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'Amtrak Joe' looks good for local Metro Rail expansion

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
Rendering of a proposed Metro Rail station at the Boulevard Mall.

President Joe Biden used to commute daily on Amtrak between his home in Wilmington, DE and Washington, DC when he was in the U.S. Senate. During those days, he was known as "Amtrak Joe." For members of the local Citizens for Regional Transit, that is an indication he might be willing to put up the federal dollars to turn the proposed Amherst extension of the Metro Rail into concrete and steel.

CRT dates back to the days when building the Metro Rail wasn’t quite underway and has long been pushing extensions, like the current extension into Amherst. That is now in engineering design, which is paid for.

"That’s going to take a year or two," said CRT President Doug Funke. "So we’ll be able to then propose to try to get the money from the federal government to actually build it."

That "big ask" will be a lot, at least $1 billion.

Credit Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
Metro Rail expansion study area map.

"We’re optimistic that that may happen," said Funke. "Now, of course, it’s complicated, with COVID-19 and having to dig ourselves out of that hole. But certainly what we’ve been hearing from the Biden Administration and his new DOT secretary, they are very pro-transit."

There actually is an extension under construction, but few have noticed it because there has been so little use of KeyBank Center and LECOM Harborcenter because of COVID. Few have noticed the construction out front, which will eventually carry rail cars around the corner to a new station built in the former DL&W train station.

"The NFTA owns it. They use it for staging and maintaining their trains already. But they are building it out to be an actual station," Funke said. "It’s going to be very nice. You’ll be able to come into that station and exit indoors and then get over to the Sabres games, to the arena. Eventually, there should be a walkway."

Funke sees that as a start to extensions to the southtowns and Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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