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Buffalo, New York

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Car 110 and mate pass the Buffalo Savings Bank at Lafayette Square. Photo by Rob Hutchinson, February 2001.

Contents

Overview

Through the first half of the 20th Century, Buffalo was a major industrial and transportation center and a gateway to the Midwest. It boasted an extensive streetcar system that went to virtually all parts of the city. The major routes followed the main streets leading out of downtown. These main streets were planned by the founders of Buffalo, particularly Joseph Ellicott, to fan out like spokes of a wheel to the north, east and south. There were also major streetcar routes that partially encircled the city in ever-widening rings. As late as 1950, Buffalo boasted a population of over 600,000 residents.

Like many cities along the Great Lakes, the central city of Buffalo began declining while its suburbs underwent expansion. The bus system in place essentially replaced the former streetcar system virtually route for route. In order to bolster the declining downtown area, it was believed that suburbanites had to be lured, whether for work, recreation or shopping. It was proposed that a rapid transit system be developed to link key suburban sites, such as the airport, the new University of Buffalo north campus, possibly Niagara Falls, and the rapidly growing South Towns, with the downtown area.

After numerous studies, it was finally decided to build a light rail rapid transit (LRRT) system. The "central artery" of this system would be built first, from UB's South Campus (which is located in the northeast corner of the city), to downtown via Main Street. This route was already being served by the No. 8 bus, which would continue to operate. Other routes, which joined the No. 8 on Main Street at various intersections to the north, would terminate at Metro Rail stations, or cross Main Street and become one of the cross-town routes.

By the time the studies were complete and the line was built, Buffalo had declined even faster than anticipated and the suburbs stopped growing. Expansion of the system became less feasible. The commercial establishments along Main Street either closed or lost business. Whether or not it was a direct result of the construction or operation of Metro Rail is debatable, but it certainly was not the desired effect; however, the general consensus among business leaders and politicians has swung to this way of thinking. Accordingly, plans are being made to re-introduce automobile traffic to Main Street to encourage the “return of retail” to the downtown area. On July 23, 2012, specific plans for the block encompassing the Theater station and the portal to the cut and cover section were announced. South of the portal, there will be one lane of traffic in each direction sharing the road with the light rail tracks; parking will be permitted alongside a new curb; and Theater station will be removed. This will be completed by September, 2013, and the next block south will begin being converted at that time, until all of Main Street down to the waterfront is completed.

Be that as it may, Metro Rail is a relatively clean, safe and rapid way to traverse the 8 miles from South Campus to the foot of Main Street, generally in about 22 minutes during rush hour.

The Buffalo "LRRT" construction broke ground in 1978 and opened in 1985. The fleet consisted of 27 cars, numbered 101-127, built by Tokyu Car Corporation of Japan.

Route Map

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Station By Station

The route of Metro Rail will be described as the train goes outbound, that is, out of downtown toward South Campus. The route generally consists of three sections: the downtown, outdoor section; the cut-and-cover section; and the bored tunnel section.

The southern terminus of the route is the car barn. This was the former DL&W railroad terminal. It is located on the north bank of the Buffalo River about a block east of Main Street. Two tracks come out of the western end of the terminal and turn north on Main. A station named Special Events is passed first. This station is used inbound for one hour before and outbound for one hour after events held at the HSBC Arena, which is just to the station's east. The station is also near the Buffalo Naval Park.

About a block north of this station begins the downtown portion of the route. Generally, the trains run on what appears to be their own right of way in the middle of Main Street. The right of way is distinguished by the fact that a 3 inch curb is present between the outside of the rails and the rest of Main Street, which is a pedestrian mall, currently dubbed "Buffalo Place." Metro Rail trains can be a maximum of 4 cars in length, though normally 2 car trains are run, 3 cars for special events or rush hour. If two 4 car trains, one in each direction, were in one of the downtown stations at the same time, it would appear that the two outside platforms were aligned; however, since 4 car trains are almost never run, as well as the construction style of the platforms, as described below, it appears that the inbound and outbound stations are slightly staggered, with the outbound platform north of the inbound platform.

The front end of each platform on the downtown section is raised to a high-platform level, that is, to the bottom of the door on the cars. The length of this platform, however, is only about 12 feet. The platforms are really designed for wheelchair access to the front car of the train. A wheel chair ramp, as well as a short set of stairs, come off the outside of the platform down to street level. An overhang, to protect passengers from the weather, extends from the front of the platform down the station for about the equivalent of a car length and a half. The rest of the platform is marked by a slightly different shade of concrete along the curb. To enter the train at street level, a passenger can depress a button on the side of the cars. A staircase unfolds outward from under the car doors allowing access up to the train. The overhang and supports have an "old time" wrought iron appearance, and are painted a hunter green.

The downtown section of Metro Rail is free. On the sidewalk adjacent to the outbound platforms are automated ticket machines for rides outbound. The fare is currently $1.75, with discounts for seniors, children and the handicapped. Tickets are used as valid transfer mechanisms to buses that stop at the various Metro Rail stations. The first regular station is Erie Canal Harbor (formerly "Auditorium") and is the official southern end of the revenue section of the line. Since most inbound trains turn around here (rather than returning or coming from the barn), the train can end on either track. Accordingly, just north of the station is a set of scissors switches.

After the switches, the train goes simultaneously over Amtrak (the downtown station is about two short blocks to the east) and under I-190; and, subsequently, under the HSBC (formerly Marine Midland) Building, the tallest in Buffalo. The speed of the train in the downtown section is 18 mph. Generally, ordinary traffic lights control the right of way between intersections of Main and the various cross streets, but the lights are "rigged" so that Metro Rail only waits for them to turn green while in a station with the doors open.

The next station is Seneca. The downtown baseball stadium, currently named Coca-Cola Field (formerly Dunn Tire Park), is seen one block to the east. Next is Church. Alongside the outbound platform is the M & T Building, which is rather set back on the street. Free concerts are held on the plaza in front of the building during the summer. A suburban-style shopping mall is alongside the inbound platform on the other side of the street.

Before entering the next station, Lafayette, the train crosses Lafayette Square. The main branch of the library is seen one block to the east; Niagara Square and City Hall are seen a few blocks to the west.

After Lafayette, the next station is Fountain, named for Fountain Plaza, a series of banks on either side of the street. The station used to be named Huron, after the nearest cross street. On the outbound side is M & T Bank, which owns the former Buffalo Savings Bank "golden dome" headquarters, while on the inbound side there exists a beautiful fountain which is used as an ice skating rink in the winter.

The last stop in the downtown section is Theatre, which encompasses the one-block-long theater district of Buffalo. Shortly after the station, the train begins its descent under Main Street into the cut-and-cover section.

The cut-and-cover stations, Allen-Medical Campus, Summer-Best, and Utica, all have outside platforms and all have mezzanines one flight of stairs below street level, the platforms being one flight below the mezzanines. The stations are at street level on the east side of the street. The Allen-Hospital station has a "rear" exit to Washington Street for easier access to the two hospitals that are located a few blocks further east.

As Main crosses under Ferry Street it makes about a 25 degree angle toward the northeast. This is also the beginning of the bored tunnel section. The line consists essentially of two parallel, circular tunnels containing one track each. The transition point between the cut-and-cover section and the tunnel section was beset with water problems during construction. In the early days of operation there were always workmen on the tracks and trains in either direction would sound their horns as a warning. Today that has become a tradition, with the T/O's blowing their horns at that point.

The first station in the bored tunnel section is Delavan Av/Canisius College, which is also the deepest station in the system. The layout of this station is the same as all the bored tunnel section stations except Amherst, described later. The platforms for the inbound and outbound trains are separate, but on the inside, much like 14 St on the 6th Av IND. There are generally two passageways between the two platforms where one platform can see the other. One is where the escalator takes riders up, ultimately, to the street. The other, narrower passageway is the location of an elevator to the street. The entrance to the Delavan station is a building at street level on the northeast corner of Main and Delavan. Surrounding this building is a driveway for buses that come to that corner. On the southwest corner, a small plaza has opened and is doing financially well.

The next station is Humboldt-Hospital. There are two station entrances, the only station in the system to have this feature. One station entrance is on the southwest corner of Main and Humboldt, while the other is on the southeast corner. Both entrances lead to the common mezzanine level where ticketing occurs.

Next is Amherst. This station served as the northern terminus of the line until the remaining two stations were built shortly thereafter. Accordingly, there are scissors switches just north of Humboldt. The tunnel geometry here is interesting, with the intersecting cylindrical shapes. Amherst is different from the other stations, as it has one island platform, higher ceilings, and brighter lighting. The station entrance lies on a triangular piece of land bounded by Main, Amherst Street and Parker Avenue, around which three bus lines will stop.

Between Amherst and the next station, LaSalle, one can see an alcove on the outside of whichever track one is on, pushing toward the outbound direction. This was to be the location of the "Tonawanda turn-out", one of the proposed extensions to the system. This extension was to run along a former Erie-Lackawanna ROW that essentially traveled in a straight line from Main Street through the Town and City of Tonawanda and the City of North Tonawanda, until it intersected with the Amtrak ROW. PCC cars were purchased from Cleveland to be used on the line. At that time, the tracks were not used and were paved over at grade crossings. The PCC cars were thus tested on tracks south of the city in Lackawanna.

The turn-out on the outbound side was to swing east of Main, between Bennett High School (where A Chorus Line author Michael Bennett took his name) and All-High Stadium (which doubled for Wrigley Field in The Natural) and then swing northwest, joining the railroad ROW and going over Main Street on the existing viaduct. (For fans of this site, this is a mirror image of what the #5 Train does at 149 St-Grand Concourse.) The inbound side would blend in more directly. It is hard to determine what the cost would be in displaced private property for the actual turnout, but the rest of the line was considered the least expensive extension to the system.

Since the proposal, the following has occurred: first, the right-of-way to the west of Main Street is now a Park-and-Ride lot of 800 parking spaces adjacent to LaSalle station. Second, the viaducts over Main Street (there were two---the more western (inbound) viaduct would have been the ROW for the extension) have been taken down. Third, new housing has gone up on the ROW on the east side of Main Street. Finally, the PCC cars were brought to Brooklyn.

LaSalle station is two, deep stories underground. Elevator passengers have to switch between an elevator from the station house (at street level) to the mezzanine and then a different elevator from the mezzanine to train level. The station house is in its own building on the west side of Main, surrounded by a bus driveway. The exit for the buses from the driveway doubles as the exit from the parking lot for northeast bound traffic on Main, while the main entrance/exit to the parking lot exists between the two former viaducts.

Before arriving at University, we traverse another set of scissors switches and tunnel formations similar to that north of Humboldt. The tracks are actually east of Main Street at this point, several stories under the grass of the UB campus facing Main Street. The station is one very long flight up the escalator, and is by far the largest in plan area in the system. The station is slightly below ground level. The "front" exit to the station is leads to a large cul-de-sac carved out of the grassy area of the campus between the main roads in and out of the Main Street campus entrance. Currently, 9 bus lines, some going to the suburbs, have their own little waiting area on the cul-de-sac. One and a half campus parking lots further outbound of the exit road from campus have been converted to 600 Park-and-Ride parking spaces. In the "back" of the station, an elevator takes one up to the level of the campus buildings. Upon exiting the glass-enclosed structure, one notes a small parking lot/waiting area known as the "kiss-and-go" where passengers can be quickly picked up or discharged from cabs or personal vehicles.

It is believed that the tracks extend perhaps a hundred viaduct. (For fans of this site, this is a mirror image of what the #5 Train does at 149 St-Grand Concourse.) The inbound side would blend in more directly. It is hard to determine what the cost would be in displaced private property for the actual turnout, but the rest of the line was considered the least expensive extension to the system.

Since the proposal, the following has occurred: first, the right-of-way to the west of Main Street is now a Park-and-Ride lot of 800 parking spaces adjacent to LaSalle station. Second, the viaducts over Main Street (there were two---the more western (inbound) viaduct would have been the ROW for the extension) have been taken down. Third, new housing has gone up on the ROW on the east side of Main Street. Finally, the PCC cars were brought to Brooklyn.

LaSalle station is two, deep stories underground. Elevator passengers have to switch between an elevator from the station house (at street level) to the mezzanine and then a different elevator from the mezzanine to train level. The station house is in its own building on the west side of Main, surrounded by a bus driveway. The exit for the buses from the driveway doubles as the exit from the parking lot for northeast bound traffic on Main, while the main entrance/exit to the parking lot exists between the two former viaducts.

Before arriving at University, we traverse another set of scissors switches and tunnel formations similar to that north of Humboldt. The tracks are actually east of Main Street at this point, several stories under the grass of the UB campus facing Main Street. The station is one very long flight up the escalator, and is by far the largest in plan area in the system. The station is slightly below ground level. The "front" exit to the station is leads to a large cul-de-sac carved out of the grassy area of the campus between the main roads in and out of the Main Street campus entrance. Currently, 9 bus lines, some going to the suburbs, have their own little waiting area on the cul-de-sac. One and a half campus parking lots further outbound of the exit road from campus have been converted to 600 Park-and-Ride parking spaces. In the "back" of the station, an elevator takes one up to the level of the campus buildings. Upon exiting the glass-enclosed structure, one notes a small parking lot/waiting area known as the "kiss-and-go" where passengers can be quickly picked up or discharged from cabs or personal vehicles.

It is believed that the tracks extend perhaps a hundred feet beyond University station, and then dead-end. The proposed extension to North Campus would begin with these tracks.

Photo Gallery


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Photo by: Rob Hutchinson

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Photo by: Rob Hutchinson
Location: University

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Photo by: Rob Hutchinson

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Photo by: Rob Hutchinson

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Photo by: Rob Hutchinson

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Photo by: Steven J. Brown

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Photo by: Chris Leverett
Location: Erie Canal Harbor

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Photo by: Chris Leverett
Location: Erie Canal Harbor

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Photo by: Hideaki Kiyama
Collection of: Stephen Margolis/Slade Gellin

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Photo by: Hideaki Kiyama
Collection of: Stephen Margolis/Slade Gellin

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Photo by: Hideaki Kiyama
Collection of: Stephen Margolis/Slade Gellin

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Photo by: Tom Kulmala
Location: Church

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Photo by: Tom Kulmala
Location: Church

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Photo by: Fran Rogers
Location: Fountain Plaza

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Photo by: Fran Rogers
Location: Lafayette Square


More Images: 1-25

Links

Official Site - NFTA. Official site of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, including schedules, maps, fares, and more!

Page Credits

By Slade Gellin. Route Map by Michael Calcagno.









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