NYTIP – extending the nyc subway, part 5a: queens boulevard de-interlining (phase 2), and utica avenue revisited

UPDATE (12.20.2020): Post substantially revised for clarity. This update includes a new de-interlining option for Queens Boulevard and a new extension option for Queens.

Welcome back to my NYTIP series! When I revised my first post on the Queens Boulevard de-interlining, I referred to it as “Phase 1”. This is because full de-interlining requires major capital investment – it’s not possible with existing rolling stock or infrastructure. I alluded to some of those investments in that post – namely, a new “K” line, and the Worth Street subway. As I delved into these options to determine whether they were worth pursuing, I noticed that they dovetailed nicely with other improvements. How, you ask?

Note 1: Click any image to enlarge.

Note 2: If you haven’t already done so, read my earlier posts on the Queens Boulevard line (hereafter QBL) and Utica Avenue before reading this post.

First, a quick recap. Under NYTIP, QBL service is as follows:

  • E: QBL express via 53rd Street. Originates from Jamaica Center.
  • F: QBL express via 53rd Street. Originates from Jamaica – 179th Street.
  • M: QBL local via 63rd Street. Originates from Kew Gardens Hills.
  • W: QBL local via 60th Street. Originates from Jamaica – 179th Street.

While this pattern removes some conflicts, there is still some interlining on both the QBL express and local corridors. In this post, I’ll explore opportunities to realize further improvement.

ALTERNATIVE 1: FULL DE-INTERLINING

Alternative 1 fully de-interlines both the QBL express and local corridors to maximize service. To achieve this, a maximum of two trunks serve the QBL. Given the existing tunnel connections, all QBL express service serves 53rd Street and 8th Avenue, while all QBL local service serves 63rd Street and 6th Avenue. To ensure adequate service on the QBL express, this alternative prescribes a new K line, as shown in the figure below:

[Fig. 1] Overview of Alternative 1. Created using Brand New Subway.

Under Alternative 1, QBL service is as follows:

  • E: QBL express via Archer Avenue and 53rd Street/8th Avenue
  • F: QBL local via Hillside Avenue and 63rd Street/6th Avenue
  • K: QBL express via Hillside Avenue and 53rd Street/8th Avenue
  • M: QBL local via Kew Gardens Hills and 63rd Street/6th Avenue

In addition, all W trains run as R trains, enabling significant service increases on the Astoria and 4th Avenue local corridors. The service increases allow for peak express service on the West End line in Brooklyn, if desired.

To avoid missed transfers, this alternative includes a capital investment to connect the 11th Street Cut to the 63rd Street line, as follows:

[Fig. 2] Overview of the connection between the 11th Street Cut and the 63rd Street line. Original track map belongs to vanshnookenraggen.

This track connection allows the F and M to serve Queens Plaza before traversing 63rd Street, giving 63rd Street riders access to QBL local and express service. To preserve connectivity to Broadway service, this alternative includes an in-system transfer connecting the Queens Plaza and Queensboro Plaza stations.

Alternative 1 leaves several important questions. Where should the QBL lines go once they leave Queens Boulevard? Is it possible to conceive service patterns that maximize service and minimize inconvenience?

ALTERNATIVE 1, OPTION 1: EXTEND EXISTING SERVICES

First, let us consider extension options based on current service patterns.

Option 1a: Minimal capital option

[Fig. 3] Overview of Option 1a.

In this option, the K traverses the Worth Street subway to Grand Street, with intermediate stations at Chatham Square and Rutgers Street. The new line increases capacity on the 8th Avenue local corridor. This option does not affect F and M service in Manhattan and Brooklyn. However, an option exists for improving the latter.

Option 1b: Build the Worth Street subway, and rebuild the Myrtle Avenue El west of Broadway

[Fig. 4] Overview of Option 1b.

A key limitation of existing M service is the at-grade merge with the J just east of Myrtle Avenue – Broadway station; this merge also constrains J service. As such, Option 1b prescribes a rebuilt Myrtle Avenue El with new stations at Marcy Avenue (G), Franklin Avenue, Vanderbilt Avenue, Ashland Place, and Jay Street – MetroTech (A/C/F/R). From Jay Street, the line curves northward and meets the F line south of York Street station.

Benefits include new service to Downtown Brooklyn, increased service at all F line stations between 2nd Avenue and Jay Street – MetroTech, and full de-interlining of the J line. This enables significant service increases on the J, along with peak express service over a longer distance. (There is an unused express track between Myrtle Avenue and Broadway Junction, and an unbuilt express track between Cypress Hills and a point east of 121st Street.) Under this option, there is no more skip-stop service on the Jamaica line – and hence, no more Z train.

A drawback to this option is that the M becomes more circuitous. However, the new route does not add much travel time. At an average speed of 20 MPH, M trains traverse the Myrtle Avenue extension – approximately 2.71 miles between Myrtle Avenue – Broadway and Jay Street – MetroTech – in about 8 minutes and 7.8 seconds. Per the current F and M train schedules, F trains take about 10 minutes between Jay Street – MetroTech and Broadway – Lafayette Street, while M trains via the Williamsburg Bridge take about 16 minutes between Myrtle Avenue and Broadway – Lafayette Street. This means the M via Jay Street covers the distance from Myrtle Avenue to Broadway – Lafayette Street in less than 19 minutes – a difference of less than three minutes.

Optional Enhancement: The Full-Length Utica Avenue Subway

As originally planned, the Worth Street subway was one of two branches that met at South 4th Street (Union Avenue – Broadway) station and continued eastward, serving trunk lines on both Utica and Myrtle Avenues. While NYTIP does not contemplate a Myrtle Avenue trunk line, building the Worth Street subway affords an opportunity to build the full-length Utica Avenue subway. Such a subway isn’t necessary to de-interline the QBL, but it could significantly enhance service, as shown in the options below.

Option 1c: Implement Option 1b with K extension via Utica Avenue to Kings Plaza

[Figs. 5, 6] Overview of Option 1c.

Option 1c uses existing provisions at the Broadway (G) and Utica Avenue (A/C) stations, as well as the 4 train extension, to extend the K to Kings Plaza. One challenge with this option is that portions of the subway between South 4th Street and Myrtle Avenue are under private property, not a street.

The K extension from the Worth Street subway to Kings Plaza is two tracks for its entire length; however, it would include provisions for expansion to four tracks to allow express service. Notably, the Utica Avenue – Fulton Street (A/C) station provision allows for four tracks, and the Broadway (G) station provision allows for up to six tracks.

With the K taking over the Utica Avenue subway, the turnouts from the Utica Avenue station on the 4/5 now serve as tail tracks for the 5. Then, by constructing a single switch, 4 trains can run express from Livonia Avenue with minimal conflict:

[Fig. 7] New switch near Sutter Avenue station.

The 4 runs via Livonia Avenue to Linden Boulevard, while the 5 terminates at Utica Avenue. East of Franklin Avenue station, the 4 runs express and the 5 runs local.

Option 1d: Build the Worth Street – Utica Avenue subway and the Houston Street – Myrtle Avenue connection

[Fig. 8] Overview of Option 1d.

Option 1d provides a more direct route for the M via Houston Street using existing provisions. The Houston Street (M) and Worth Street (K) lines meet at Havemeyer Street, then run together without interlining as a bilevel subway to Avenue of Puerto Rico (Graham Avenue). The M then emerges onto an el near Beaver Street, where it eventually meets the existing Myrtle Avenue line.

While the M does not serve Myrtle Avenue – Broadway station under this option, the Union Avenue – Broadway station preserves connectivity to the J line.

Option 1e: Implement Option 1b with E and K extension via Utica Avenue

[Figs. 9, 10] Overview of Option 1e.

Option 1e implements the Utica Avenue trunk line in its entirety, with E trains running express and K trains running local. This option doubles service through the Worth Street subway. Under this option, the E’s World Trade Center platform closes, but A and C trains still serve the station complex at Chambers Street. I envision two tracks from south of Canal Street to Havemeyer Street, then four tracks to Kings Plaza, then two tracks to Sheepshead Bay. The Sheepshead Bay alignment is similar to the 1929 plan for the Utica Avenue subway, except the subway traverses Avenue U, not Avenue S.

ALTERNATIVE 1, OPTION 2: THE WEST 4TH STREET SWAP

[Fig. 11] Overview of the West 4th Street swap.

The West 4th Street station in Manhattan is a major hub that serves the 6th and 8th Avenue trunk lines. Currently, 6th Avenue services travel eastward via Houston Street, while 8th Avenue services travel southward via 6th Avenue and Church Street. The West 4th Street swap uses existing tracks and switches to send 6th Avenue local services (F/M) southward and 8th Avenue local services (E/K) eastward. Would this swap yield better service compared to Option 1?

Option 2a: Minimal capital option

[Figs. 12, 13] Overview of Option 2a.

Option 2a is a modified version of Option 1a – the minimal capital option that only constructs the Worth Street subway within Manhattan. Under this option, the E and K serve the Culver line, the F terminates at World Trade Center, the V replaces the M as the Queens Boulevard – 6th Avenue local, and the brown M returns, making all local stops from Middle Village in Queens to Broad Street in Manhattan.

In Brooklyn, the E runs express to Coney Island, while the G and K run local to Kensington – Church Avenue. An optional enhancement to this pattern is peak E express service between Church Avenue and Kings Highway stations, made possible by extending the K local to Kings Highway and constructing a new switch:

[Fig. 14] Switch provision allowing peak express service between Church Avenue and Kings Highway stations.

While this option enhances service on the 8th Avenue and Culver lines, there are some issues. Given that the M via 6th Avenue is a popular service, replacing it with the brown M via Nassau Street may be a tough sell. Furthermore, the at-grade merge near Myrtle Avenue – Broadway station limits service on both the J and M lines. Thankfully, an alternative exists to address these issues.

Option 2b: Reroute the M via the Worth Street subway

[Fig. 15] Overview of Option 2b.

Rather than reintroduce the V and the brown M, Option 2b reroutes the M via the Worth Street subway to preserve direct connectivity to 6th Avenue. As with Option 1d, the M serves stations in Brooklyn roughly parallel to those on the J line before emerging onto an el and meeting the existing Myrtle Avenue line. The E and K serve the Culver line as in Option 2a, and the F terminates at World Trade Center.

Option 2c: Implement Option 2b with F extension via Utica Avenue to Kings Plaza

[Figs. 16, 17] Overview of Option 2c.

Under Option 2c, the F extends to Kings Plaza via Worth Street and Utica Avenue. Since the F and M are both 6th Avenue locals, the subway from Havemeyer Street to Avenue of Puerto Rico is two tracks instead of four. However, the line retains provisions for future expansion.

Option 2d: Build the Houston Street – Utica Avenue subway and the Worth Street – Myrtle Avenue connection

[Fig. 18] Overview of Option 2d.

Option 2d retains the Worth Street – Myrtle Avenue connection contemplated by Option 2b, while extending the E via Houston Street and Utica Avenue to Kings Plaza. The subway between Havemeyer Street and Avenue of Puerto Rico is four tracks, so there is no interlining between the E and M trains; I envision a similar layout to that described in Option 1d. With the E serving Utica Avenue, the K runs to Coney Island via Culver local.

Potential Capital Investments

Regardless of which line serves the Utica Avenue subway, one potential investment is a storage and maintenance yard near the LIRR Bay Ridge right-of-way, or at the Flatbush Avenue/Belt Parkway interchange south of Kings Plaza.

Another potential investment is lengthening all M line stations from Myrtle Avenue – Broadway to Middle Village. This allows the M to run full-length (600-foot) trains instead of its current 480-foot trains, enabling capacity increases on top of the service increases made possible through de-interlining.

ALTERNATIVE 2: FULL DE-INTERLINING ON QBL EXPRESS ONLY

[Fig. 19] Overview of Alternative 2.

One of the issues with Alternative 1 is the F local’s length – it makes 55 stops end-to-end. The West 4th Street swap alleviates that problem, but requires several service changes throughout the subway system. Full de-interlining increases route capacity, but any de-interlining that requires massive systemwide service changes defeats the purpose. To avoid these issues, Alternative 2 fully de-interlines the QBL express only.

Required Investment: Queens Boulevard Super Express Line

The key element of this alternative is the oft-proposed QBL super express line, served by F trains. The line uses existing provisions on the 63rd Street line and the LIRR right-of-way, as shown below:

[Fig. 20] Overview of the QBL super express line.

The line includes an intermediate stop at 61st Street – Woodside so that F riders retain connectivity to the 7 train; importantly, 61st Street is an express stop on the 7, unlike 74th Street – Broadway station. The station also offers a connection to LIRR service. Using existing provisions, the line could include a non-revenue connection to the Rockaway Beach line – more on that soon.

To avoid conflicts with existing QBL service, the F runs local from Jamaica – 179th Street to Forest Hills, where new track connections bring the F to a new lower-level station:

[Fig. 21] QBL super express alignment at Forest Hills.

With the F serving the super express line, the K replaces the F as the QBL express from Hillside Avenue, serving 53rd Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan.

Optional Investments: Rockaway Beach Line and Woodhaven Boulevard Express Stop Conversion

The MTA conducted a two-phase study of the Rockaway Beach line; Phase 1 evaluated subway and LIRR service options, while Phase 2 studied LIRR service to JFK Airport. Sadly, the study floats an obscene cost for reactivation – more than $8 billion (in 2016 dollars) for the subway option – though that figure includes over $2 billion in “soft costs“.

I don’t believe restoring an extant ROW – even with dilapidated infra replacement – should cost that much! (Indeed, in most of the rest of the world, it doesn’t!)

Whereas the study proposes limited QBL local service through the branch, Alternative 2 extends the W to provide consistent service.

[Fig. 22] Overview of the W train extension via the Rockaway Beach line.

This investment includes a Woodhaven Boulevard express stop conversion using existing provisions to enhance service, as well as provisions for two infill stations to encourage ridership.

To avoid merging conflicts, Alternative 2 prescribes changes to the Rockaway line’s track layout, as follows:

[Figs. 23, 24] Track modifications on the Rockaway line between Ozone Park and Howard Beach – JFK Airport stations.

The island platforms at Aqueduct Racetrack and the infill terminal platform at Howard Beach are elements of the LIRR alternative in the Rockaway Beach study. However, modifying these elements for subway service prevents merging conflicts between the A and W trains. Due to the single-track terminal at Howard Beach – JFK Airport, some W trains would turn further up the Rockaway Beach ROW, or at Forest Hills – 71st Avenue station. Converting Howard Beach to island platforms solves the capacity problem, albeit at a greater cost.

Taken together, QBL service under Alternative 2 is as follows:

  • E: QBL express via Archer Avenue and 53rd Street/8th Avenue
  • F: QBL super express via Hillside Avenue and 63rd Street/6th Avenue
  • K: QBL express via Hillside Avenue and 53rd Street/8th Avenue
  • M: QBL local via Kew Gardens Hills and 63rd Street/6th Avenue
  • W: QBL local via Rockaway Beach and 60th Street/Broadway

(If the Rockaway Beach line isn’t reactivated, W trains would terminate at Forest Hills – 71st Avenue station.)

Options for the Worth Street and Utica Avenue lines under Alternative 2 are the same as Alternative 1, Options 1a-1e.

Recommended path forward: Alternative 2, Option 1e. De-interlining purists may take issue with this recommendation, given that Alternative 2 retains interlining on the QBL local. However, Alternative 2 – especially when paired with Option 1e for the Worth Street and Utica Avenue lines – provides the greatest total improvement to the NYC Subway compared to the other options.

Alternate recommendation: Alternative 2, Option 1b. While Option 1b does not construct the full Utica Avenue subway, it still enables significant service increases on multiple subway segments, while minimizing rider inconvenience.

In my next post, I will explore options for extending the G train beyond Court Square. Queens Boulevard may be out of reach, but other extension options aren’t! Until next time!

3 thoughts on “NYTIP – extending the nyc subway, part 5a: queens boulevard de-interlining (phase 2), and utica avenue revisited

  1. I’m glad to see some continued posts in this series.

    Of the choices presented here, I like Option 2c since it maintains the most possible throughput through the East River tunnels. As those crossings are generally the busiest points in the system (right before a train unloads to distribute passengers in Manhattna) we want to be sure that the maximum number of trains can flow through those tunnels and not limit the capacity of those tunnels.

    An example from the current operating practice best illustrates the point. As F and M both run along the 6th Ave local, since we send the M to Will Bridge only the F runs on the Rutgers tunnel. The Rutgers tunnel cannot run at full capacity so long as we also have another service feed into the 6th Ave local. While there are certain benefits to running the M train, and we put up with the half-capacity usage of Rutgers, ideally we shouldn’t design the system to allow for such half-capacity at the East River tunnels. Branches deeper in Brooklyn or Queens would be OK, though. Your option 1b provides that – allowing full capacity for the Rutgers tunnel, then branching the service between Myrtle and Culver.

    Option 2c seems to be the choice to maintain maximum capacity through both the Worth street east river tunnel and the Rutgers tunnel. E and K both through Rutgers and F and M both through Worth Street. I think that is far more utility for the F train then simply ending at WTC (as suggested by option 2b) and it also provides for full service for the new tunnel. Even if for some reason it isn’t feasible to build the Utica branch, you should still send the F to Worth street with provisions to short turn excessive F trains at Union/South 4th to get maximum usage of the new tunnel.

    If I’m reading it right, it seems as though options 1d and 2d provide for the construction of TWO new tunnels that will each only be capable of using half of the capacity. The Worth Street tunnel is constrained since some of the trains bound for it will be going to WTC and the Houston street tunnel is constrained since some of the trains bound for it will be going to Rugers instead. This has the effect of running Worth, Houston, and Rutgers east river tunnels at half-capacity.

    I think all of the above is my way of saying that in order to maintain full capacity at the East River crossings the branching should occur on the Brooklyn side of the river, not the Manhattan side.

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    1. Hi mrsman: I’m glad you’re enjoying the series!

      You make good points regarding river tube capacity. Indeed, Options 1d and 2d do provide two new East River crossings, making them the most expensive options. The idea behind such construction is making integration of future lines (such as SAS) easier, as construction costs tend to rise the longer you wait. Hence, the tubes running at half capacity is an operational limitation (one mitigated via future service), not an infrastructural one.

      You could look at the Utica Avenue service patterns in this post as “Phase 2” of the Utica Avenue subway, with Phase 1 being the 4 train extension built to B Division standards as vanshnookenraggen suggests. Then, expanding Utica to 4 tracks and introducing SAS fills in the gaps in the East River tubes.

      Of course, this is only one way to provision for such. I recently learned that the well-known SAS provision at Houston Street – 2nd Avenue station could accommodate up to 4 tracks in a layout similar to that of Penn Station on the 8th Avenue line. Thus, you could send two of these tracks to Hanover Square and beyond, as in the original plan, and two tracks to Grand Street, resulting in a single four-track East River crossing representing the combined SAS and Worth Street lines. You could save costs that way.

      Also, Option 2b does not preclude Option 2c, so you could begin with the Myrtle-Worth connection to de-interline the J, then send the F through there upon completing the Utica Avenue subway. I’m still iffy on the resulting length of the F local here, but you could sell the doubled service between Chatham Square and Avenue of Puerto Rico – along with the Utica Avenue link – to justify it. I suspect, however, that most Utica Avenue riders at the southern end would simply transfer to the Lex at Eastern Pkwy under this option.

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    2. As an addendum to my reply, note that under certain options, you could build the Utica Avenue line as a four-track subway to Kings Plaza with provisions for further expansion for express trains. For example, in Option 1c, I could take your suggestion on maximizing river tube capacity and send both the E and the K via Utica Avenue. Then, you can have one route express and the other local. Of course, you still have the super-long F local in that option; however, extending the G to Manhattan, as I suggested in my G extension post, could make the case for F express service in Brooklyn under that option.

      I have some ideas for approaching the full Utica subway in future posts.

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