million instead of $23 million?

The new station needn’t be cramped and dark. But does it need to be so tall and spacious? Does it really have to be modeled after the grand old train stations of the past? Couldn’t it be more modest in scope and still be both functional and inviting to visitors?

The state just spent $12 million, half the cost of this station, on a modern new Thruway rest stop in Montgomery County that has all the amenities a local train station needs — bathrooms, retail area, computerized tourist information stations. It even has solar panels to help offset the energy costs. Couldn’t our station have been modeled after that?

Also, why didn’t the state pursue a plan by a local developer to convert vacant space in the Wall Street building 50 feet away from the tracks into a new train station, potentially saving millions of taxpayer dollars and opening up more parking spaces on the site?

No reasons given. No reasons given for the high price tag. No reasons given for rejecting cheaper alternative designs. No reasons given for why spending this amount of money was the preferred alternative to spending less and using the extra to fix up some town’s crumbling roads or cracked sewer pipes.

It’s unwise to look a gift horse in the mouth.

But this is no gift. We’re all paying for this kind of thinking — in more ways than one.

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