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Lodging Enterprises of Wichita, Kansas Develops Unique
 Hotel for Rail Workers in Cheektowaga, N.Y.

By Kevin Purdy, The Buffalo News, N.Y.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

Nov. 13, 2003 - When you shut the blinds in one of the Oak Tree Inn's rooms, it becomes almost pitch black inside -- even at high noon. 

Most hotels don't push this kind of feature, but the new Oak Tree Inn, which opens Friday, isn't your typical hotel. 

It found its way to Cheektowaga via the planned expansion of CSX Transportation's nearby Buffalo rail yard. The $6 million project would create an "inland port," where large shipping containers from New York, New Jersey and elsewhere would be broken down and transferred onto trucks. 

As with the other 20 Oak Tree Inns across the country, the local hotel, which will employ 14, has sold the majority of its rooms -- 36 out of 56 -- to the rail company. The rooms are for rail workers who travel with cargo and help unload it. 

Unlike the other Oak Tree Inns, the Cheektowaga site is located near the intersection of Walden Avenue and Union Road, not the relatively rural towns where most such train yards are found. 

That's why more than the usual 20 percent of the hotel's rooms are available to the public, and why local manager Mark Dunham is planning to pound the pavement to get the word out about the Oak Tree. 

"We don't do hardly any type of advertising. We don't even have a Web site," said Dunham. "We're relying on word of mouth and letting the businesses know that we're here and we've got rooms available." 

The main selling point of the hotel may be the features built into each room to accommodate the irregular schedules of rail workers, appealing to anyone looking for a seriously good night's sleep: 

  • Each dark-hued window shade has a magnet built into the inside edge, so that the shades close completely and prevent light from seeping through the cracks. 
  • The walls between rooms are separated and the windows are thickly insulated, virtually sound-proofing each room. 
  • A sensor installed in the door frame, along with a motion sensor inside the room, automatically activate heating or air conditioning upon entrance or awakening. 
  • Those same sensors allow housekeepers -- via a small light on the door frame -- to determine whether a guest is in the room or not, preventing mid-day disturbances. 
A whirlpool and exercise room are also available to all guests, but rail workers will receive their own lounge, computer facilities and other amenities provided by CSX. 

Although CSX has committed to its share of 36 rooms, the Buffalo station expansion is still "in the planning stages," said CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan. Bill Burgess, president of Oak Tree's parent company, Lodging Enterprises of Wichita, Kan., said the uncertain future traffic in rail workers will have to be resolved before the company can focus on local marketing efforts. 

"In hotel marketing, if you're not a big chain with a national presence, (marketing) is a local thing," said Burgess." 

"If you've got someone looking for a really good night's sleep, we've got rooms available," said Dunham. 

-----To see more of The Buffalo News, N.Y., or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to 

(c) 2003, The Buffalo News, N.Y. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. CSX, 


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