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

UPDATE (11.27.2020): Added a new service option and updated some images.

Welcome back to my NYTIP series! When I revised my post on the Queens Boulevard de-interlining, I referred to the partial de-interlining option as “Phase 1”. This is because full de-interlining requires major capital investment – it isn’t possible to implement using 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 the Utica Avenue subway. How, you ask?

Note 1: Click any image to enlarge.

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

First, a quick recap. To fully de-interline Queens Boulevard, a maximum of two different trunks should serve the line. Based on existing rights-of-way and track/switch alignments, NYTIP recommends sending all 8th Avenue services via Queens Boulevard express and 53rd Street, and sending and all 6th Avenue services via Queens Boulevard local and 63rd Street. NYTIP sends the R via Astoria, and the G returns to Court Square (sorry G riders – but I have something for you in an upcoming post!). A key prerequisite for this plan is procuring sufficient rolling stock both for service increases and the new K line.

[Fig. 1] Overview of Phase 2 of the Queens Boulevard de-interlining. Created using Brand New Subway.

On Queens Boulevard, service under NYTIP is as follows:

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

To minimize potential issues with missed transfers, NYTIP recommends 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, and gives 63rd Street riders the choice of local or express service in Queens.

However, there are still several important questions to answer. Where should these lines go once they leave Queens Boulevard? Is it possible to conceive service patterns that maximize service and minimize inconvenience? Is there a feasible solution to a key problem with this plan – the super-long F local?

I’ll address these questions in a moment.

Meanwhile on Utica Avenue, NYTIP recommends the 4 line extension to Kings Plaza. However, as vanshnookenraggen notes, one could build the Utica Avenue subway to B Division standards – as was done with some of the Dual Contracts lines – so that one could expand the subway (e.g. with additional tracks or larger rolling stock) later. Hence, the 4 extension represents an initial operating pattern.

Now, you may ask how the Utica Avenue subway relates to the Queens Boulevard de-interlining. Consider the questions I posed above. As it turns out, there are ways to integrate the Utica Avenue subway into the existing system to allow massive service increases on several subway segments at once, along with provisions for further expansion later.

The key is using existing provisions.

OPTION 1: EXTEND EXISTING SERVICES

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

Option 1a: Minimal capital option – the Worth Street subway in Manhattan

[Fig. 3] Overview of Option 1a.

As I mentioned here, using the Worth Street subway provision solves the capacity issue at the E train’s World Trade Center terminus. In this option, the K traverses the Worth Street subway to Grand Street, with intermediate stations at Chatham Square and Rutgers Street. I initially sited a station at Foley Square, but I believe Chatham Square is the better station site both for expanding subway coverage and future provisioning; Chatham Square is a proposed stop on the Second Avenue Subway (SAS).

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 station; this merge also constrains J service. As such, Option 1b prescribes a rebuilt Myrtle Avenue El with 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 allows 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). I’ll discuss the Jamaica line further in an upcoming revision to my Southeast Queens extension post.

A drawback to this option is that it makes the M more circuitous. However, there is a way to use existing provisions to address this issue. More on that in a bit – but first:

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

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

As originally planned, the Worth Street subway was one of two branches that met at South 4th Street station and continued eastward, serving trunk lines on both Utica and Myrtle Avenues. The most recent iteration of this plan dispensed with the Myrtle Avenue trunk and retained the Utica Avenue trunk. Option 1c takes advantage of existing provisions at the Broadway (G) and Utica Avenue (A/C) stations, as well as the 4 train extension, to extend the K all the way to Kings Plaza. One challenge with this option is that most of the subway parallel to Broadway is under private property, not a street.

With the K taking over the Utica Avenue subway, the 4 runs via Livonia Avenue to Linden Boulevard instead, and the 5 terminates at Utica Avenue. East of Franklin Avenue station, the 4 runs express and the 5 runs local. The existing turnouts from the Utica Avenue station on the 4/5, therefore, serve as tail tracks for the 5 and prevent conflicts with the extended 4 train:

[Fig. 7] Option 1c track map at Utica Avenue/Eastern Parkway station. A crossover (not shown) allows 5 trains to turn with minimal conflict.

The K extension from the Worth Street subway to Kings Plaza is a two-track subway for its entire length; however, it would include provisions for expansion to four tracks to allow express service. Notably, the existing provision at Utica Avenue – Fulton Street (A/C) station allows for four tracks, and the South 4th Street/Broadway (G) station provision allows for up to six tracks.

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

[Fig. 8] Overview of Option 1d.

Earlier, I noted that the extended Myrtle Avenue El in Option 1b makes the M more circuitous. As such, Option 1d prescribes a more direct route for the M via Houston Street. Using existing provisions, the M extends eastward from 2nd Avenue station with a new station at Avenue C, then meets the Worth Street subway extension at Havemeyer Street. The two lines run together as a four-track subway to Avenue of Puerto Rico (Graham Avenue), then the M emerges onto an el near Beaver Street, where it eventually meets the Myrtle Avenue line. I envision this four-track subway on two levels, with M trains above and K trains below; the lower level contains provisions for expansion to four tracks, which could feed the South 4th Street station’s six tracks. As an alternative, you could also have two levels of three tracks each with the M train and one direction of a future Utica Avenue express on the upper level, and the K train and the other direction of the Utica Avenue express on the lower level.

While the M does not serve Myrtle Avenue – Broadway station under this option, the South 4th Street station preserves connectivity to the J line. Note that this option also de-interlines the J.

This option modifies 4 and 5 service in the same way as Option 1c.

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

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

Option 1e is an expanded version of Option 1b that sends both the E and K trains via Worth Street and Utica Avenue. This option, therefore, doubles service through the Worth Street subway. Under this option, the World Trade Center station closes (however, the A/C still serve WTC at the Chambers Street station), the E runs via Utica Avenue express, and the K runs via Utica Avenue local. I envision two tracks from Canal Street to Havemeyer Street, then four tracks from thence 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 in Option 1e traverses Avenue U, not Avenue S.

I considered an alternate alignment for the Utica Avenue express via Avenue U, Seaview Avenue, and the Belt Parkway to Lindenwood or possibly further east; however, there are three Forever Wild sites along the way, making this a non-starter.

(Note that this option also works with the M via Houston Street in Option 1d.)

While each of these options extend the subway significantly and allow significant service increases on multiple segments, there’s still one problem – the F local is still obscenely long! In light of this, let us consider another alternative.

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 both the 6th and 8th Avenue trunk lines. South of this station, 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? Let’s explore.

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 via Worth Street, 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 succeeds in shortening the F local and enhancing 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.

In addition to preserving direct access to 6th Avenue, this option de-interlines the J and allows significant service increases. 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.

Option 2c is a modified version of Option 2b that sends the F 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.

This option modifies 4 and 5 service in the same way as Option 1c.

While this option expands subway coverage significantly, drawbacks include a long F local (though not as long as the F local to Coney Island) and no service at the World Trade Center terminal. (A and C trains continue to serve World Trade Center by way of Chambers Street station.)

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 also 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 those described in Option 1d. With the E serving Utica Avenue, the K runs to Coney Island via Culver local. Consequently, the K replicates most of the current F route except for serving 8th Avenue and 53rd Street instead of 6th Avenue and 63rd Street, minimizing inconvenience.

This option also de-interlines the J. It also modifies 4 and 5 service in the same way as Option 1c.

Additional Capital Investments

Options 1c, 1d, 1e, 2c, and 2d contemplate a storage and maintenance yard for the Utica Avenue subway near the LIRR Bay Ridge right-of-way, or at the Flatbush Avenue/Belt Parkway interchange south of Kings Plaza.

Another potential enhancement is lengthening all M line stations from Myrtle Avenue – Broadway (or Central Avenue) 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.

Recommended path forward: Option 2b. In consideration of the long-term goals of NYTIP, I’ve switched the recommended option from Option 2d to Option 2b. Option 2b accomplishes several goals of NYTIP:

  • Point 1 (enhance):
    • Full de-interlining on the Queens Boulevard (E/F/K/M), Jamaica (J), and Myrtle Avenue (M) lines, allowing significant service increases.
    • Option enables significant service increases and express service on the Culver line.
  • Point 2 (extend): Worth Street – Myrtle Avenue subway.
  • Minimal inconvenience compared to other options:
    • The new K line is similar to the current F line; it runs express in Queens and runs via Culver local. The main difference is service via 8th Avenue and 53rd Street instead of 6th Avenue and 63rd Street.
    • The Worth Street – Myrtle Avenue subway preserves direct access to 6th Avenue for M train riders.
    • This option retains transfers between J and M trains at South 4th Street (Union Avenue – Broadway) station.
  • This option retains provisions for further expansion (i.e. with branches of a full-length SAS) – future post!

Alternate recommendation: Option 2d. While this option is among the priciest of all options due to the amount of new construction required, it also allows significant service increases on multiple subway segments. This option does not preclude future expansion.

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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