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Buffalo rail historians gain a necessity — tracks and freight cars

Some day in the not too distant future, the Western New York Railway Historical Society envisions its refurbished passenger cars disgorging hundreds of tourists at a burgeoning museum on Lee Street near Solar City.

But first it needed some basics — like railroad tracks.

The museum volunteers got what they needed Friday, a new partial siding along with the first four of the 51 cars and locomotives they plan to display on the former Buffalo Color Co. property. As cranes lifted freight cars with pedigrees from railroad relics like Erie-Lackawanna, Delaware & Hudson, and Norfolk & Western, museum officials said they are finally seeing their vision taking shape.

“This is truly amazing,” museum trustee Don Owens exclaimed after the two-hour maneuver. “We have cars on our tracks.”

The effort Friday ranks as a small beginning to the rail historians’ vision. After losing their long time storage tracks at the Hamburg Fair Grounds earlier this year, they were forced to speed up plans to relocate the rolling stock collection to their site along the Buffalo River – home to the WNY Heritage Discovery Center museum.

That meant shipping the four vintage cars and their disassembled trucks via flatbed from Hamburg to Lee Street and reassembling them on the new siding. Included in the collection is a 1946 former N&W caboose, expected to prove a hit with youngsters who have never seen one tailing a long freight train.

The Western New York Railway Historical Society put two old rail cars , a tanker and caboose onto the tracks at the Western New York Heritage Discovery Center, 100 Lee St., in Buffalo, N.Y., on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Plans call for moving all of the equipment, including a 1926 Baldwin I-1 steam locomotive stored in Hamburg, an Alco FA-2 diesel that formerly worked the Long Island Railroad now stored at Bethlehem Steel, and its working HH660 diesel switcher built by the American Locomotive Co. (Alco) at its Auburn and Schenectady plants.

Owens, a long time soil scientist and consultant, is a major benefactor to the rail buff group, which named the museum building after him. CSX Transportation and the Buffalo Geological Society also contributed to the cost of laying new track and hauling the cars.

“Right now, it’s not an area accessible to the public,” Owens said of the site next to the CSX mainline, “but we want to get the public here so it can appreciate what we have.”

If the society can refurbish its passenger fleet to Amtrak standards, he envisions weekend excursions from places like Toronto or Philadelphia discharging passengers on Friday and returning on Sunday.

“And spending their money in Western New York,” he said.

Ed Patton, the museum’s development director, said the rail society has been working with the City of Jamestown to study how passenger excursions might travel between the refurbished Erie-Lackawanna station there and downtown Buffalo. While the society has noted the success of excursions out of the Medina Railroad Museum in Orleans County, it is encouraged by the possibility of running with its own upgraded equipment.

“We think this is a much bigger market here,” Patton said.

In the meantime, the society building houses its collections along with those of the Steel Plant Museum and the Buffalo Irish Genealogical Society. The rail society also has restored and maintains the former depots in Williamsville and Orchard Park.

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