UPDATE (09.07.2022): Post substantially revised to reflect
v1.0.0 v0.8.0 of the enhanced NYC subway on 09.05.2022. This update adds commentary on the transfer passage between 51st Street and Lexington Avenue – 53rd Street stations.
In my last post, I discussed the South Brooklyn redesign. So far, the redesigns contemplated by NYTIP only involve operational changes. In this post, we’ll explore the Broadway (N, Q, R, and W) and Queens Boulevard (E, F, M, and R) trunk lines. While redesigning the former is trivial, the latter is much more challenging.
Note: Click any image to enlarge.
The Broadway trunk line in Manhattan runs from 57th Street and 7th Avenue to Canal Street in Manhattan. The N and Q trains run express and cross the Manhattan Bridge, while the R and W trains run local via Lower Manhattan. Conflicts occur north of 34th Street – Herald Square station when the N joins the R and W on the local tracks; the three services run together until reaching Queens, where the N and W serve Astoria and the R serves Queens Boulevard. Meanwhile, the Q serves the Second Avenue Subway (SAS) via 63rd Street.
[Fig. 1] Snippet of vanshnookenraggen’s track map showing Broadway line conflicts.
This pattern causes delays and restricts N, R, and W service since they share tracks from the 60th Street tunnel to Times Square. However, this conflict is trivially addressed:
Reroute N trains via the SAS.
[Fig. 2] Overview of the N train reroute, via Brand New Subway.
Rather than switching to the local tracks north of 34th Street, the N would run with the Q to 96th Street and 2nd Avenue. This leaves only the R and W trains on the 60th Street corridor. To make up for the loss of the N through the 60th Street tunnel and Astoria, the service plan for v0.8.0 of the enhanced NYC subway would increase W service to 14 trains per hour (TPH) during peak hours; of these, 10 TPH continue to Brooklyn per the South Brooklyn redesign and 4 TPH turn at Canal Street. The R would run 10 TPH all day, ensuring combined service at least every 3 minutes all day through the 60th Street tunnel.
In a previous version of this post, I presented the “Canal Street Flip” as an alternative option:
[Figs. 3, 4] Overview of the Canal Street Flip.
First conceived decades ago in the MESA study, which incidentally addresses the SAS, the Canal Street Flip is a capital investment that would send Broadway express trains via Lower Manhattan and Broadway local trains over the Manhattan Bridge. In this scenario, the N and R would run local and the Q would run express in Manhattan; this would establish the Q as an alternative to the Lexington Avenue (4/5/6) lines. However, in Brooklyn, the N and R would run express and the Q would run local due to track configurations.
While there is still a fair concentration of jobs and attractions in Lower Manhattan, Midtown has superseded Lower Manhattan as the top jobs destination within NYC. Therefore, the Canal Street Flip is no longer under consideration for NYTIP.
II. Queens Boulevard
[Fig. 5] Snippet of the NYC Subway map showing the Queens Boulevard trunk line and branches.
The Queens Boulevard (QB) trunk line serves three distinct Manhattan trunk lines and connects to many other lines, making it one of the busiest corridors outside of Manhattan. It serves 8th Avenue (E train), 6th Avenue (F and M trains), and Broadway (R train). E and F trains run express in Queens, with E trains entering Manhattan via 53rd Street and F trains entering Manhattan via 63rd Street. M and R trains run local, with M trains entering Manhattan via 53rd Street and R trains entering Manhattan via 60th Street. This pattern poses several conflicts:
- The E express and M local merge near Queens Plaza.
- The F express diverges west of 36th Street station to serve the 63rd Street line; this switch induces delays on the QB express.
- Forest Hills – 71st Avenue, due to its nature as a relay terminal for the M and R trains, induces delays on the QB local.
[Fig. 6] Illustration of existing conflicts on the QB and Astoria lines.
Unfortunately, addressing these conflicts is not trivial. In 2018, vanshnookenraggen explored some of these difficulties at length; he proposed sending the R to Astoria and rerouting the N via 63rd Street to Forest Hills to replace the R. While it’s not a bad plan, I think service increases on the Broadway-SAS line – especially for SAS Phase 2 – could relieve overcrowded Bronx subways, so I’m not considering this plan.
In a previous version of this post, I considered sending the R to Astoria – Ditmars Boulevard station and building a new storage yard to the north:
[Fig. 7] Potential yard location within the Con Edison property with a provision for a future LaGuardia Airport extension.
This would’ve served as a “down payment” for the oft-discussed Astoria line extension to LaGuardia Airport. Longtime readers know I am a strong proponent of that extension. However, since the W would have direct access to Coney Island yard in v0.8.0 of the enhanced NYC subway, the Astoria yard could be deferred to a future phase of NYTIP.
So how can we address the many issues plaguing QB? Let us consider several options.
Partial De-Interlining Options
Option 1a: Partial de-interlining with G extension
[Fig. 8] Overview of Option 1a.
[Fig. 9] Option 1a track map showing eliminated conflicts.
Under Option 1a, the G runs with full-length (600-foot) trains instead of 300-foot trains and extends to Forest Hills to replace the R; the R would serve Astoria under this option, replacing the W. The F and M switch alignments west of 36th Street station, with the F running via 53rd Street and the M running via 63rd Street; this swap removes conflicts with the E. As an optional enhancement, the G and/or M can extend to Jamaica – 179th Street, allowing the F to run express east of Forest Hills. This option requires additional railcars to allow longer G trains.
Option 1b: Partial de-interlining with R extension to Jamaica – 179th Street
[Figs. 10, 11] Overview of Option 1b.
Option 1b, like Option 1a, sends the F via 53rd Street and the M via 63rd Street to remove conflicts with the E. Rather than extending the G train, Option 1b would extend the R train to Jamaica – 179th Street instead. The purpose of the R extension is relieving congestion at Forest Hills – 71st Avenue station; under Option 1b, only M trains turn at Forest Hills, mitigating “bunching/gapping” delays. In conjunction with the South Brooklyn redesign, this option truncates R service to Whitehall Street, while the W serves South Brooklyn in its place.
Full De-Interlining Options
So long as the QB line serves more than two trunks or branches, full de-interlining is not possible. Furthermore, full de-interlining requires some level of capital investment. The Regional Plan Association, in their Save our Subways publication, tries to get around this by rerouting the M via the J line to Broad Street. This would leave QB with only the E express via 53rd Street and the F local via 63rd Street. RPA suggests doubling both E and F service to preserve service levels. Since such a drastic change isn’t necessary to achieve full de-interlining, NYTIP does not contemplate this option.
Before exploring full de-interlining options, let’s discuss the tunnels to Manhattan. The 53rd Street tunnel connects to 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue, while the 63rd Street tunnel connects to 6th Avenue and Broadway; the latter includes a provision for a future 2nd Avenue connection. Since the 53rd Street tunnel is the only tunnel connecting Queens to 8th Avenue, all 8th Avenue service should serve 53rd Street and all 6th Avenue service should serve 63rd Street. In addition, all Broadway local service runs via Astoria, so all W trains become R trains in this scenario. (This change requires a switch reconfiguration at Astoria – Ditmars Boulevard to increase capacity and reactivating the lower level of City Hall station to allow short turns due to the 21 TPH restriction south of there. It would also require an in-system transfer connecting Queens Plaza to Queensboro Plaza – otherwise, QB would be cut off from Broadway.) This yields two options.
Option 2: 6th Avenue service express, 8th Avenue service local
[Fig. 12] Overview of Option 2.
[Fig. 13] Option 2 track map showing eliminated conflicts.
Under Option 2, the E runs local while the F and M run express. This would eliminate all merging conflicts on the QB line. Since the E becomes the sole 53rd Street service under this option, service would need to increase to 24 TPH to preserve current service levels and to 30 TPH if the desired service level is the same as current QB express service. As there is limited short-turning capacity on the 8th Avenue line in Manhattan, Option 2 requires additional investments – such as signaling improvements or using the Worth Street subway provision – to accommodate service increases.
There are other issues with Option 2, including reduced service at Queens Plaza station and the M’s short length. Since the M uses 480-foot trains as opposed to the 600-foot trains found on the other QB lines, Option 2 would result in a net loss in capacity on the QB express – an untenable situation. (Running full-length M trains requires platform extensions at every station from Essex Street to Middle Village.)
Another issue is ease of access to 6th Avenue from the local stops west of Jackson Heights. Since the F and M diverge east of the next express stop (Queens Plaza), these passengers lose direct access to 6th Avenue. Such passengers would have to make a cross-platform transfer at 7th Avenue – 53rd Street to the B or D train to access 6th Avenue.
Option 3: 6th Avenue service local, 8th Avenue service express
[Fig. 14] Overview of Option 3.
[Fig. 15] Option 3 track map showing eliminated conflicts.
Under Option 3, the F and M run local and the E runs express; this option doubles E service to 30 TPH peak to preserve service levels on the QB express. This option also eliminates all merging conflicts on the QB line. The E branches east of Kew Gardens – Union Turnpike station, with one branch running full time to Jamaica Center and the other part time to Jamaica – 179th Street.
Option 3 also presents some issues:
- As with Option 2, additional investments are required due to limited short-turning capacity on the 8th Avenue line in Manhattan.
- The F, as a local train, becomes the longest local train in the system with 54 stops end-to-end. (Most passengers don’t ride end-to-end, so this may not be too big an issue.)
- Unlike Option 2, local riders west of Jackson Heights have no opportunity to transfer to 8th Avenue service unless they ride back to Jackson Heights.
A capital solution to the last issue exists. With the R rerouted to Astoria and only 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue services on the QB line, there is now room on the 11th Street Cut west of Queens Plaza to connect the local tracks to the 63rd Street line:
[Fig. 16] Potential track connection from the 11th Street Cut to the 63rd Street line.
With this track connection, 6th Avenue trains can serve Queens Plaza directly before accessing the 63rd Street line, mitigating transfer issues and increasing service at Queens Plaza.
The Broadway line in Manhattan requires a simple fix – rerouting N trains via SAS – to mitigate delays and allow service increases. However, no simple fix exists for the QB corridor.
Given the difficulties presented by the full QB de-interlining options, I am selecting Option 1b for v0.8.0 of the enhanced NYC subway. While Option 1b does not eliminate all conflicts, it would still result in delay mitigation and service increases throughout the QB corridor. Importantly, Option 1b does not preclude the proposed QueensLink.
G Train Enhancement
Option 1b would include service increases on the G line. While the G would still run 300-foot trains initially due to rolling stock availability, the R211 order should yield enough cars for full-length (600-foot) G trains in the future.
<F> Culver Express Enhancement
At present, two <F> trains per direction per weekday spaced about 30 minutes apart run express from Jay Street – MetroTech to Church Avenue in the reverse peak direction. In conjunction with the G train service increase, the service plan for v1.0.0 of the enhanced NYC subway includes <F> express service in both directions every 20 minutes during peak hours. This results in at least 24 <F> train departures per direction per weekday; it also allows even spacing between (F) local and G trains in Brooklyn, which would run every 5 minutes each during peak hours.
Optional Transfer Passage Improvement – 51st Street/Lexington Avenue – 53rd Street
The 51st Street and Lexington Avenue – 53rd Street stations are connected by a transfer passage connecting the north end of the former to the west end of the latter. The transfer passage is somewhat long and requires a steep ascent or descent, depending on direction. The station complex is among the busiest in the city; nearly 19 million riders used it in 2019.
Before the 63rd Street Connector opened, ridership was so high and the transfer passage and platforms so congested that select peak-hour E and F trains bypassed Lexington Avenue – 53rd Street station. This is part of the reason why the F was rerouted via 63rd Street in 2001 and the V local (now M) replaced it on 53rd Street. MTA also built a connecting mezzanine in 2003 to ease crowding on the transfer passage.
With v0.8.0 of the enhanced NYC subway rerouting F trains via 53rd Street once more, an optional capital investment that could mitigate heavy crowding is a secondary transfer passage. The figure below shows what such a passage could look like:
[Fig. 17] Conceptual diagram of secondary transfer passage between 51st Street and Lexington Avenue – 53rd Street stations.
The Bottom Line
The Broadway and Queens Boulevard redesigns would affect E, F, G, M, N, Q, R, and W service. The table below shows current frequencies and proposed frequencies under NYTIP (in minutes) for the F, G, M, and R lines; I previously addressed the E in my CPW redesign post and the N, Q, and W in my South Brooklyn redesign post.
(Weekday Peak/Weekday Off-Peak/Weekend)
|Proposed NYTIP Service|
|F||4 / 8 / 12||4 / 6|
|G||7 / 10 / 10||5 / 6|
|M||7 / 10 / 10-12||6 / 6|
|R||6 / 10 / 12||6 / 6|