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

UPDATE (03.10.2021): Post revised for clarity. Because NYTIP is still a work in progress, I’m removing language referring to recommended plans, and instead listing the options I’m currently considering.

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.

When I first published this post in early 2019, I recommended a simple swap of the C and D lines as the cheapest way to de-interline CPW. However, I gave more though to other options. 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 a C/D swap generates a similar controversy, then another alternative would be better.

Thankfully, it’s possible to de-interline CPW in a way that allows both Upper Manhattan and The Bronx to retain full-time express service, while minimizing potential rider confusion. There are two options that achieve this, so let’s explore.

Option 1: 8th Avenue service express, 6th Avenue service local

[Figs. 4, 5] Overview of Option 1, illustrated using Brand New Subway.

[Figs. 6, 7] Merging conflicts removed through Option 1.

Option 1 implements a modified version of the original operating pattern. Under Option 1, service is as follows:

  • A: CPW/8th Avenue express from Inwood – 207th Street
  • B: CPW local/6th Avenue express from Washington Heights – 168th Street
  • C: CPW/8th Avenue express from Norwood – 205th Street
  • D: CPW local/6th Avenue express from Bedford Park Boulevard

Let’s look at some implications.

C/D Service in The Bronx

Under Option 1, both C and D trains serve The Bronx all day, every day, to encourage ridership. The C runs with full-length (600-foot) trains as opposed to 480-foot 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 is an optional investment.

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

Option 1 does not affect A/C service in Brooklyn; the A remains express and the C remains local.

8th Avenue Local Service

Under Option 1, 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?

Alternative 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, over 6.9 million passengers used this station in 2019, making this option difficult. One possible mitigation strategy is increasing 8th Avenue local service from Queens as part of a Queens Boulevard de-interlining strategy.

Alternative 2: 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.

Alternatively, one could extend the 50th Street platforms over the current local tracks so that A and C trains can stop there without switching:

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

This conversion is likely more expensive due to column demolition and replacement. Since a 50th Street express stop conversion requires some level of disruption, Alternative 1 is a better fit for Option 1.

Option 2: 8th Avenue service local, 6th Avenue service express

[Figs. 11, 12] Overview of Option 2.

[Figs. 13, 14] Merging conflicts removed through Option 2.

Under Option 2, service is as follows:

  • A: CPW/8th Avenue local from Washington Heights – 168th Street
  • B: CPW/6th Avenue express from Inwood – 207th Street
  • C: CPW/8th Avenue local from Bedford Park Boulevard
  • D: CPW/6th Avenue express from Norwood – 205th Street

Let’s look at some implications.

C/D Service in The Bronx

Option 2 prescribes the same improvement to C trains as Option 1 – namely, full-length (600-foot) trains. The C replaces the B as the Concourse local, while there is no change to D service. As with Option 1, C and D trains serve The Bronx all day under Option 2.

8th Avenue Service

Under Option 2, the A and C run local and the E runs express; this prevents congestion and merging delays, while preserving service levels at both local and express stations. The C terminates at World Trade Center station, while the E continues to Brooklyn with the A. Owing to the existing track layout, select E trains can turn at 34th Street – Penn Station or Canal Street in Manhattan to preserve regularity in Queens.

A/E Service in Brooklyn

Under Option 2, the A replaces the C as the Fulton Street local to Euclid Avenue, while the E replaces the A via Fulton Street express. The E, therefore, serves the Lefferts Boulevard and Rockaway branches. This change minimizes potential confusion regarding local and express services; the A local in Manhattan also runs local in Brooklyn, while the E express in Manhattan also runs express in Brooklyn.

Summary

As you can see, both options significantly reduce merging conflicts through the Central Park West corridor while preserving direct local and express service from both Upper Manhattan and The Bronx. Both options have their pros and cons. A particular advantage of Option 2 over Option 1 is preserved service levels at all stations. However, there are some complications regarding long-term planning.

On 8th Avenue, there are several potential routings for local trains. They can terminate at World Trade Center, serve Brooklyn via Fulton Street, serve Brooklyn via the Culver line, or use the Worth Street subway provision. The express tracks, however, connect only to the Fulton Street corridor in Brooklyn – any other routing requires crossing over the local tracks. For Option 2, since 8th Avenue services from Queens would run express, such lines become circuitous. This is a consideration, but not a “deal-breaker”.

As of 03.10.2021, I am leaning toward Option 2 for the CPW de-interlining. Option 2 preserves direct access to both local and express service from both Upper Manhattan and The Bronx, removes several merging conflicts, and ensures that all affected stations do not lose any service.

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

11 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!

      Like

  2. I think swapping the b and c is a good idea. But, there would never be a moment where people would get mad and say “Why did the D become local?” then, I don’t want a situation to be where if a passenger said “Is the C running local?” and they say “No. It’s express.” and then the passenger punching the conductor during a tantrum about your plan. For example, if a man said “Is the D running express?” and the conductor said “No. According to the plan from nerdynel.me, the C is running express and the D is running local.” and the man who asked that question threw a tantrum and punched a conductor. I would not sit next to a person who punched a conductor due to the CPW service under nytip. Also, I wouldn’t punch a conductor due to the C no longer stopping at 50th street and the E running local independently.

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    1. I get the sentiment, but note that all of the NYTIP proposals wouldn’t be implemented “on a Sunday morning”, as the saying goes. Since even the de-interlining swaps constitute major changes, I imagine they’d go through a rigorous public review process after officials explain the rationale for such changes.

      Even after such a review process, assuming the changes go through, you could deploy ambassadors to stations to help passengers become familiar with the new patterns, similar to what MTA did when they rolled out Select Bus Service.

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  3. Here’s a minor change that would help improve A/C train service. Extended the C train to lefferts blvd. I know the A train is very busy and special but does it SERIOUSLY NEED 3 terminals at once. Just divert the A train into Far Rockaway and maybe a few rush hours trains to Rockway Park 116th st& take out Lefferts Blvd. Have the C train take over Lefferts blvd for the A train. It’s actually very annoying and frustrating to have wait at either station from Aqueduct Racetrack to Far Rockaway for one single A train, all because LIKE HALF OF THE ENTIRE A train fleet go to Lefferts. If ALL A trains went to Far Rockaway & ALL C trains went to Lefferts Blvd, I honestly think there won’t be problems for both passengers who depend service to/from Lefferts & to/from Far Rockaway. Here’s how it would benefit service but the negative impact it would have.

    Pros:
    1) Passengers willing to go to stations from C local stops from the Fulton St line to the Liberty Av Elevated can just stay on the C train instead of transferring to the A.
    2) The A train would no longer have to split services at Rockway blvd
    3) The extra A train fleet could be used to provide More frequent service to/from the Rockaways if all A trains are diverted to Far Rockaway or Rockaway Park.
    4) C train riders would have a one seat ride to queens
    5) reduced waiting times at both Lefferts and Rockway lines
    Bonus 😉😉😉. The C train finally gets fresh air😁😁😁😁😁

    Cons:
    1) Passengers from 104 St – Lefferts Blvd want instant EXP Service to Manhattan during the AM Rush.
    2) Possible switch problems at Euclid Av if tracks were switched a lot more than often.
    3) Congestion may happen, if a delay occurs via the Liberty Av Elevated.
    4) Lefferts would be reduce to 8 cars hence limiting passenger service

    So good plan but we need to plan carefully I propose having the 2nd ave line build with a connection to the Fulton st line have the T train take over local service and run to Euclid Avenue and move the C train to the express tracks along side the A train this would Aloud C trains to be extended to Lefferts blvd without creating YET ANOTHER interlocking issue what do you think of this plan

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    1. The C to Lefferts would realize immediate improvement for A service to the Rockaways, but would add an extra merge past Euclid. (And of course, replacing an express with a local – even if the latter’s more frequent – may be a challenge.)

      Consequently, the SAS-Fulton link is a key element of NYTIP (future post), for exactly the reasons you stated. SAS via Fulton Local, all 8th Avenue service express – then one line serves Lefferts and the other serves the Rockaways. One of the Rockaway branches replaces the Rockaway Park shuttle, providing significant improvement for Rockaway Park branch riders.

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      1. Or if possible we can connect the Broadway to the Fulton st line and sent the W train to Euclid Ave and have it run local moving the C train to the express tracks. This is another way to extend the C to Euclid ave without creating a interlocking problem

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  4. You think 96 st should be converted into an express stop I was thinking it would makes changing local and express service easier. I was thinking he could just have the A train run local and have the B train run express
    But that has a whole bunch of problems. Grand Concourse riders would lose access to a one seat ride to local Central Park west service. And trust me with the A train current route YOU DO NOT WANT TO HAVE THE A TRAIN RUN LOCAL. Riders would be PISSED. The A train run the longest route in the entire system so a Local A train is DEFINITELY going to anger A train riders. Needless to say this deinterlocking is like decoding subway service

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  5. I like Option 2 better, because then the CPW local stops aren’t cut off from the 8th Ave section of the line (CPW really is the Uptown extension of the 8th Avenue Subway), as they would be in Option 1. Though I imagine that presented with this option (Option 2) there may be people who bemoan the loss of the A express (the A train as a local would no longer be “the quickest way to Harlem,” like in the song). But I’d rather have the same route(s) serving all of the CPW/8th Avenue local stops.

    I would also flip the A and E Brooklyn, so the E is local and the A express. If the E is express, then it will be the longest route in the system, possibly longer than the current A service.

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    1. Hi Mike:
      The pattern you suggested for the A and E in Brooklyn could also work, as it wouldn’t interfere with the CPW de-interlining. I think it’d ultimately come down to rider preference.

      Like

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