NYTIP – enhancing the nyc subway, part 1: central park west

UPDATE (10.28.2020): Post updated with a modified recommendation for the CPW de-interlining.

In my last post, I introduced the New York Transportation Improvement Plan (NYTIP). In that post, I outlined a three-point plan for fixing the NYC Subway:

  1. Enhance (minimize merging conflicts)
  2. Extend (extend existing lines)
  3. Expand (build new lines)

Regarding point 1 (enhance), I’ll begin with the Central Park West (CPW) trunk line, which serves the A, B, C, and D trains.

Note: Click any image to enlarge.

[Fig. 1] Snippet of the NYC Subway map featuring the CPW trunk line.

The CPW trunk line, as its name implies, runs along the west side of Central Park for most of its length. It serves the west side of Manhattan from 145th Street to 59th Street – Columbus Circle. Two 8th Avenue services from Inwood and Washington Heights (A express and C local) and two 6th Avenue services from The Bronx (B local and D express) serve the trunk. Under the current setup, the A and D run express, and the B and C run local. This setup induces merging conflicts for both local and express services at two points – south of 145th Street and south of 59th Street. Making matters worse, the A, B, C, and D don’t run at the same frequency, increasing the likelihood of delays.

[Figs. 2, 3] Existing merging conflicts on the CPW trunk line. The original track map belongs to vanshnookenraggen.

Now, de-interlining CPW isn’t novel. For example, Alon Levy’s de-interlining plan suggests an A/C express and B/D local, while a similar plan reverses this paradigm – A/C local, B/D express. The Regional Plan Association, in their Save our Subways publication, goes even further – RPA’s plan truncates the C to a Brooklyn shuttle to double A express service, while the B and D run via CPW local. There are pros and cons to each of these proposals, though NYTIP does not prescribe anything as drastic as RPA’s plan for CPW.

Thankfully, it’s possible to de-interline CPW in a way that allows both Washington Heights/Inwood and The Bronx to retain full-time express service. There are two ways to do this:

  • Alternative 1: Swap the C and D trains north of 59th Street – Columbus Circle.
  • Alternative 2: Institute a modified version of the original operating pattern (A express and B local in Washington Heights, C express and D local in The Bronx).

When I first published this post in early 2019, I recommended the C/D swap in Alternative 1. Recently, however, I gave more though to Alternative 2. I recall the M-V combo controversy from last decade – MTA originally called this route the V, but riders preferred the historic M designation, and so the latter stuck. If the C/D swap were to generate a similar controversy, then Alternative 2 is preferable.

Hence, for NYTIP, I am now going with Alternative 2 for the CPW de-interlining.

[Fig. 4] The CPW de-interlining in The Bronx and Washington Heights, illustrated using Brand New Subway.

[Fig. 5] Another illustration of the CPW de-interlining.

[Figs. 6, 7] Merging conflicts removed through the CPW de-interlining.

After de-interlining, CPW service under NYTIP looks like this:

  • A: 8th Avenue/CPW express from Inwood
  • B: 6th Avenue express/CPW local from Washington Heights
  • C: 8th Avenue/CPW express from Norwood
  • D: 6th Avenue express/CPW local from Bedford Park Blvd

Let’s look at some implications.

C/D Service in The Bronx

Under NYTIP, both C and D trains serve The Bronx all day, every day, to encourage ridership. The C now runs with full-length (600′) trains as opposed to 480′ trains, though it does not run overnight – the D replaces the C overnight. There is still some interlining between C and D trains since the Grand Concourse line is a three-track subway. However, when the C runs via Concourse express, it does not merge with the D. Speaking of the Concourse express…

Potential capital investment: Convert 161st Street – Yankee Stadium to an express stop with island platforms.

[Fig. 8] Overview of the 161st Street – Yankee Stadium lower level conversion.

While this conversion isn’t necessary to de-interline CPW, it would make the Concourse express service more attractive and improve service to The Bronx’s busiest subway station. 161st Street is a major transfer point between lines serving opposite sides of Manhattan.

To minimize costs, NYTIP recommends preserving as much of the existing station infrastructure as possible. To achieve this, NYTIP recommends realigning the local tracks behind the existing side platforms, removing the side walls, and extending each platform to the center track. The resulting extra-wide island platforms should accommodate game-day crowds with room to spare. For better crowd distribution, NYTIP recommends additional exits at the station’s west end leading to either side of 161st Street, and widening existing staircases where feasible.

This investment is optional, but highly recommended.

A four-track Concourse subway?

Original plans for the Grand Concourse line called for a four-track subway, but funding shortfalls resulted in a three-track subway. While four tracks are nice to have for maximum de-interlining and ridership potential (and honestly, I love the idea), NYTIP does not contemplate this conversion – yet.

A/C Service in Brooklyn

This plan does not affect A/C service in Brooklyn; the A remains express and the C remains local.

8th Avenue Local Service

Under NYTIP, the E is the sole 8th Avenue local service. Consequently, one must transfer at 7th Avenue – 53rd Street to the B/D to travel between the 8th Avenue local stops (50th Street, 23rd Street, and Spring Street) and points north of 59th Street. However, this is a cross-platform transfer regardless of direction. 50th Street is an interesting case since the E serves the lower level platforms. What happens to the upper level platforms?

Option 1: 50th Street served by E trains only

While this is the simplest option, it results in a de facto closure of the upper level platforms (or conversion to a split mezzanine). In addition, nearly 6.7 million passengers used this station in 2017, making this option difficult. One possible mitigation strategy is increasing 8th Avenue local service from Queens as part of a Queens Boulevard de-interlining – an option I’ll explore in a future post.

Option 2a: Convert 50th Street to an express stop with switches

The cheapest way to do this is to install switches both north and south of the station, allowing A and/or C express trains to stop there:

[Fig. 9] Snippet of NYC Subway track map with hypothetical switches north and south of 50th Street.

Since the E joins the 8th Avenue trunk immediately south of 50th Street, building the switches on the southbound side may require a northward extension of the southbound platform.

Option 2b: Convert 50th Street to an express stop with platform extensions

[Fig. 10] Hypothetical platform extensions at 50th Street station.

Alternatively, one could extend the 50th Street platforms over the current local tracks so that A and C trains can stop there without switching. This conversion is likely more expensive due to column demolition and replacement. In addition, this option also requires switches both north and south of the station like option 2a, but with the opposite orientation.

Recommended path forward: Option 1. This is the least disruptive option, and it does not preclude future service increases to the 50th Street station.

In my next post, I’ll address the mess in South Brooklyn (B, D, N, Q, and R lines). Until next time!

2 thoughts on “NYTIP – enhancing the nyc subway, part 1: central park west

  1. I wanted to tell you that I’m enjoying this series. You are putting together some very realistic and cost effective recommendations that could greatly speed up train service.

    I like that your recommendation allows that both Inwood and Concourse customers have access to both a local and an express train at most times. While that is not a pure deinterlining (some people’s plans involve sending all Concourse trains to CPW express and all Inwood trains to CPW local to avoid the merge at 145th), it is far more palatable to most of the effected people. And, most importantly, it avoids the merging at 59th which is a far busier point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi mrsman:

      Thank you for your comments and commendations! I’m glad you’re enjoying this series!

      Indeed, while my plan is not a complete de-interlining, it is the option likely to encounter the least resistance and minimize inconvenience.

      You hit on a key goal of NYTIP – maximizing efficiency at minimal cost (I’m aware “minimal” may be relative, given NY’s outrageous costs). NY desperately needs cost reform!


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