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Whether Buffalo should qualify as one of the pivotal cities in the North American rail net is a matter of interpretation.
Certainly, the array of roads and the number of trains make this a contender on par with Atlanta, or perhaps even St Louis.
On the other hand, for it's primary road, the New York Central, this is a straight shot through on the run west (albeit the number of trains so "shot" makes for a prodigious volley). For the other roads who serve this market, numerous and well known thought they are, Buffalo is less a focal point and more of a destination of mutual convenience. There are a variety of through connections - NYCity to Chicago / St Louis and to Canada being the primary ones. But the traffic patterns are not so clearly defined, nor the loading so heavy, as one might find at Chicago (to the west) or NYCity (to the east).
Be that as it may, Buffalo is a major center of rail operations and, if it doesn't exactly fit the definition as a focal point, it certainly is one of the most outsized of "small" towns.
In the early days, Buffalo was firmly in the Vanderbilt orbit. The Central built the large but fairly basic brick facility (above) in the 1870s to serve as the junction of four of the Vanderbilt interests. This is the pivot point of the New York Central System, with the New York Central proper and the West Shore coming in from Albany after parallel journeys up either bank of the Hudson, meeting their westward counterparts, the Michigan Central Canadian route and the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, both for Chicago.
In typical form, this station was soon outgrown and a more sophisticated operation devised. The centerpiece of this is the new Buffalo Union Terminal.
Buffalo Union Terminal
Curiously, for all its size and splendor, this facility is used only by the Pennsy and the Central - all others having their own lesser depots nearby.
The Pennsylvania Railroad may be the "Standard Railroad Of The World", but you would not know it from their showing in Buffalo. This is a relatively minor destination, well off the main traffic flow of the Middle Division: a meeting point for a branch off the Williamsport to Erie line and the line up from Oil City.
However, while they may be upstaged by the Central, they are not lacking in service: with a half dozen daily trains via Oil City to Pittsburgh and nearly a dozen - most of them Name Trains - on a New York / Washington to Toronto timecard.
The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western terminal at the foot of Main street on the River, is the second string terminal for the Buffalo market. Here, the Lackawanna makes connections with their Chicago / St Louis ally, the Nickel Plate. The Baltimore & Ohio is the other primary road, providing a connecting service off the Capitol Route.
For a while, the Wabash came here from Detroit via trackage rights on the Grand Trunk. However, by the 1930s, passenger service had ended and the line was only used for freight. The GT, however, favors the Lehigh Valley terminal for its passenger services. A minor player at this depot is the electrified International Railway. The IR also has their own purely transit terminal about 1/4 mile away up Main street.
By the mid 1950s, this terminal was superseded by a less pretentious facility a short distance away.
Some reference courtesy Barry Peltier
A bit further up Main street, at Scott Ave (and right beyond the International terminal at Main and Terrace) stands this pristine marble classic used by the Lehigh Valley. While LV service to Buffalo is rather modest, this station also serves their tenant Grand Trunk, with direct routings to Chicago, Montreal and Toronto
The Erie Railroad shares its terminal at Michigan and Exchange Streets with the International Railway.
Finally, the Grand Trunk and the Michigan Central co-occupy a minor suburban station at Niagara Street and the International Bridge, which serves mainly as a Customs checkpoint.
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North East Rails © Clint Chamberlin.