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Francis X. Schwab was a very proud man. As mayor of Buffalo, he was in the head seat of a city at its industrial peak. Now he was gazing about at a building that his city had worked so hard to achieve; a new railroad depot.

Central Terminal

dedication day
The New York Central Railroad opened its Central Terminal with a lavish display of pomp and circumstance on Saturday, June 22, 1929. Patrick Crowley, president of the NYC was on hand to personally dedicate the Terminal to the city of Buffalo and to express its need and long history of development. Thousands of people were crowded into the station's main hall for a banquet. The entire event was covered by newspapers and radio alike.

Every major railroad in Buffalo had representatives gathered at the Terminal including those from the Canadian National, the Nickel Plate, the Buffalo and Susquehanna, the Erie, the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh, and the Pennsylvania. The Pennsy made a gesture of good faith and support by taking out a full page advertisement in the Buffalo Courier Express congratulating their rival on job well done.

As the festivities continued into the afternoon, spectators noticed an airplane circling overhead. The small biplane had followed the east bound Empire State Express from the Exchange Street Station and it helped to add to the spectacle of the day. As the Empire sat on a platform at the Terminal, Buffalo newspapers remarked that the train was only there for effect. It had to go back to Exchange Street to pick up passengers as full service at the Terminal would not begin until that evening.

At 3:30, Central Terminal was finally opened to the public for inspection, and 1500 New York Central officials and employees moved in. At midnight, the first of the 91,000 trains that would roll in and out of Central Terminal in 1929 headed east to New York.

the best in passenger service
Almost every one of the New York Central's crack passenger trains stopped at the Terminal -- the Empire State Express, the Lake Shore Limited, the 20th Century Limited,the Niagara Rainbow, the Ohio State Limited, and the Commodore Vanderbilt among others. Two of these trains, the Empire and the Century had very unusual and romantic aspects about them.

While trains such as the Commodore Vanderbilt were top notch in their class, the 20th Century Limited was the Central's flagship train. The service was unmatched by any other train in the world, and it was the only way to travel from Chicago to New York (unless you were a fan of the Pennsylvania Railroad, then you took the Broadway Limited and could say the same for that train). The Century was noted for being "on time" and if it ever ran late, there would be serious problems for those responsible for making it late.

This reputation for being "on time" brought both runs of the Century (one from Chicago, the other from New York) to Buffalo at roughly the same time in the middle of the night. They would meet at Central Terminal. This meeting was the subject of many photographs and paintings. "The Centuries Pass in the Night" was a popular theme for selling the train as passengers would look forward to this meeting in Buffalo.

Another odd thing about the Century is the fact that even though Buffalo was the midway point for both runs, a passenger would not be able to board the train at Central Terminal. To ride the 20th Century Limited, you had to buy a ticket then board the train in either New York or Chicago! However, you could get off in Buffalo. The train was that exclusive.

The Empire State Express was another of the New York Central's crack passenger trains. The Empire was the flagship for the Central's Empire corridor from Niagara Falls to New York. The Empire has a very colorful history in that in 1893, it was noted as being the fasted thing on wheels. Piloted by engineer Charlie Hogan, the Empire reached a land speed record of 112 miles per hour. Engineer Hogan wanted to see what his 4-4-0 #999 locomotive would do, so once out of Batavia he opened the throttle and "flew" the train into Buffalo.

The Empire, along with the Century, was redesigned in the 30's to fit into the "streamlining" craze that took control of many of the country's railroads. The new Empire State Express made its triumphant debut at Central Terminal and the new look brought many favorable opinions from the public. The Hudson type engine was decked out in silver and black steel with matching silver cars. It was quite a beautiful sight. However, the grand opening was not a tremendous success. History dealt the New York Central a bad hand on the day the new Empire entered service. Public opinion of the new train was swayed by the fact that the new Empire State Express rolled out on December 7, 1941.

The New York Central had its new depot and it seemed that the trains would never stop rolling. If the trains ran, the money flowed. But there was decent in the ranks of Buffalo's officials who were quick to realize that even though there was a new depot, it was however not in Buffalo. Several of the Central's most popular trains, including the Empire and the Niagara Rainbow, continued to stop at the Exchange Street Station to help alleviate the feeling that the Central had abandoned the city proper.

The Central continued to pledge to the city of Buffalo that a depot would be constructed within the downtown area and that the tracks on the Terrace would be removed, but this was not happening fast enough for many Buffalonians.

the crash of '29
The beginning of the end happened when the Stock Market crashed on Wall Street in October of 1929. In what became the "gasp heard round the world", all the aspirations that Buffalo had for a downtown station came to an immediate halt. The New York Central even realized that they may have made a big mistake by constructing this huge white elephant on Buffalo's East Side. By the early 1930's, the New York Central stopped all trains from going in and out of Exchange Street and was now seeing Buffalo as a city that had reached its peak and was now stagnant.

By 1933, the Central was losing tremendous amount of money. Operating costs fell almost 52%, and passenger revenues fell from $131 million to $53 million. No one had money to take the train anywhere. It seemed that the only people who were attracted to the railroad were the children who would run to the tracks after a train went by hoping to collect some of the coal that dropped off the engine tenders. Free coal was a hot commodity for people who needed it for heat and cooking fuel.

As things continued to get worse, Buffalo lost two of its landmark railroad depots. The Exchange Street Station was closed in November of 1935 even though the platforms were still used for New York Central and Pennsylvania commuter trains. The Erie's depot closed in December of 1936 and their trains moved to the Lehigh Valley's depot.

The 1930's were not a kind decade to Central Terminal. The building that had been the crowning achievement of the New York Central in Buffalo, had become a tremendous burden on the pocketbook. The building was empty and was losing money as no one was taking the train. But the plight of the Central Terminal was shared by the rest of the country. Recovery would not come until America was brought into the grips of World War Two. Then, and only then, would Central Terminal be the biggest attraction in Buffalo. Millions would pass through its doors weekly, and the phrase "meet me by the buffalo" would come to mean the beginning of a good time for many people in Buffalo.