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No Skyway? No problem. Just extend light rail to the Southtowns, Hamburg mayor says

If the Skyway gets torn down, how would you get to the Southtowns?

The mayor of Hamburg has the answer: light rail.

There already is a railroad, Buffalo Southern, running from Buffalo to Gowanda.

“We want to see if we can’t get a train going out to Hamburg and connect to Buffalo,” Mayor Thomas J. Moses said.

He wrote a letter to Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who is a strong proponent of demolishing the Skyway over Buffalo. Higgins has called on the state Department of Transportation to formally assess alternative transportation routes to the Skyway.

Moses calls that laudable in his letter to the congressman, but he goes further.

“We are asking that you consider expanding the request to include alternative modes of transportation, particularly light rail, to Hamburg and the southtowns,” he wrote.

Higgins has long been an advocate for increased investment in infrastructure, and earlier this week he was on the floor of the House of Representatives calling on the federal government to work with greater urgency to make critical investments, particularly in light of historically low interest rates.

“Earlier this year the Congressman strongly urged support for the NFTA plan to expand Metro Rail service to the DL&W Terminal, a move that would open a new door to future light rail expansion south or east of the City of Buffalo,” said Theresa Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the congressman. “If local authorities identify the requisite matching funds and decide to pursue an expansion of commuter rail in Western New York, Congressman Higgins would support their efforts.”

Moses said train service between Buffalo and the Village of Hamburg dates back to 1874, and continued until 1952.


Mile marker near Pleasant Avenue in Hamburg.

“We think the time is right, nearly 150 years after the onset of that service, to consider bringing it back,” he wrote.

A light rail line from the Southtowns to Buffalo could eliminate the need for the Skyway, and transform Route 5 from the four-to six-lane commuter roadway it is today into an “attractive lakefront boulevard,” the mayor wrote. It also could provide Buffalo residents with access to the agri-businesses in Eden and other points south of Hamburg, while giving Southtown residents “access to the employment centers, educational, cultural and recreational assets of the city.”

The Southtowns line would reduce the region's carbon footprint at the same time, Moses added.The 32-mile right of way from Buffalo to Gowanda is owned by Erie County, while Buffalo Southern operates on a lease with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

There is an issue of how and where to cross the Buffalo River to link up with Metro Rail.

“It could be worked out,” Moses said.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is studying how to upgrade public transit into Amherst, whether by bus or Metro Rail. The study is looking at two possible routes for rail, as well as investigating possible bus upgrades.


Looking south along the railroad at Scott and Union streets in Hamburg.

An extension of rail into the Southtowns makes sense to Doug Funke, president of Citizens for Regional Transit, which has been promoting light rail since 1965.

“The original plan was for a 46-mile network of light rail,” he said.

He said he believes there is a recognition by leaders that successful cities in the 21st Century will have successful mass transit systems.

“We need to be on board with extending light rail,” Funke said.



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