At the end and beginning of every semester, most Binghamton University students face the challenge of traveling back to their hometowns from Binghamton and vice versa. While students do have some options when embarking on this endeavor, all options have their problems. Cars require refueling and can only carry a handful of passengers, the Greater Binghamton Airport only flies to a limited number of destinations and buses are often expensive, confusing, unreliable and plainly uncomfortable. Not to mention, many students are simply unable to afford keeping a car on campus or at their apartments due to the high costs often paired with parking passes and availability.
Once upon a time, however, there was an alternative. Binghamton’s Lackawanna Station, built in 1900, had served the greater Binghamton community for much of the 20th century until its ultimate closure for service in 1970. Architect Samuel Huckel, who drafted plans for the remodeling of Grand Central Station in New York City, designed the station in a Richardsonian Romanesque style, fashioning elegant tiling and facades which continue to ornament the now Binghamton Railroad Terminal Historic District today. The station connected Binghamton to a number of city locations in the past, including Newark, Scranton, Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and New York. As described by Broome County Historian Gerald Smith in 2015, “It was always the hub. If you look at all the old [servicemen] going off to war they’re all going off to war at the Lackawanna Train Station, taking them off to wherever. So it’s always played a vital role.” Today, the historic station lies just on the corner of Lewis Street and Chenango Street, a mere 10-minute drive from campus.
There is increasing need for the development of a new train station in Binghamton. Binghamton’s student population has been on the sharp rise, with 17,900 students attending BU as of fall 2019, up by about 1,000 from 2015 and 3,000 from 2010. A new railway station, bringing a plethora of new rail lines to communities around the mid-Atlantic region, would not only serve a growing student population, but would allow for tourists, professionals, creatives and potential students to visit the Southern Tier.
This, in turn, would promote BU’s brand and image, attracting more and more students every semester. According to the University’s page on economic development, the University’s “economic impact accounts for an estimated 12 percent of the region’s GDP.” A new railroad station would not only make visiting friends and family easier for students, but would help improve the reputation and notability of BU, fueling an ongoing revitalization of the greater Binghamton community through University engagements.
Though there is much need for a new Binghamton-based train station, making the idea into reality must occur through a bottom-up approach. Students must begin organizing and engaging with institutional officials to bring the need for a new railway system to the top of the University’s priority list. By organizing and petitioning on campus, we can demonstrate the desire and need for a train station to serve not only the student body, but to serve the local community as well. A newly established commuter train line to Binghamton would provide local residents with access to a wide array of destinations and resources for travel, including international airports such as the John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport. A low-cost option for travel to and from major cities would open the door to new types of work for Binghamton residents as well. Residents would have the chance to commute to major cities and enter industries which may exist exclusively in said cities. They would commute to and from work via rail, similar to what many Amtrak users already do on a daily basis. By reaching out to administrators, we can develop the push for a new railway system holistically as a University, rather than a mere student body. Making phone calls and sending emails to city and county officials would help demonstrate student interest and need, while lobbying state and federal representatives would allow for the issue to become one not about the need of Binghamton residents, but about the overall public interest of New York state and the mid-Atlantic transportation infrastructure system.
While some may argue that bringing a train station to a city which continues to experience population decline isn’t worth anyone’s time, I believe that the declining population and potential for economic prowess of Binghamton provides the perfect opportunity for the creation of a new station. The creation of new rail lines leading to Binghamton would not only provide a pitstop for commuters, but for commercial activity as well. Research continues to show that freight rail acts as a strong promoter of economic growth. As read in a study from Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute, “freight railroads have a ripple effect that resulted in nine jobs for every one freight rail job and supported approximately $274 billion in economic activity across the country in 2014 alone.”
Railway systems have been proven to be one of the best investments a government can make to bolster economic activity, something that Binghamton is urgently in search of. According to the same study, new railway systems have the potential of providing “high-paying jobs within the industry, additional jobs that are supported by the industry, the connection of a wide swath of industries and consumers to the global market and the growth of local communities” due to the combination of “sizeable funds into the market and government budgets.” There is also convincing evidence for such an investment to enable long-term economic growth, implying that the railway system can avoid acting solely as a temporary economic boost. According to a study examining new transportation modes on population distribution in Jing-Jin-Ji region of China, new methods of transportation to cities such as railways “have arisen as a significant determinant of population distribution and short-term migration.” This means that factors such as “GDP, investment, urbanization level and technology” do not appear to have as strong an impact on population growth when compared to rail systems. Evidently so, creating a new train station will not only bolster short-term migration to Binghamton, but can become a source of long-term, sustainable growth.
Train travel has a large number of perks beyond just economic prosperity. Train travel can eliminate the long lines associated with airports and provide students with a simple connecting stop to Penn Station, opening the door for more out-of-state students to attend our university. Trains not only offer the luxury of avoiding traffic which often complicates interstate travel, but allow for a far more comfortable experience than hitching a ride in your friend’s sedan, all while avoiding those confusing schedules often associated with bus companies like Greyhound and OurBus. Oftentimes, riders are free to travel from seat to seat and compartment to compartment, eliminating the need to stay stuck in a seat for hours on end. Simply put, travel via train is an experience — one which can easily be made enjoyable and anticipated. Even more importantly, the cramped nature of buses and the need for plane cabin air systems strongly increases the risk of COVID-19 infection — another reason trains are the ideal form of travel.
The development of a train station based in Binghamton would not only serve the convenience and mental health of our students, but offers the chance to truly revitalize the economic landscape of this city. If Binghamton students are able to cohesively come together to lobby politicians, state officials and local institutions in support of a new railway system, Binghamton has the potential to become the next Ithaca or Syracuse, or, better yet, bring back the charming, economically resourceful and famous city Binghamton once was a century ago.
David Hatami is a junior double-majoring in political science and business administration.