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Think Twice: Buffalo Metro Rail

The NFTA Buffalo Metro Rail opened in 1986 as a single light-rail line, covering just 6.4 miles in length along the Main Street corridor. The line is considered both a subway system and light-rail, traveling both above ground and below, consisting of 15 stations. One primary objective was to rejuvenate Buffalo’s Main Street by creating a pedestrian mall, with an eye towards bringing business and retail back to the once bustling downtown street. Unfortunately, the opposite happened and the construction of the line may have sped the decline of downtown retail. Today, many people have dubbed the metro rail as, “The Train to Nowhere.” However, there are some statistics that many have failed to recognize. It is hardly a “Train to Nowhere.”

Downtown Buffalo, NY Main Street by you.

The metro rail would without doubt be much more useful if it went to UB’s Amherst campus, the airport, the South Towns and possibly up to Niagara Falls. Though, as it stands now, the system is used by 26,000 people a day and connects a significant portion of the main arteries in the city.

The Buffalo Metro Rail system connects the University at Buffalo’s south campus to the city center. It connects students with the city, and encourages travel downtown. The current line covers four city colleges: UB South, Medaille College, Canisius College, Erie Community College, and by 2020, possibly UB North and the new third UB downtown campus. The system also connects many of the city’s main hospitals including Buffalo General Hospital, Sisters Hospital, and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Along with the connection of area hospitals and colleges, the light rail meets the Theatre District, Chip Strip, Convention Center, City Hall, downtown courts, Coca Cola Field, HSBC Arena, the downtown waterfront, roughly 60,000 jobs downtown, and many festivals and events such as Thursday in the Square. JSmith from SkscraperCity writes: Not too bad for a “Train to Nowhere.”

The Buffalo Metro Rail System is listed under the “List of United States Light Rail Systems by ridership” Note that we are #17 out of 32+ light rail systems in the country with the most daily ridership, beating out cities like Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Cleveland, Memphis, Seattle, Newark, Tampa and a whole list of others. Also of note: Buffalo has the third most ridership per mile than any other US city. It’s right up there with Houston and Boston.

So, before you say the Buffalo Metro Rail is a so called, “Train to Nowhere,” consider the fact that our system is one of the most successful in the country, and is growing ridership everyday. Of course, ridership means little when there are so many other places the line should be run, like the airport, suburbs, Central Terminal and UB North. Yet, with the above places mentioned, and growing ridership becoming more and more prevalent, I encourage you to think twice about our subway system. Consider the Buffalo Metro Rail as a fun way to get to your destination. Take some visitors on it with you when you catch a ballgame, hockey game, Broadway theatre show at Sheas, or a downtown event. It is a tourist attraction in itself. Note that our subway stations are rated as some of the cleanest, well-kept stations in the country, all with a different theme. So why not park-and-ride, or catch a train downtown? It’s quick, easy, and efficient. And, maybe someday soon we will see the metro rail extended. In my eyes, the system is taken for granted by so many area citizens that think differently about it. I feel the need to reverse that way of thinking for more to enjoy this great work of transit implemented by the NFTA. Think twice!

Check out this neat website taking you insde the metro rail tunnels and beyond.

For more information on the metro rail, visit the NFTA website.

Buffalo City Hall with metro subway by you.

Photos above: Nathan Mroz (Buffalonian4life) of


Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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  • QueenCity

    The Light Rail does need to be extended and I believe that the Airport has the priority as the highest increase in ridership and the most likely to be self financing.
    There are some things to note:
    1) There are people that will ride Light Rail because the stations are safe, secure and temperature controlled unlike bus stops.
    2) There needs to be more places to park in order to take advantage of the light rail.
    3) As the Erie Canal Wharf develops, the DL&W will be more valuable as developable space…and the only other location for the NFTA maintenance sheds is the Central Terminal.
    4) The growth along the Airport Corridor is significant: Transit, Airport, Galleria, Central Terminal, Larkin, ECC downtown…all major economic changes.
    5) Liklihood of the Central Terminal being reactivated for High Speed Passenger Rail
    6) Ruling against High Speed Rail to Niagara Falls which all but forces Light Rail to be the connection to Niagara Falls.
    7) Expansion of ECC Downtown Campus means that the Bus Station is soon to be unwelcome…no better place than the Central Terminal.
    8) Growth at Buffalo State, D’Youville and HealthNow all support future reactivation of the Belt Line for Light Rail.
    9) UB 2020 does include plans for additional Centers for Excellence…and those centers for excellence will be located off campus…but one thing is for sure…they will need to be light rail accessible.
    I can easily see a Center for Excellence on the Westside / Black Rock area near the Belt Line brownfields.
    I can easily see a Center for Excellence around the Central Terminal and Broadway/Fillmore Area or Larkin District area.
    I can easily see a Center for Excellence and/or Conference/Convention Center in the First Ward off a South Park extension.
    I can easily see a Center for Excellence in Niagara Falls.
    You want to dream…imagine a light rail extension from Transit Road to Darien Lake.
    10) The new Federal Courthouse should boost redevelopment of the Statler..which in turn will push the relocation of the Convention Center…but one this is for sure…the new location will need to be light rail accessible.
    Just because Buffalo has been to stupid to look under the goose for golden eggs…doesnt mean we dont have a golden goose.

  • DGBuffalo

    There’s a lot of great information in this article, and some ideas I know have been floating around but, because of the often skewed view of the Rail, people have failed to act.
    Personally, I think that when comparing cities for either travel or relocation, a city generally sounds more attractive and accessible if it has any type of subway or light rail system, opposed to only buses.

  • QueenCity

    People just will not use buses…I dont know why…but people will ride a train…that would never consider riding a bus.

  • DevilEyes666

    Expansion sounds great… as it has for 2 decades now. It’s all just talk until a politician takes the reigns and runs with it.
    Hint hint… someone stand up and be the hero.

  • Buffalonian4life

    My thoughts exactly. A subway system or light rail adds a lot to a city, not only in transportation use, but the attractiveness of it that draws people’s interest.

  • Buffalonian4life

    I love your insight, QueenCity, you bring up some very good points and interest. I agree with nearly everything you said, and support any new ideas like this. Keep it up QC!

  • Lorem Ipsum

    I love Metro Rail and ride it whenever I have Main St. errands. I wish I could take it to Niagara Falls and the airport. I would patiently endure a tax increase if I knew that 100% of it was going to Metro Rail expansion.
    The only thing I do not love is smokers in the underground stations. Doesn’t matter that signs everywhere forbid it, they light up anyway and get nasty if you say anything. This is an especially serious issue at the hospital stops, where sick people with no other means of transportation have no other air to breathe.

  • Joe

    I think the rail should stay and I believe most agree. It would be a waste to get rid of it altogether and it should be expanded. Most, including myself, feel that Main should be reconstructed so that the two could coexist like they do in many cities.

  • Kimon

    Calling our rail system “one of the most successful in the country” is a massive overstatement.
    Ditto everything Queen said.

  • wnywatercooler

    $5 a gallon gas would speed things up

  • sbrof

    Our light rail line, bringing 26k people into downtown each day is probably the only reason that Main Street has been so good looking compared to the rest of downtown for the past 30 years.
    Remember chippewa, delaware, Ellicott and all these other streets 10-15 years ago. Main Street for my whole life has been a stalwart of stability in the CBD. Sure it has had its problems with buildings here or there but by in large has been the most populated and alive place in my memory.
    As per expansion.. it is covered heavily here and UB north is a must.,-78.896942&spn=0.380614,0.699005&t=h&z=11
    Related link:

  • sbrof

    Also if UB is going to grow. It needs LR to handle the amount of students and traffic. The roads and buses are maxed.. adding anything to them will only cripple them more. UB needs LR to expand.. and NFTA needs UB to stop playing transportation agency and do what the rest of the world does… Us their regional transit systems for student needs.
    Why UB runs its own parallel transit system with 30+ buses, some of which ride right on top of the LR, boggles the mind. Completely absurd.

  • northbuff

    I would prefer an extension to our light rail over high speed rail any day (like high speed to Buffalo has a snowballs chance of happening).
    FYI – back in Aug.2008 had some friends visit from Hamburg, Germany. They were very impressed with our clean and graffiti free stations and cars.

  • sbrof

    my NYC friends always like to take our train because it is kept is such good shape. Sometimes you need to take a step away from home to see that the grass isn’t always greener.
    Sure its 6.4 miles but is does do a lot for those 6.4 miles.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    Just incredible that UB North and South are still not connected.

  • Greg

    We need an underground rail system and we also need a street car system. The underground rail system can make less frequent stops while, the street car system can make more frequent stops . I think public transportation is the way to go if you want rejuvenate the city. The current rail system hurts the city’s center.

  • Buffalonian4life

    Really great link, Paul. It puts the potential for the extension into better perspective.

  • impressingagent

    i really don’t get this whole airport thing. why not connect it with the maid of the mist?
    so has everyone noticed how different the city looks from 5 years ago? with the way things are just imagine how out of the world issa’s tower would be. i was driving past and man does that side of the city starting to look like it is inhabited.
    I was also thinking how neat the casino will look from coke a cola field.
    now all i can do is hope that this inner harbor project has more heterogenenity then the apeasement of its sponcership.(a bunch of lead weighted ideas)
    so what is happening with pitt’s std pallasaide. Because no doubt the other project would really take the gloves off. people would start to see buffalo as a city and now just a place where buildings ended up.

  • Pegger

    This all makes me pine for the days when public transportation really served the city and first ring suburbs. Every major thoroughfare emanating from downtown that we know as the spokes on maps had routine lines. North and south as well. In the northern areas, lines traveled Elmwood, Delaware, Miltary, Colvin, Niagara Falls Blvd., Englewood, Niagara, Tonawanda, Hertel, Skillen, Sheridan, Main, Bailey, Kenmore, Amherst, etc. Residents were seldom far from a convenient line or connections. The obsolete trolley tracks were still in some of these streets well into the late 60’s.

  • sonyactivision

    I remember some of the early renderings of this project which pictured incredible vitality along Main with the rail line clearly at its heart. It’s hard to blame the line for the death of retail on Main St. given that in almost every major american city at that time, downtown department stores were closing and taking with them all of the ancillary trade. But the line has to be expanded and reach more communities to drive the renewed interest in Downtown and in mass transit. UB North, The Tonawandas and Niagara Falls, the airport, South Towns, Lancaster, etc. should all be connected, not only to bring those residents back into the city, but to enable city residents to find work in the far-flung suburbs, an issue that has had a painful history in Buffalo.
    Oh, and great photos, BTW!

  • elias

    it is unfortunate that our leaders back in the mid ’50s did not have the vision to build a rapid transit system connecting the airport to downtown, preserving the humboldt parkway greenspace, instead opting for the construction of the kensington, and the rest is history…i know, revisionist history, blah blah blah…just the first in a series of unfortunate events…anyhow, expansion would be great, first we must grow our private sector and reverse the shrinking population trend. it would be great to have a train airport to downtown via genesee street, then continuing on through niagara street to niagara falls, also extend the existing train route via south park to the basillica and beyond, since we’re dreaming, how about a train route along elmwood through seneca essentially tying in most neighborhoods to the downtown business district…ok, i’ll now move on…enough dreaming for one day…

  • Crisa

    About distaste for taking the bus inside and outside of Buffalo:
    Other cities and countries have had trains running within city limits for decades, but, within Buffalo in the 1960s and 70s, when suburban sprawl was rapidly emptying out this City itself. And with very few exceptions, buses and ONLY buses ran ONLY within the city limits, it was a status symbol thingy to live in the suburbs AND own a car or two. Therefore, buses became ingrained in Buffalonians’ thoughts as the transporation of the poor.
    Poor decisions in those bygone days by both the sprawling populace and such guys as the bus brasses to keep the poor out of the burbs caused bus transportation to lag away too far behind.
    Nowadays, because no one living and basically staying put in WNY a long time has developed ANY mindset about trains, taking a train is a new thought–an adventure!
    Besides all that, trains are about to become the speed and cost-wise choice everywhere anyway, while buses will stay pretty much local…

  • DMZ

    Got to admit, I’m one of those people who will ride the rail but not the bus.

  • The Kettle

    Love the night photo with City Hall in the background. Great shot B4L.

  • biniszkiewicz

    buses are slow as molasses. Waiting is a huge pain and they stop everywhere. It’s easy to hate buses. The train is quick. That’s what makes it so nice. I hate the train downtown. There it’s just as slow as a bus. But getting to and from downtown? great!

  • Buffalonian4life

    Thanks~ it was taken back in November around 7pm. The city is unbelievably elegant at nearly every corner in the night. Buffalo is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, especially come twilight and beyond!

  • Crisa

    PEGGER: The very same trolley tracks seen in old pictures of the original outdoor Broadway market are still on Broadway under about a foot of asphalt!
    Those tracks were visible when Broadway was re-re-surfaced about 15 years ago. In seeing them again, I swear I could smell the sparks!
    GREG: By street car, do you mean the trolleys that ran on those buried tracks? Are street cars and trolleys the same thing?

  • Crisa

    Yes. Great pictures…

  • QueenCity

    Anyone read about the announced 60, 50 and 40 story towers to be added to the Niagara Falls Ontario skyline.
    Now, it seems to me that a light rail connection to Niagara Falls, NY is a good investment.
    One has to wonder, how long it will be before, investment in Niagara Falls, Ontarior spills into Niagara Falls, NY and Buffalo, NY. I wouldnt say its as far off as people think since there are quite a few visitors to Niagara Falls Ontario that arrive via Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

  • Greg

    Yes absolutely I’m refering to the old lines, except I think we can lay new lines today. I think Higher speed rail can run North and South underground entirely. This would connect the train station at exchange street all the way up to North Campus (and beyond to Niagara Falls… overly optimistic I know).
    The street car system can run East to West, connecting the Airport to the underground rail system that would bring everyone to where they want to go, whether it’s HSBC arena, the finiancial district, government offices, colleges, or residences.
    The street car system can connect the waterfront to the city center. The harbor can be connected by the street car system.
    We might only need two connected loops for a street car system. One of which targets the waterfront and South Buffalo to the city center. The other, connecting North Buffalo, the city center, and the airport.
    Public transportation can do well in Buffalo but things need to change. cough Skyway and 190 cough cough.

  • Crisa

    Thanks for answering, but, now I have a new question. What do you consider the city center?
    And, we (my husband and I) are amazed how many people have a strong belief that the skyway should come down–especially people driving on it in a cold, icy, high winter wind.

  • Greg

    Well I think the intention of the early city design was to have the city center be Niagara Square. Unfortunately due to design flaws over time, we are left with a city without a heart. UB2020 uses this line when they refer to their campuses missing a place to call the heart.
    The best bet is to claim an area the heart of Buffalo and make sure that all future work keeps the heart in mind. I personally think that Niagara Square can’t be the heart of the city anymore and that Lafayette Square should be now. Lafayette Square holds events and is in close proximity to the Main Place Mall and the Convention Center. Now I wouldn’t say the Convention center and mall are in great condition. The architecture of both buildings is hideous. They provide no architectural beauty that our glory days left. They need to get redone (cough demolished cough cough).
    If Main Street had an underground rail it would be the main artery to major destination in and out of the city. The street car system would aim to provide convenient public transportation East to West. One Loop could be Up Genesee Street and return Broadway to the City Center. Another loop in North Buffalo should should involve Kenmore Ave and Hertel… Those are just some ideas after looking at Google Maps. The point is to overlap the loops with Main Street, the artery of the city. So above ground you have a part of a Street car system running east and west, and a subway system running north south. The loops can be 2 to 3 blocks wide (which are smaller than NYC blocks).
    The question is financing and we all know someone along the line will half-ass it.

  • Crisa

    Thanks for answering. You’re pinpointing an exacting center as the very heart of downtown Buffalo to present day!!! Neat!

  • irishmedic716

    Buffalo needs to reinvent it’s once maginificent public transit system. Buffalo has done way too many stupid things in it’s past and now needs to become a city known for being “proactive”.
    In 1950, the International Railway Corporation, IRC, discontinued all streetcar service in the Buffalo Niagara region. Buffalo at the time had one of the most innovative transit systems in the world.
    Streetcar routes followed major throughfares such as Delaware, Elmwood, Broadway, Clinton, Fillmore, South Park, Hertel, etc. The IRC even had lines go all the way east to Lancaster, south to hamburg,north to Niagara Falls, even to the point where we had connecting routes to Toronto. Could you imagine today working with a cross border relationship with GO Transit to have unimpeeded rail service between Buffalo and Toronto.
    Reinventing the steetcars would be a great boost to the local economy. It’s not as though we need to build trackbeds, many are still in place.
    I have always wondered this for example. How was the Buffalo Niagara Region able to have high speed rail from Buffalo to Niagara Falls and then in turn streetcar lines in the Falls as well as the Great Gorge Route. By the way that was the turn of the century…19th to 20th. Why have we digressed?
    Our corrupt politicians along with the NFTA who enjoys there stranglehold on this area would say it couldn’t be done, cars and trains can’t share roadways, years of studying, and all that other BS. All I have to say is it works in Toronto.

  • jonniii

    Extending to North campus, Transit, Depew AMTRAK station, Galleria Mall, Airport is definitely a great idea.