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NIAGARA FALLS - The federal government unlocked a $16.5 million grant Thursday for completion of the last phase of construction of an international railroad passenger station near the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge that will serve as a regional transportation gateway for trains, buses, tour vehicles, taxis and pedestrians.
Approval of the grant by the Federal Railroad Administration was announced by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mayor Paul A. Dyster.
Officials have been planning for 24 years to redevelop and convert the site around the 1863 U.S. Customs House on Whirlpool Street into a railroad hub serving local transportation, as well as trains to and from Canada.
Schumer and Dyster said the first two phases of the construction are finished, and Thursday's announcement "will finally allow the final phase to move forward."
The project includes a high-level boarding platform for railroad passengers and 26,000 square feet of new space. The Customs House, used by the federal government until the 1980s, will again become a border inspection facility.
It also will incorporate an Underground Railroad Interpretive Center with historic exhibits detailing Niagara's role in helping slaves to escape from the South to find freedom in Canada.
A new station attached to the Customs House will serve Amtrak trains to and from points in Canada and New York State.

email: rbaldwin@buffnews.com