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Metro Rail commuters face another season of delays as a new project to replace overhead catenary wires in the subway begins Tuesday.

And while the replacement work will extend through March 16, additional single-track service will be required beginning again March 30 and extending through most of the summer as work resumes to restore traffic to Main Street, according to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

“We wish we could do it without having to do single track,” said NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer, “but there is no other physical way to do it.”

Delays of between six to 15 minutes can be expected during the upcoming project, Hartmayer said, resulting in headways – the time between trains – ranging between 18 and 27 minutes during rush hour (as opposed to the normal 12-minute headways).

Similar delays caused significant decreases in ridership last summer during the same Main Street project. An average of between 4,000 and 5,000 passengers per day shunned the system last summer after the Main Street project began – reducing ridership almost 25 percent.

Hartmayer said the authority will take extra steps to direct passengers to proper areas in the subway when single tracking will require use of one platform in some stations for both inbound and outbound trains.

The upcoming $567,000 project, awarded to Ferguson Electric Co., will involve replacing the 30-year-old catenary between the Allen-Medical Campus and Humboldt-Hospital stations.

Metro employees are already distributing fliers at stations along the line announcing the work, rider alerts and electronic signs in stations will keep commuters informed, and operators will also issue frequent announcements.

After the brief March hiatus, Hartmayer said single tracking and subsequent delays will resume on March 30 when spring work to restore traffic resumes on the 600 block of Main Street (near Shea’s Performing Arts Center) and later extends southward into the 500 block.

“It’s something that’s part of the process to return vehicles to Main Street,” he said. ”We have no alternative but to impose single tracking and ask for the customers’ indulgence.”

The subway work and subsequent delays occur at an inopportune time for the NFTA, as the surge in new jobs at the downtown Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus offers a chance for the subway to ferry many more commuters back and forth to work each day.

With new housing construction planned near subway stations for Medical Campus workers using Metro Rail and with parking limited on the campus, the system is predicted to assume a vital transportation role in the city’s future. In fact, ridership was rising before the Main Street project began.

Last year, passengers complained about the 20-minute headways between trains, with ridership declines reflecting the fact that many commuters found alternative ways to work – at least during the construction season.

Hartmayer said the NFTA is hoping to ride out the inconveniences caused by the current projects in anticipation of their completion and a rebounding ridership when new facilities, such as the University at Buffalo Medical School built atop the Allen-Medical Campus station, are completed in coming years.

“It’s better this takes place now as opposed to later,” he said. “In the meantime we’re working very, very hard to minimize delays.”

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com