RAILFAN GUIDES of the U.S.



Todd's Railfan Guide to the
BUFFALO NY
NFTA LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM

In General
Maps
Pix From Around The System
Signals and Tech
Catenary, TVM's, etc
Media (articles)

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In General

This page covers the Light Rail system that runs in Buffalo, New York.  It is operated by NFTA, or the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.  Construction on the system began in 1978, and it opened in 1984.  This is a short line: 6.4 miles (10.6km) long line with only 15 stations, 5.2 miles (8.7km) of which (80%) is underground.  2.5km was done using the cut-and-cover method, and 6.2km was done with a boring machine.  The tunnel was responsible for much of the delay and cost overruns.

The line runs from the HSBC Arena in downtown, to the south campus of the University at Buffalo on the north end.  At the north end of the transit mall in the CBD (Central Business District), the line enters a tunnel, where it stays to the end of the line.  The CBD is a "fare free" zone, not requiring any money or tickets to ride.  If visiting Buffalo, it is well worth the time to visit and ride.  Trips normally take about 22 minutes from one end to the other.

Hours are 5:10am to 12:50am during the week, 7:05am to 12:50am on Saturdays, and 9:30am to 7pm on Sundays.  Trains are on roughly a 10 minute headway during the rush hour, and 20 minutes otherwise.  I believe a one way ticket is $1.75, and an all day pass is 4 bucks.

The Buffalo LRV's are the only single car LRV's besides SEPTA's Norristown cars.  There are 25 of them, numbered 101-127, and they were built by Tokyu of Japan.  They were delivered in 1983, but during the delivery process, car #125 was damaged, and sold to a local guy to be used as a restaurant (and supposedly sold again).  The cars are 66'-10" long (20.3m), 8'-6 1/2" wide (2.6m), and weigh 35.5 tons empty.  Capacity is 140, including 51 seated.  The cars are supposedly being refurbished and all of them should be back into service July 2010.  More on the refurb below.

The cars also have a feature coupled with VWC which is called automatic vehicle identification (AVI) which also transmits to the wayside the car number, the run number (aka block number) and the destination.  The train control system uses these to determine the schedule assigned to that particular run and tracks the consist's movement thru the system and determines if its running late or on time or early.  On the surface, the stations have loops which pick up the presence of a train so it can track train movements on the surface without the use of traditional track circuits. 

On the operations side of things.. They now run 3 car consists during the day, 2 at night.. 2 on weekends (Saturday and Sunday) and Sunday service has been extended from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm.. 

As far as cars back on main street.... They are only at 90% design of the first block (from Main and Chippewa to the portal and West Tupper) and they won't start construction until fall at the earliest.  As part of this, theatre station is being removed completely.  That means theatre goers who take the train to see a show will have to get off at fountain plaza, then walk down a block to the theatre.  This has upset many people in the community.  The theaters (particularly Shea's) wanted the station gone so people can pull limos up under the marquee and let out more affluent theatre patrons like the old glory days before that damn train ran in front of the theatre!  After they complete just this one block, they still haven't even started looking at the other blocks so it won't be anytime soon that cars will be back on the full length of the above ground section.

There are currently no viable plans for expansion, partly due to the economic downturn, but also the declining city population.  Many downtown business's advocate removing the light rail system from Main St and return it to it's former "glory" in hopes of attracting more business to the downtown area, but in a compromise, the city has been working on a project so that cars can park along Main Street along with the light rail operations - the project is supposed to be completed in 2011.  The Buffalo system is one of the few unsuccessful system in terms of bringing  new development along the corridor.  FYI, one subway website states that Buffalo's population in 1950 was around 600,000, and from another site, here are some population stats for the decline of Buffalo:
     1960     532,759     -8.2% change
     1970     462,768     -13.1% change
     1980     357,870     -22.7% change
     1990     328,123     -8.3% change
     2000     292,648     -10.8% change
     2006     257,758     -11.9% change (est)

NOTE: Unfortunately, NFTA decided, as of February 18th, 2013, to close the Theater station, giving in to pressure to allow cars to have better access to the theater.  Many believe that this is a step backwards and will only serve to alienate those customers who would frequent the theater area by Light Rail, especially the handicapped, who will now have to make their way about two blocks from the Fountain Plaza station.  The closing of the station had actually been in the works for some time.

Interesting note about #110 in the above photo.  Sometime around 2009, 110 was involved in an accident in the yard and was sent to the rebuilder to be repaired.  The train split a switch and wound up scraping alongside a pole, badly damaging the side.  The same rebuilder is also doing an overhaul of the fleet.

On rebuilding the fleet:

NFTA sent out two cars in 2009 to be upgraded and modified.  So far they have gotten back #114 and #123 at the beginning of 2011.  NAFTA is still running the cars in non-revenue service to iron out the problems, and the tests are expected to conclude in August, at which time, the rebuilders will get the go-ahead to do the next two cars.  The rebuilding effort includes:

a)  The rewinding and rebuilding of the motors, but the Westinghouse DC choppers will remain in place.  NAFTA had wanted to upgrade to AC propulsion, but can't afford it at this time... Both motors and controls would have to be replaced to move up to AC propulsion, along with re-wiring. 

b)  They have new HSCB's on the power end (which I'm guessin are the high-speed circuit breakers used to open the main 750VDC line coming into the car).

c)  They changed over the air compressors from the old piston type to a newer rotary type.

d)  An AC inverter was added. 

e)  The brake system remains the same with all Knorr equipment, but received a new drain and dryer system.

f)  New LED message signs were added which will display the next station, and it also gives an announcement over the PA system.  These are triggered by RFID tags on the ceiling of the tunnel and outside station covers (similar technology to the EZPass transponders we use on the highways for tolls).

g)  New "intercar" barriers were installed to prevent people from walking between cars while in the station.  These are also triggered by the RFID tags.

h)  New antennas were added to the B end roof to pick-up the RFID tags.

i)  They also changed the door controllers to get rid of the annoying beep-beep-beep  and changed it to a more smoothing ding-dong, ding-dong.


Maps

The upper map is a simplified map of the system and the environs, the lower map is a newer and more detailed version... take your pick!

The above map in PDF format here


Light Rail pix from around the system

    
At the Theater station.

           
Northbound train coming into the Theater station.

  
Couple of shots of the combined shops and carbarn.  This is common practice in snow country.

        
At the University station.

   Hi-res picture of above.

           
At the entrance to the yard and shops.

  OK, so I like busses and snuck a picture of one of them in here.

  Found on the internet, author unknown....

 


Signals and Tech

GRS was selected to supply all of Buffalo's signals, switch machines, DTS systems, etc. 

They use GRS type D and J relays in their vital systems.

Track circuits used for ATC, only used in the tunnels, uses a 100Hz carrier to transmit the cab signal speed commands to the LRV's.  On the surface, trains are operated by sight.

The majority of the signals are standard 3 aspect GRS heads, notable exceptions are at the tunnel portal and the type P's at the shops.  

The three aspect signals used at the surface crossovers at Scott St (a single), and Erie Canal (a double) are used as routing indicators.  Red is displayed when no route has been called for, or the switch is out of correspondence.  Green indicates a normal route (the train goes straight thru the crossover on the same track), and yellow indicates a reverse route (the train crosses over to the "other" track).  An interesting "quirk" provides for flashing indications if the OCC (Operations Control Center) calls for the routing, or the automatic control system calls for the routing.  The aspects displayed would be either a flashing green or yellow over red for this case.  The signal will flash until the operator pulls the train up to a "SWPB" box, and uses the carborne VWC (vehicle-to-wayside control) to throw the switch is clear.  At that time, the signal will stop flashing when the route is clear.  The signal will also go solid if the controller or train control system has called for the route, and the switch is already aligned.  Also, below the signal, is a key-by box, which allows a supervisor or operator to manually call, or select a route and throw a switch if there is a problem with the automatic system.

On the surface, the LRV's are given priority over vehicular traffic at intersections.  In the cab of the LRV, the VWC system has a ready to depart button, and the operator pushes this button when all the doors are closed and he is ready to move on.  Upon pressing this button, a command is sent to the traffic light controllers, and once the intersection has been set up for a train move, a signal at the end of the platform lights up informing the operator it is OK to proceed.

 

When a train transitions in and out of signaled territory, the train operator has to either set the carborne ATP package to the surface mode, or remove the surface mode and enter the cab signal mode.  This is where the PB switch comes in.  It reminds the operator to press the appropriate button in the cab.  When the operator is going into the portal, they have to push the "enter cab signal" button at the PB sign. This dumps the surface mode on the car, telling the carborne package to look for the coded track circuit and gather speed commands. It also tells the railcar to no longer deploy steps when opening doors. On the other side of the transition; on the way from Allen station to the portal, the PB sign is in the tunnel at the last track circuit on the way out which has a special code rate telling the car that its now ok for the car to go into surface mode. To acknowledge this, the operator must press the surface mode button to complete the transition.

In the subsurface, signal heads are only found at interlockings. They have a lunar aspect showing that the route is clear for normal or flashing lunar for reverse, red of course for stop, and a green aspect at top which is used for absolute block signaling. This is displayed above the lunar when all circuits between the interlocking the aspect is displayed at and the next interlocking is clear. These are primarily used for high-rail vehicles since they do not pick up cab signals, or for trains if there is a failure in the normal cab signaling system.

I would like to thank an anonymous contributor for ALL OF the technical and fleet updating information presented here, and for the "inside" photos he sent me, THANKS!  Picture captions in green are from him.

  This is looking down to the Allen crossover against traffic (red aspect).

  Signal head at the pocket track in the Humboldt interlocking.

    A signal head in the Humboldt interlocking.  One with, and one without a flashlight lighting up the signal.

        
Northbound color light signal on the southbound track, at the tunnel entrance.

           

     
2 aspect color light signals guard the portal into the tunnel. NB side on the top (5 pix), SB below (3 pix).  These signals give the operator two pieces of information.  One is that the gate at the bottom of the grade is open (I guess it is closed during non-revenue hours).  The other info it tells the operator is that the track ahead to Allen is clear.  As soon as the train passes this signal, it goes to red, when it gets to Allen, it returns to yellow.  It will also display a red if the gate is closed.  There are GRS 7J controllers attached to the gate to determine if the gate is indeed open.

           
Switch position indicator signals.  They are GRS type P signals, and are the same signals used a few miles away in the old NYC (now CSX) yard.

        
They decided to use a standard traffic signal, with green on the bottom (in contrast to the remainder of the signals on the system), for train control out on the streets.

              
The alternating center warning light for pedestrians, and additional views of the tunnel entrance.
 


Pictures of switches, catenary, signs, and other stuff


Catenary

                 

  Impedance bonds used for our track circuits.
Impedance bonds allow DC traction power to pass between adjoining signal blocks, while they block the AC track circuits from going thru.

  A sectionalizing insulator in the traction power system. 
(some systems call them IJ's, for insulated joints (like Baltimore)).

  Picture of the rock tunnel.

   Our GRS 5E switch machine subsurface.
 

  University interlocking.


Station Message Boards

                 

The one on the left empowers regular citizens to act as the eyes and ears of the law, it's no wonder we get ragged on all the time for taking pictures.


Station Shots

     
A couple of the Theater station, and the escalator at University.


            Shots down mainstreet.

         TVM's and an equipment locker.

 


Media

The Buffalo system doesn't seem to get a lot of press.  I haven't been following the story behind wanting to tear down the Skyway, but why would you want to?
And, in case you're wondering, no, you can't view all of the map at once as I have depicted here, it was pieced together.
If this extension does come to pass, please someone, make sure the mile marker(s) are given to a museum somewhere!
Here is one article from a recent posting:


 


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NEW 9/01/2006 
Last Updated: 15 Jul 2016