Buffalo Metro Rail

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Metro Rail
Locale Buffalo, New York
Transit type Light rail
Number of lines 1
Number of stations 13 + Special Events Only (operates when there's a special event downtown)
Daily ridership 15,700 (avg. weekday, Q1 2014)[1]
Website metro.nfta.com
Began operation May 20, 1985
Operator(s) Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA)
System length 6.4 miles (10.3 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Electrification Overhead lines 650 V DC
Buffalo Metro Rail
originally South Campus
Tonawanda turn-out
Amherst Street
Delavan / Canisius College
originally Delavan-College
Allen-Medical Campus
originally Allen-Hospital
Closed February 18, 2013
Fountain Plaza
originally Huron
Lafayette Square
Erie Canal Harbor
originally Auditorium
Special Events
certain times only
Rail Maintenance Yard

station with off-street bus loop
fare-free section
 Original Proposal 
Amherst Government Center
North Campus to Amherst
part of Phase 2
North Campus
Sweet Home
yard and shops
I-290 (Youngmann Expressway)
South Campus
La Salle
North Tonawanda
Tonawanda East
Ives Park
I-290 (Youngmann Expressway)
Ellwood Park
Tonawanda branch
part of Phase 2
Tonawanda turn-out
Central Park
Lafayette Square
Cathedral Park
Cathedral Park to West Hopkins
part of Phase 2
Community College
West Hopkins

Buffalo Metro Rail is the public transit rail system in Buffalo, New York, United States; it is operated by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA). The system consists of a single, 6.4-mile (10.3 km) long line that runs for most of the length of Main Street (New York State Route 5) in the City of Buffalo, from First Niagara Center in Downtown Buffalo to the south campus of the University at Buffalo in the northeast corner of the city.

Transit type and route[edit]

Metro Rail is a light rail transit (LRT) system as characterized by the American Public Transportation Association [2] although it shares many characteristics with "heavy rail" metro systems. Along 80% of its track (5.2 miles (8.4 km)), it operates in a high-speed underground subway environment with high-level platforms. This section has eight stations that are spaced fairly widely apart, comparable to many subway stations elsewhere. The line from Allen/Medical Campus to Utica uses cut-and-cover subway construction, while the remainder of the underground portion from Delavan/Canisius College to University on the University of Buffalo South Campus is in deep-bored tunnels.[3] At some of the deep bore stations, the track platform level is deep enough that escalators are used to reach the surface. The remaining 20% of the alignment (1.2 miles (1.9 km)) is on the surface in a dedicated outdoors transit mall separated from automobile traffic on Main Street in downtown Buffalo. This section has five closely spaced stations with primarily low-level platforms. Because the trains are all high-level, passengers exit and enter trains using retractable steps that rotate out from pockets beneath each door of the train. In addition, each downtown station has a short (approximately 12-foot-long (3.7 m)) high-level platform with wheelchair ramps and stairs that aligns with the first door of each train to provide handicapped access.[3] The retractable steps of this first door fit underneath the mini-platforms when extended at surface stations. The northbound and southbound portions of these downtown stations (and their respective mini-platforms) appear to be staggered when served by two 2-car trains (the normal service) because they are designed to align correctly when accommodating trains four cars long (the maximum length in this system).[3] Trains in this downtown transit mall do interact with automobile traffic at cross streets, where movements are governed by traffic signals. This surface section has catenary poles every 130 feet (40 m) to support the overhead electrical lines.[4] Metro Rail operates electric multiple-unit light rail vehicles (LRVs) in two-to-four car trains with power drawn from an overhead catenary system. Three-car trains are limited to rush hour and special events and four-car trains to special events.[3][5] The Buffalo trains and SEPTA's light rail cars in Philadelphia are the only modern rigid-body (non-articulated) LRVs operating in the United States.


Construction on Metro Rail began in 1979 and the line opened for regular service on May 20, 1985,[6] following an opening ceremony on May 18. At the time of the start of construction, the line was intended to be the first line for an extensive system that would spread throughout the city and suburbs. However, during the construction of the line and afterward, Buffalo's population declined significantly by approximately 55%, from around 580,000 in 1950 to about 261,000 in 2010 and the new line's ridership was much lower than originally anticipated. The cost of the urban section was so high that no funding was available to extend the lines into the suburbs, including the Amherst campus of the University at Buffalo. Efforts to obtain funding for feeder lines have met with little success.

The downtown business district[edit]

The construction of the pedestrian mall along Main Street downtown coincided with the decentralization of the region's population and retail market. Like many other cities in the Northeast United States, suburban shopping malls were being developed closer to regional population growth and regional wealth. This shift in retail concentration and regional wealth resulted in downtown Buffalo losing many of its longtime anchor department stores and smaller shops to suburban malls and strip plazas. It was these retailers that originally served as some of the major traffic generators for Metro Rail. Overall, the area's economic health declined in the 1980s, reducing the potential passengers and the tax base available to fund the system. In 2008, the City of Buffalo began a project to reintroduce cars to Main Street in a shared trackbed/roadway with curbside parking lanes for short-term visitors. The project was initially expected to be completed by 2011.[7] The second of the project's three segments was completed in early 2015, when vehicular traffic was reintroduced to the 600 block of Main Street on January 23.[8]

Permanent closure of Theater Station[edit]

A major part of the shared trackbed/roadway project is the permanent closure of Theater Station, which, due to safety and design reasons associated with the project, occurred on February 18, 2013 after 10,359 days of service.[9] The Buffalo Theater District is now served by the Fountain Plaza Station, located 546 feet south.

Operations and practical information[edit]

Metro Rail runs as follows: Monday-Friday from 5:10am-12:50am, Saturdays from 7:05am-12:50am and Sundays and Holidays from 8:00am-11:50pm (although most bus service is available until approximately 12:30am). Trains run as often as once every ten minutes at rush hour and generally no less often than once every twenty minutes. Metro fares are as follows: a one-way ticket costs $2.00; an all-day pass costs $5.00, which allows users of the pass unlimited rides covering the entire rail and bus system for the service day; a seven-day ticket costs $25.00, which allows users of the pass unlimited rides covering the entire rail and bus system for seven consecutive service days; monthly and 30-day passes cost $75.00 each, which allows users of the pass unlimited rides covering the entire rail and bus system for the service month or 30 consecutive days, respectively, depending on when the ticket is bought. In July 2008, the NFTA claimed the passenger count "eclipsed the previous year's tally by 23%."[10] As a result of this, in September 2008, the NFTA began an earlier starting time to the weekday schedule in response to an 11% increase in ridership over eight months of growth. Fares are collected through a proof-of-payment (POP) system (sometimes erroneously referred to as an "honor system"). Tickets are randomly checked by roving NFTA ticket inspectors and occasionally by transit police on trains and in stations. Travel on the above-ground portion of the system is free (zero-fare public transport), though ticket machines are available at outbound above-ground stations for passengers continuing on to stations in the subway portion of the line. If a rider does not possess a valid proof-of-payment, a citation will be issued (similar to a traffic ticket) and a penalty will be imposed when a court finds the passenger guilty of non-payment. A normal one-way trip takes 22 minutes from end-to-end, though it may be faster nights, weekends and holidays.

Stations and points of interest[edit]

Station Points of Interest
University University at Buffalo South Campus
LaSalle All-High Stadium, Bennett High School, University Heights District
Amherst Street Buffalo Zoo, Delaware Park
Humboldt-Hospital Canisius College, Sisters Hospital, Medaille College, Delaware Park
Delavan/Canisius College Canisius College (Koessler Athletic Center), Cold Spring Bus Garage, Forest Lawn Cemetery
Utica Brylin Hospital, Women's and Children's Hospital of Buffalo, Cold Spring Bus Garage, NFTA Transit Police Headquarters
Summer-Best Allentown District, Anchor Bar, City Honors School, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
Allen/Medical Campus Allentown District, Anchor Bar, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus
Fountain Plaza Chippewa Entertainment District, Shea's Performing Arts Center
Lafayette Square Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center, Buffalo City Hall, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
Church Buffalo Metropolitan Transportation Center, Downtown Farmers Market, Erie Community College, Main Place Tower
Seneca Exchange Street Station, Coca-Cola Field, One Seneca Center
Erie Canal Harbor First Niagara Center, Erie Canal Harbor (Canalside), Buffalo Downtown Waterfront, HARBORcenter
Special Events First Niagara Center

Plans for expansion[edit]

In December 2012, the NFTA announced it had secured funding of $1.6 million to commission a study in 2013 of bus and rail access to University at Buffalo's North Campus. If a rail project were to be approved, the system would be running in 7-10 years. On February 28, 2013, it was announced that a group consisting of representatives from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, planners from the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Sabres and NFTA are working on a plan to extend the southern terminus of the rail line just beyond the NFTA rail yard at the DL&W Terminal to a new parking garage being built near the Medical Campus.[11] Because of poor traffic patterns on Downtown Buffalo's Main Street, some business groups occasionally call for the removal of the transit system so that they can return to normal vehicle traffic and curbside parking, hoping that this measure might recreate the prosperous days of the past, although the lack of businesses to Main Street caused by the construction of the Metro Rail has already been done. However, the city is developing and implementing a plan to return automobile traffic to the blocks of Main Street. Without extended branches in the suburbs, the truncated system serves an average of 13,900 passengers daily as of 2014. As a useful transportation asset, Buffalo Metro Rail is ranked 25th in the nation in light rail daily ridership service as of 2013, with 5,058,300 passengers. One group, the Citizens Regional Transit Corporation (CRTC), advocates for expansion.[12] As indicated in its statement, the CRTC seeks to educate the public, public officials, their authorities and agencies in the Buffalo-Niagara region about the benefits of a comprehensive transportation system including an expanded Metro Rail. In April 2011, the group stated that the 600 block of Main Street, which has Shea's Performing Arts Center along with hotels and bars, should be converted into a mixed automobile and rail system.[13]

Amherst corridor[edit]

On December 4, 2006, in The Spectrum, a publication of the University at Buffalo (UB), it was announced that John B. Simpson, who was UB president at the time, is planning to get a project underway that would connect UB's three campuses via a transportation system. The proposed systems included a subway, trolley or light rail. A study, published in 2014, detailed four alternatives chosen for the corridor, including a light rail corridor and three bus rapid transit corridors. The light rail corridor would extend from a turnout at University Station, head north to Niagara Falls Boulevard, turn to Sweet Home Road, enter the University at Buffalo North Campus and parallel Interstate 990 ending at the Crosspoint Business Park in Getzville.[14] An alternative is slated to be selected by the end of 2015.

Airport corridor[edit]

The Airport corridor would begin in Downtown Buffalo, near Church Station and continue in an easterly direction in/out Division Streets, diagonally in a northeastern direction near Jefferson Avenue toward the Buffalo Central Terminal, cross Broadway and then continue eastbound in its private right-of-way to the Thruway Plaza, Walden Galleria and Buffalo-Niagara International Airport.

Tonawandas corridor[edit]

The Tonawandas corridor would operate from LaSalle Station northwesterly to the City of Tonawanda using the abandoned Erie Railroad tracks. The NFTA purchased 12 Presidents' Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars in the 1980s to serve the Tonawanda turn-out, a proposed Metro Rail extension to Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. These cars were built by the St. Louis Car Company and acquired by Cleveland, Ohio's Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority second-hand in 1953. It was determined after initial trial runs that the PCCs were too wide for existing station platforms and the plan was abandoned. The PCCs were sold to the Brooklyn Historical Railway Association (BHRA) and scrapped in 2003 when the BHRA folded.

Rolling stock[edit]

Buffalo Light Rail Vehicle
Outbound train arriving at Fountain Plaza
Manufacturer Tokyu Car Corporation
Number in service 27
Formation 2- to 4-car trains
Fleet numbers 101-127
Capacity 140 (51 seated),
210 crush load[4]
Car length 66 ft 10 in (20,371 mm)
Width 8 ft 6.5 in (2,603 mm)
Weight 35.5 short tons (32.2 t)
Electric system(s) 650 VDC
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
(standard gauge)

Body type: double-ended, non-articulated

Control: 4 chopper-controlled Westinghouse motors

The NFTA has a fleet of 27 (originally 29) rigid-bodied (non-articulated) LRVs for the Metro Rail system, numbered sequentially from 101 to 127. They were built by Tokyu Car Corporation of Japan in 1983.[4] The cars' body shell design is notably similar to that of the earlier articulated US Standard Light Rail Vehicle, whose shells were also fabricated by Tokyu Car Corp. for Boeing Vertol. The cars have a maximum service speed of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h), but trains run at 15 miles per hour (24 km/h) in the above-ground section of the line.[4] The LRVs have a maximum service acceleration of 2.7 mph/second and a maximum service deceleration of 3.0 mph/second, with a maximum emergency deceleration of 4.7 mph/second.[4] There are three sliding doors on each side of each LRV; these doors can be opened by passengers by push buttons on the outside wall of the train when trains are stopped at stations on the above-ground section of the line.[4] However, in practice, train operators typically open all doors and extend all the retractable staircases at all above-stations. One car (number 125) was damaged in transit and later purchased by a restaurateur, Bertrand H. Hoak, of Hamburg, as an addition to Hoak's Armor Inn restaurant on Abbott Road, near Armor Duells Road. The car has since been repaired and sold back to the NFTA. 12 President's Conference Cars built by the St. Louis Car Company were purchased from Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's Shaker Heights Rapid Transit in 1990. They were sold to the Brooklyn Historical Railway Association in 2003.[15]


In May 2006, it was announced that all of the LRVs would be rehabilitated by AnsaldoBreda. The rehabilitation will feature many improvements, some of which include enhanced video monitoring of the railcar interiors, an upgraded braking system, rebuilt HVAC systems, rebuilt door systems, a new interior closely representing the agency's new look, upgraded propulsion systems and repairs to the body shells. In addition, the rail cars will receive new monitoring systems, an automated announcement system calling out stations, new door chimes and interior/exterior LED signage to replace existing roll signs. The total project cost is an estimated $40 million for rehabilitation of 27 rail cars.[16] Because the refurbished cars have new car-to-car communications equipment, they are not compatible with unrefurbished cars and cannot run with them on the same train.[17] The project originally planned to use SuperSteel's manufacturing facilities in Schenectady, New York for the overhaul of the rail cars. However, due to the loss of orders and a dip in the economy, SuperSteel closed the facility in April 2009. The closure cost 175 jobs and delayed the rehabilitation.[18] The project later was moved to Gray Manufacturing Industries, located in Hornell, New York.[19] The first two cars were due back in revenue service in July 2010.[20] After a lengthy delay, which was figured to put the project years behind the originally planned schedule, the first two cars (fleet numbers 114 and 123) have returned to full revenue service on March 9, 2012, 20 months behind schedule. However, the cost of refurbishment per car has since gone up and it is now averaged at $1.7 million per car with an cost of $45 million to complete all cars in the fleet. Three more cars (fleet numbers 110, 111 and 126) have been sent out and were planned to be completed before the end of 2012, but were completed and returned to full revenue service in the fall of 2013.[21] On October 1, 2014, one more car (fleet number 113) has also returned to full revenue service. Since then, four more rail cars (fleet numbers 104, 117, 120 and 124) have returned to full revenue service.

Annual ridership[edit]

Numbers are from the Federal Transit Administration's National Transit Database[22] (1996-2012)

Year 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2013
Ridership 7,135,746 6,918,812 7,213,82 6,335,643 6,568,165 6,355,955 5,797,407 5,857,687 5,478,002 5,373,321 5,631,864 5,850,313 5,680,505 6,805,512 6,215,596 6,061,323 7,093,198

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/Ridership/2014-q1-ridership-APTA.pdf
  2. ^ "U.S. Light Rail Transit System Links". American Public Transportation Association. Retrieved 2008-09-24. [dead link]
  3. ^ a b c d "world.nycsubway.org: Buffalo, New York". Nycsubway.org. 2012-07-23. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Cover" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  5. ^ Karen Wilson (16 April 2009). "FTA NOISE MODELING WORKSHEETS AND DETAILED METHODOLOGY" (pdf). Retrieved 2014-06-11. 
  6. ^ Sebree, Mac (August 1985). "Interurbans Newsletter". Pacific RailNews. p. 38. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  7. ^ "Return of Vehicular Traffic to Main Street". Buffalo Place Inc. Retrieved 2015-02-03. 
  8. ^ Vehicular traffic is set to return to 600 block of Main Street in Buffalo, archived from the original on 2015-02-03, retrieved 2015-02-03 
  9. ^ "Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority". NFTA. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  10. ^ "Metro Rail to add earlier train run". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 2008-08-24. [dead link]
  11. ^ Metro Rail extension eyed to shuttle workers to Medical Campus, Buffalo News
  12. ^ Citizens for Regional Transit
  13. ^ Gifford, Gladys; Doug Funke (24 March 2011). "Let’s Do Cars on Main Street the Right Way!!" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-04-28. 
  14. ^ "Metro Amherst-Buffalo Corridor" (PDF). NFTA. Retrieved 14 June 2015. 
  15. ^ "BHRA: Rail Fleet". Brooklynrail.net. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  16. ^ bizjournals.com
  17. ^ "Refurbished Metro cars re-enter rail service - City & Region - The Buffalo News". web.archive.org. Retrieved 2014-04-14. 
  18. ^ "Rail car manufacturer offers to buy vacant Super Steel site". Dailygazette.com. 2009-06-26. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  19. ^ Penny Dessena (29 September 2008). "Gray Manufacturing Industries, LLC" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-06-11. 
  20. ^ Retrieved 18 July 2010
  21. ^ Retrieved 16 April 2012
  22. ^ ntdprogram.gov Accessed 10 DEC 2014

External links[edit]