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Extending Metro Rail to DL&W terminal is a logical step for a reviving downtown

Given all the activity taking place along the waterfront, it is not a farfetched notion that something should finally be done to utilize the DL&W train shed at the foot of Main Street.

And now that possible plans have been sketched out, the next step is for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to decide on the best way to extend Metro Rail to the DL&W terminal.

It will take plenty of federal and state dollars to reach the full potential of a redeveloped Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Terminal. However, extending Metro Rail service to the facility is more than just a pipe dream.

News staff reporter Robert J. McCarthy recently outlined the interesting possibilities under consideration. The result could remake the facility into a transportation and retail hub, while creating new access to the hockey arena and allowing for the possibility of serving a new downtown stadium at some point in the future. Imagine riding the Metro to catch a Bills game.

The possibilities seem limited only by the available money. The public and NFTA Board of Commissioners will consider sometime next month two ideas for extending rail service to the old terminal and First Niagara Center:

• Alternative A calls for a station along the South Park Avenue side of the DL&W, costing about $32 million.

• Alternative B would put the station on the opposite side of the terminal along the Buffalo River, costing around $42 million.

Both alternatives would include at least one glass-enclosed tower along South Park, with the possibility of another one at Illinois Street, to serve as grand entrances to the station and the arena. And both proposals allow for the possibility of redeveloping the unused second floor of the terminal for shops and restaurants.

Both alternatives have their pluses and minuses. Alternative B would expand access to the waterfront, which is becoming ever more important to the city’s future, and allow for some retail space. But the higher price tag would make a heavy lift even more difficult. While much cheaper, Alternative A would narrow South Park Avenue, not an ideal situation.

Thomas R. George, the NFTA’s director of public transit, said the agency is optimistic that the project will provide “transportation advantages” and “potential economic spinoffs.”

Making it all happen will involve costs far beyond the NFTA’s ability to pay. Once again a downtown project will rely on the leadership of our federal officials and others. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who has been so instrumental in waterfront development, has expressed interest in the proposal. His support and that of New York’s senior senator, Charles E. Schumer, will be essential.

Once pointless, extending the end of the Metro Rail line is now a natural progression as the downtown and waterfront continue to blossom. Reinvigorating a century-old railroad terminal will serve the growing needs of 21st century residents and visitors.