RPA Fourth Regional Plan: the Third Avenue Trunk Line

Based on a Patreon poll, the top two priorities for this blog for critiquing the RPA Fourth Regional Plan are its mess of the LGA connection and the Astoria Line, and the proposed commuter rail trunk line on Third Avenue. The third priority is multi-tracking existing lines and timetable-infrastructure integration.

New York’s existing regional rail network suggests a north-south trunk line, starting from the Harlem Line in the north and continuing south to Lower Manhattan and beyond. Such a line would run parallel to the Lexington Avenue Line, providing additional express service, running fast not just between 125th Street and City Hall but also farther north and south. Going back to 2009, I have proposed such a line, controversially continuing on to Staten Island:

Of note, the depicted regional rail network makes use of the entirety of Grand Central’s approach tracks. There are four tracks, two used by Line 2 to Penn Station (the green line) and two by Line 4 (the blue line), the north-south trunk under discussion. In contrast, here is the RPA version:

There is a lot more going on in the RPA version – more tunnels, some light rail lines – but the important thing to focus on in this post is the north-south trunk. The RPA is proposing the following items:

  1. A north-south trunk line under Third Avenue, with an onward connection to Brooklyn.
  2. Stops at 125th, 86th, 42nd, 31st, 14th, Canal, and Fulton Street.
  3. Two tunnels to New Jersey (in addition to Gateway), at 57th and Houston Streets, using Third Avenue to connect between them.
  4. A tunnel directly under the Harlem Line in the Bronx, called an express tunnel but making more stops, with infill at 138th and 149th Street, to intersect the 6 and 2/5 trains respectively.

I contend that all three elements are problematic, and should not be built without major changes.

1. Third Avenue

The RPA plan bypasses the existing tracks to Grand Central entirely. This simplifies scheduling, in the sense that all trains using Third Avenue are captive to the reorganized system from the start. It also serves the Upper East Side and East Harlem slightly better: there is more population density east of Third Avenue than west of it, so it materially benefits riders to have a commuter rail station on Third rather than on Park, where the current line goes.

Unfortunately, these advantages are swamped by the fact that this means the Fourth Regional Plan is proposing about 8 kilometers of tunnel, from 138th Street to 42nd, redundant with the existing Grand Central approach. At the cost I think is appropriate for urban tunnels, this is around $2 billion. At what New York seems to actually spend, start from $13 billion and go up.

Because this trunk line would have to be built from scratch, it also has necessarily limited capacity. The Grand Central approach has four tracks; Third Avenue is as far as I can tell based on the plan just two. Many trains on the Hudson and New Haven Lines would need to keep terminating at the existing Grand Central station, with no through-service; any transfer to the Third Avenue trunk would involve walking a long block between Park and Third Avenues, 310 meters apart.

The capacity limitation, in turn, forces some reverse-branching onto Metro-North, on top of that coming from future Penn Station Access lines (the connections from the New Haven and Hudson Lines to Penn Station, depicted on both the RPA map and my map). It is possible to avoid this by connecting just one of Metro-North’s line to the new trunk, probably the Harlem Line, and then make passengers from the other two lines go to the existing Grand Central. But at least as depicted in the map, this service pattern seems unlikely: the High Bridge infill stop suggests some Hudson Line trains would go to the trunk, too. Unfortunately, even without reverse-branching, service would not be great, since connections between the old and new system (especially with the Hudson Line) would require a long walk at 125th Street or Grand Central.

The long walk is also a problem for the trunk line from Grand Central south. According to OnTheMap, the center of gravity of Midtown jobs seems to be between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, with few jobs east of Third. While this trunk line is good for scooping Upper East Side passengers, it isn’t good for delivering them to their exact destination.

2. Stop Spacing

The RPA stop spacing is too local. The 4 and 5 trains stop at 125th, 86th, 59th, Grand Central, Union Square, City Hall, and Fulton Street. It’s for this reason that my map’s Line 4 is so express, stopping only at 125th Street, Grand Central, Union Square, and Fulton Street: the line parallels the Lexington Avenue Line so closely that it should offer a different stopping pattern. For the same reason, observe that I do not include any infill on the LIRR Main Line west of Jamaica, where is it closely parallel to the Queens Boulevard Line with its E and F express trains; on lines not so close to express subways, I have extensive infill instead.

In contrast, the RPA wants trains to make the same number of stops between Harlem and Lower Manhattan as the 4 and 5 subway lines, just at slightly different locations: 31st instead of 59th, Canal instead of City Hall.

The Canal Street location is understandable. Chinatown is a major destination, overshadowed by Midtown and Lower Manhattan but important in its own right; the Canal Street complex on the 6, N/Q/R/W, and J/Z is the 18th busiest subway station in New York on weekdays and the 11th busiest on weekends. It’s also an intersection point between the north-south trunk line and the N/Q trains (in addition to Union Square) and the J/Z trains (in addition to Fulton Street). I think it’s overall not a good idea to include this location, because the 4/5/6 exist, and the connections to the N/Q and J/Z also exist elsewhere, but I think the alternatives analysis for this project should include this station as an option.

In contrast, 31st Street is inexcusable. On the surface, the rationale for it is clear: provide a transfer point with the east-west tunnels feeding Penn Station. In practice, it is weak. The area is just frustratingly out of walking range from Midtown jobs for train riders. The transfer is good in theory, but in practice requires a new tunnel from Penn Station to Long Island, one that the RPA included because Long Island’s turf warriors wanted it despite complete lack of technical merit; the cost of this tunnel, according to RPA head Tom Wright, would be $7 billion. The only reason to include this connection in the first place is that RPA decided against a connection between Grand Central and Penn Station.

3. The New Jersey Tunnels

In New Jersey, the RPA believes in making no little plans, proposing three two-track Hudson crossings: Gateway, and two new tunnels, one connecting Bergen and Passaic Counties with 57th Street, and one from Hoboken to Houston Street. Tunnels in the general vicinity of these are good ideas. But in this plan, there’s one especially bad element: those tunnels link into the same Third Avenue trunk line.

The RPA has a tendency, going back to at least the Third Regional Plan, to hang many elements on one central piece of infrastructure. The Third Plan proposed Second Avenue Subway as a four-track line, with many branches hitting all the other priorities: regional rail, an express rail connection to JFK, more lines in Brooklyn and the Bronx – see schematic on PDF-p. 13 of the executive summary and more detail on PDF-pp. 204-207 of the full plan. Most of these elements were good on their own, but the connection to Second Avenue Subway made them more awkward, with extensive conventional- and reverse-branching, and a JFK connection that would miss all Midtown hotels.

On this plan, the need to link the new elements to the Third Avenue trunk leads to incoherent lines. High-frequency east-west trunks would make a lot of sense, complementing the north-south trunk, but instead of connecting Hoboken with Brooklyn and 57th Street with Long Island, both end up hooking to the north-south trunk and loop back to connect to each other. The proposed tunnels are already there, in the form of Gateway East and the trunk connection to Brooklyn, they just don’t align. Instead, the only east-west alignment that fully goes through is Gateway, with just one stop in Manhattan at Penn Station, except in the tunnel that also has an additional stop at off-Midtown 31st and 3rd.

4. Harlem Line Tunnel

Between Grand Central and Wakefield, the Harlem Line has four tracks. In the South Bronx, the Hudson Line splits off, but the rest of the Harlem Line still has four tracks. Thus, the Bronx effectively has six tracks feeding four in Manhattan. It is this configuration that probably led the RPA to believe, in error, that two additional regional rail tracks in Manhattan were required. In this situation, it is unlikely there will ever be capacity problems on the Harlem Line in the Bronx – the bottleneck is further south. So why is the RPA proposing to add two more tracks to the Harlem Line, in a tunnel?

In section 1 of this post, I defined the Third Avenue trunk’s unnecessary part as running from Grand Central to 138th Street, a total of 8 km. This tunnel, from 138th to the depicted northern end at Woodlawn, where the Harlem and New Haven Lines split, is 11 km. In a city with reasonable cost control, this should be around $2.5 billion. In New York, it would be much more – I can’t tell how much, since it is likely to be cheaper than the recent subway projects (Second Avenue Subway Phase 1, and the 7 extension), both of which were in Manhattan, but I would guess about $10 billion is in line with existing New York costs. Is there any valid reason to spend so much money on this tunnel?

When I interviewed Tom Wright and Foster Nichols for my above-linked Streetsblog piece, I only saw the plans around Gateway, and was aware of the Third Avenue trunk idea but not of any of the details, so I never got a chance to ask about the Harlem Line express tunnel. So I can only guess at why the RPA would propose such a line: it got some pushback from the suburbs about wanting more express trains. The RPA could try to explain to suburbanites that the new system would not be so slow in the Grand Central throat: Metro-North does the 6.6 km from 125th to Grand Central in 10 minutes; the trains are capable of doing it in 5-6 minutes, but the last 15 blocks are excruciatingly slow, which slowness would be eliminated with any through-running, via the existing tunnels or via Third Avenue. Instead, for the same reason the organization caved to Long Island pressure to include Gateway East, it caved to Westchester pressure to include more express tracks.

In reality, this tunnel has no merit at all. The way the existing suburban lines are laid out points to a clear service pattern: the Harlem Line on the local tracks, the New Haven Line on the express tracks (regardless if those trains run local or express on the New Haven Line farther out). Wakefield has four tracks and two platforms, but the Harlem and New Haven Lines split just short of it; perhaps new local platforms on the New Haven Line could connect to it, or perhaps the junction could be rebuild north of Wakefield, to enable transfers. With much of the New Haven Line capacity occupied by the reverse-branch to Penn Station Access, there wouldn’t be much of a capacity crunch on the express tracks; in a counterfactual in which reverse-branching is not a problem, some Harlem Line trains could even be routed onto the spare capacity on the express tracks.

Build a Network, Not One Line With Branches

In the short run, the biggest thing the RPA is proposing for regional rail in New York is Gateway plus tie-ins. But this doesn’t really distinguish it from what the politicians want. The real centerpiece of the Fourth Plan, as far as regional rail goes, is the Third Avenue trunk line – even taking over some functionality of Second Avenue Subway, which the RPA proposes to not build south of 63rd Street.

Unfortunately, this trunk line, while almost good, doesn’t quite work. It has 19 km of superfluous tunneling, from Grand Central to Woodlawn, adding no new service to the system, nor new connections to existing service, nor more capacity on lines that really need it. And it insists on linking new east-west tunnels beyond Gateway to the same trunk, ensuring that they couldn’t really work as east-west trunks from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. In centering the trunk, the RPA is in effect ruining the possibility for additional trunks creating a bigger system.

Building a north-south trunk leveraging the Harlem Line is a no-brainer. When I sent Yonah Freemark my first regional rail proposal in 2009, he responded with some draft he’d been working on, I think as an RPA intern, proposing a through-running network using the Harlem Line, with an extension to the south with an onward connection to Brooklyn much like the RPA’s current Third Avenue trunk south of 42nd Street. It’s something that different people with an interest in improving New York’s transit system could come up with independently. What matters is the details, and here, the Fourth Regional Plan falls short.

50 comments

  1. bensh3

    So the Bronx tunnel might be in there because they also want to add two tracks on the New Haven Line, in what is labeled “CT Metro Express”. However there are no details in the actual plan, and whether this is actually part of the regional rail plan or just the Amtrak HSR bypass (as in NEC Future). And the political angle is really hard to discern as well; if the Fairfield County NIMBYs pushed hard against Amtrak, why would RPA push it here?

      • bensh3

        Which makes its inclusion on the Fourth Plan all the more mindboggling! A continuous six-track branch line for 70 miles is unheard of anywhere. From the service schematic on the other post, they might be banking heavily on IND-style reverse branching, with Penn Station Access receiving the busiest NJT branches, but even in that plan all Park/Third Avenue trains terminate at New Rochelle.

  2. newtonmarunner

    Thanks, Alon, for this.

    I think by now most people know my opinion on the Third Ave. Regional Rail Line — that it’s a grotesque waste of scare resources for all the reasons you cite. As you ably point out, the Third Ave. Line (1) costs a fortune where capacity isn’t a problem (2) poorly connects with the rest of the system — particularly for Secondary destinations like Union Sq. and W. 4th St., (not connecting to Penn and Grand Central for the west and east side lines but even going to Wall St./Hanover Sq. is tough under this map) and (3) has stop spacing no different than the express subway lines.

    Connecting Grand Central and Penn with through-running trains is a must. There’s really no substitute to what GC to Penn does for what it costs. Start with the Harlem Line in the Bronx. If more capacity is necessary, then

    (1) run the Q on a 7th and 8th track on the UES when SAS is fully built to eliminate reverse branching and add capacity to the UES
    (2) Switch the 2 and 4 (your idea) in the Bronx and 3 and 5 in Brooklyn to eliminate interlining
    (3) Gradually bring the Q up to Third Ave as capacity becomes an issue — eventually going to St. Barnabus hospital, and taking over the Dyre Ave. Line (Untangled’s idea) when capacity on the Bx15/Bx19/Bx41 becomes an issue that far out.

    Obviously, this is a 30-50 year plan and not a 10-20 year-plan like the RPA’s plan. But it’s a slower evolution to get more capacity to Harlem/Bronx.

    Not that I haven’t said all this already, and that’s all I have to say about that. For now.

    • newtonmarunner

      Sorry, I meant to write, “In order to get additional service to the Bronx, start w/ the Bronx Regional Rail Local and Express Lines, then when completing SAS, build a 7th and 8th track on UES carrying the Q to eliminate reverse branching … eventually hitting 3rd Ave and taking over the Dyre Ave. Line as capacity warrants. This is a 30-50 year plan.”

  3. newtonmarunner

    To expand more broadly on this post, the “no-build” option is superior for almost all of it. Nostrand and 125th are about the only things the RPA gets right.

    Automatic no-build ideas include
    1) BQX
    2) Backwards AirTrain
    3) Backwards Astoria Extension
    4) Jewel Ave Subway (go for Union Turnpike instead if you’re going for that area, but should be a very, very low priority — on par w/ Hillside and Archer Ave vía Linden to the Queens/Nassau border)
    5) Northern into SAS (125th, University Ave vía Yankee Stadium, and Utica/Bed-Stuy/Williamsburg vía Grand/Metropolitan) are all much more useful as they have far more connections.
    6) Triboro to Hunts Point and Staten Island (don’t do a radial/circumferential hybrid).

    Northern needs a stop at 68th (to connect to Triboro) in order to be worth building, and Utica needs a stop at Church (connection to B35 bus) in order to be worth building.

    The Atlantic Regional Rail Line should have infills per Alon’s map at Euclid, Rockaway Beach Line, and Lefferts to relieve the A.

    Well, that’s about it for now as I really dislike the RPA’s plan.

    • adirondacker12800

      Someplace in Hudson County, probably Hoboken, Wall Street, Flatbush Ave, East New York and Jamaica. Ya wanna go to or come from someplace else change to the subway.

      • newtonmarunner

        Welcome to the 21st century. Even with regional rail infills off Euclid, Woodhaven, and Lefferts, East New York, Woodhaven, and Richmond Hill are still facing at least 45 minute commutes to Midtown. And capacity on the A isn’t getting any better.

        Also, any line going from Grand Central to Fulton should go through Union Sq., as should any line going from Grand Central to Hoboken go through Union Sq. (and W. 4th). Capacity is the name of the game, and Alon’s regional rail dramatically increases capacity.

        • adirondacker12800

          There’s scads of capacity on the Fulton Street line. The A train shares frequency with the D train on Central Park west. As does the B train with the C train. Send one of the Second Avenue expresses out Fulton. Ya wanna get out to the Island take a bus to Jamaica or change at East New York.

          • newtonmarunner

            SAS should not be 4-tracked below Midtown; that’s what 4 regional rail tracks from Grand Central to Union Sq. and 4 new regional rail tracks at Fulton St. (one east-west from Jerz to Atlantic and one north-south from Grand Central to Fulton via Union Sq.) do. Compared to regional rail to Fulton St. via Union Sq., SAS from Midtown on South has crummy connections to east side job clusters and the to West Side, and capacity isn’t an issue on the 6th and Broadway Lines from Brooklyn to Manhattan the way capacity is an issue on the UES.

            A 7th and 8th subway track on UES — be it on 2nd or 3rd Ave. — should be local with SAS-like spacing, and hook into the circuitous Broadway Line (Q). This would eliminate reverse branching on SAS, provide one-seat rides to Times Sq. and its connections to the Midtown West job cluster and the West Side lines and Herald Sq. and its connections to the 6th Ave. Lines. The new UES line could eventually be extended to Third Ave in the Bronx for transfers to Midtown West from 138th and 149th, hitting some rapid transit deserts in Morrisania and East Tremont, and eventually take over the Dyre Ave. Line as capacity becomes an issue further and further out.

            And I am not for vanshnook’s tunneling SAS from FiDi under the East River to Brooklyn. That’s expensive, and nobody is going to transfer from Brooklyn to a 2nd Ave. local line. Nor am I for reverse branching Fulton St. Utica/Bed-Stuy/Bushwick/Williamsburg and Seaport/Hanover Sq. should get SAS coming from the south and 125th and University Ave. should get SAS coming from the North.

          • adirondacker12800

            Which is why a Second Avenue express could go out that way. Or a 14th Street Express instead of going to Carnarsie. Add a million people to New York City they suck up the capacity of a four tracked subway. 6 tracks or even 8 tracks would be better.

          • newtonmarunner

            Given every regional rail plan calls for an additional two tracks from FiDi to DT Brooklyn (and a tunnel under the East River), I don’t see an additional two tracks (and East River Tunnel) justifying its costs. Regional rail is an express subway line. Add infills on the legacy Atlantic Ave tracks (Euclid, RBL, and Lefferts), and you’ve saved yourself the cost of a superfluous tunnel under the East River.

            4-tracking the Carnarsie Line doesn’t add additional coverage/connections like a Utica into SAS via Malcolm X, Bushwick, Grand, Metropolitan, and Houston to 125th St. Line. Utica to 125th vía Malcom X, Bushwick, Grand, Metropolitan, Houston, and SAS has (1) a two-seat ride from Washington Heights/Inwood to UES (2) a non-Midtown 2-seat UWS/UES ride (3) relief for the L (with a transfer to the F at 2nd & Houston) (4) relief for the M14 and coverage for LES at Ave C & Houston (5) relief for both the M15 and Lex Lines, and (6) a one-seat Harlem-Bed-Stuy ride.

            Bring the second SAS branch to the north to University Ave., and you can still switch the 2 and 4 in the Bronx while still providing Highbridge, etc. 1-seat ride to UES/Midtown East.

          • adirondacker12800

            The Carnarsie line is at or close to capacity. the only way to solve that problem is to add more tracks. Sending subway trains to Mill Basin doesn’t get people from Bushwick to Manhattan

          • newtonmarunner

            The Carnarsie Line’s capacity problem isn’t as far out as Bushwick — the capacity problem is from Williamsburg to Meatpacking. Additional tracks on Bushwick Av., Grand St., and Metropolitan in Williamsburg connecting to the F on Houston and hooking into SAS (per Alon’s crayon) should provide sufficient relief for the Carnarsie Line. Particularly when combined with better electrical on Carnarsie.

          • newtonmarunner

            Also forgot Triboro — in addition to fixing the electrical and Utica into SAS via Williamsburg (and Bed-Stuy) — should be sufficient relief for Carnarsie (while also adding coverage/connections to many other places).

          • johndmuller

            adirondacker12800 said:
            “Which is why a Second Avenue express could go out that way. . . “

            Unfortunately, this sentence applies to more places than this poor little two track, hundred years to build line could reasonably be expected to get to, even with adding/shedding other lines at places like 63rd St. It really is very short-sighted to build the SAS as only a two track line.

            If additional commuters are to be lured from the outer reaches, there needs to be faster service from these locales, read express trains, but real express trains, not just skip stop or limited stop trains that are still more or less stuck in the same traffic pattern as the non expresses. This means more tracks in the core to handle additional lines coming into Manhattan.

            Brooklyn has a number of branches with unused express tracks, partly because the express stops are not necessarily located where there is currently high demand, but mainly because there is no place for additional trains (the expresses) to go into Manhattan without bumping full local trains out of tunnel slots to get over to Manhattan, let alone routes for them to run in Manhattan that are themselves not already kind of full. Most of the Bronx lines have a 3rd track which is sometimes used as a passing lane, but which reverts into two track bottlenecks before reaching the Manhattan trunk lines, where there are some 4 track lines. The Concourse line’s third track turns more seamlessly into a full express configuration in Manhattan, but overall capacity is still limited in the 3 track sections where both local and express share a track in the off-peak direction. Queens has some of the same problems, but without the excess trackage lying around (except for some tempting LIRR discard properties).

            If there were a new thru route covering the territory between the Bronx and Brooklyn (i.e. the SAS), and the appropriate connections were made to say the Jerome Ave, White Plains Road, Fourth Ave, Smith St./McDonald Ave. corridors, commuters from the outer reaches along these lines could make decent time into Manhattan and avoid the slogging miasma of the stop and go experience.

            Running a new commuter line along 3rd doesn’t do much; if you want to add a new MN tunnel, perhaps Madison would be better and it would be close enough to Park to share some of the GCT facilities (and perhaps even have a presence on the ESA level as well and integrate with those trains going to lower Manhattan). As long as we are talking tunneling anyway, the extra MN tracks could just as well be under Park Ave. as anywhere else.

            3rd Ave could be used as a make up for only building a 2 track SAS, but one would end up with making the same stops instead of having an express/local pattern where the thru express could avoid more stations and the local could stop more frequently. Still, better than nothing if the two lines joined below 63rd to form a traditional 4 track line for the southern half of the SAS.

          • Eric

            You could still do make a 2nd Avenue express with stops at 125th and 86th St, followed by Midtown. The only transfer to the local SAS would be at 86th St. With just one interchange station, it wouldn’t be excessively expensive.

          • adirondacker12800

            The Carnarsie Line’s capacity problem isn’t as far out as Bushwick — the capacity problem is from Williamsburg to Meatpacking.

            The alternative to building two more tracks is to close down the stations on the western end. Or the hook side of velcro on the side of the trains and and vests with the fuzzy side of velcro passed out passengers at the stations. If someone from Carnarsie or Woodhaven is on an express train that doesn’t stop in WIlliamsburg that leaves space on the train that does stop in Williamsburg for people in Williamsburg to use.

    • BikeGuyEmoji

      I know this is obviously many decades out and not low hanging fruit but if you were to build the 50th St crosstown line, and deinterline as you listed below, why not 4 track Northern Blvd and send two tunnels across the river at 50th St. There would be two tracks to 10th Ave/Hudson yards and two more down 2nd Ave express or local next to the Bronx-Utica service. They would either terminate in Midtown or Lower Manhattan(“Phase 4”). People would be able to commute down 10th, 8th, or 2nd from either Queens Plaza or Court Sq without reverse-branching.
      Because of the QB local/express split in Astoria, to deinterline successfully, you need another line crossing those services, which then needs another tunnel which needs another trunk in Manhattan. It will help Queens residents transfer to the Manhattan trunks through a series of stations on any given line.

  4. orulz

    When I have looked at this, I have usually considered the Hudson line to be four tracks, the Harlem line to be two tracks, and the New Haven line to be four tracks.

    If:
    four tracks from the Hudson Line split into two down the West Side line to Penn Station, and two to Park Avenue, and
    two tracks from the Harlem Line go to Park Avenue, and
    four tracks from the New Haven line go to Park avenue split into two tracks over Hell Gate to Penn Station, and two to Park Avenue,

    That means that six tracks worth of trains are trying to fit into the four tracks of Park Avenue, no?

    • orulz

      Continuing with the devils advocate approach, is there any very strong reason why 31st on the east side couldn’t become a major jobs hub over the next 50 years or so, if commuter trains stopped there? If it could, then build the station to provide the framework for future growth.

      • Alon Levy

        1. Bad subway connections. The east-west subways (i.e. what’s relevant to city residents) are on 42nd, 53rd, and 59th.

        2. Evidently, the parts of Midtown South with better subway connections, i.e. Herald Square, still refuse to turn into Midtown proper. Developers are interested in areas slightly farther north.

        • newtonmarunner

          Isn’t the area around 31st and 3rd also a legit neighborhood (Murray Hill?)?

        • adirondacker12800

          A premier address that’s been there since 1931. When Rockefeller Center was still being designed.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_State_Building

          Vornado had grandiose plans for the Hotel Pennsylvania, 7th between 32nd and 33rd. but then the Republicans blew up the economy and the plans were revised to “we’ll just renovate one of the largest hotels in the city”. While the tower was still under consideration there were protests that it would ruin the ambiance of the Empire State, generate too much traffic and make pigeons albino while emanating mind rays for blocks around.

          The subway stations that it serve are rather busy.

          http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/ridership_sub_annual.htm

        • Eric

          Someday Manhattan will need another east-west subway line. 34th street seems like the right place for this, no?

          • newtonmarunner

            I like 23rd, actually. Don’t have to go under the rails and the Empire State Building’s foundation, and you could prune either the Archer or Hillside Ave Lines, and get a linear path.

            But start with a 50th St Subway, and get a Northern Line into one of the 63rd, 59th, (mythical) 53rd, or 42nd St tunnels before a 34th/23rd St subway.

          • Alon Levy

            For many years I thought the same. But now I’m less sure about 34th. The problems are as follows:

            1. 34th is more Midtown South than Midtown proper, so an easy-west line should probably go farther north. 42nd is best but is already used. 50th is second best. The counterargument is that in the presence of a robust regional rail network, 34th might become more desirable again.

            2. If additional regional rail lines are needed, 34th is useful for them (for the Penn Station connection) more than for the subway. Basically, if you have a choice between a subway under 50th and regional rail under 34th and the reverse, you put the subway under 50th and the regional rail under 34th.

            3. What would such a line connect to going east? The most natural place to continue east from 34th is the LIE (using Northern is difficult because of LIC street layout problems). But that’s a relief line for relief lines, not really much of a priority, whereas a new east-west subway is arguably the #2 priority for a new subway color, behind Triboro and ahead of SAS Phases 3-4.

          • adirondacker12800

            From the vicinity of Northern and Broadway there is a already assembled ROW owned by a single entity. That points right at 34th Street. I’m partial to deep under 38th, by the time the escalators on the south side get up to street level they are almost at 34th, escalators on the north side, 42nd. … Port Washington Branch service and Metro North shuttle to Wall Street under it…. which can swoop through Brooklyn to Staten Island…? Get people from Northern who are schlepping on a bus to a Queens Blvd or Flushing line station onto a Northern Blvd line that frees up capacity at the existing stations in Long Island City. No need to wander around aimlessly in far western Queens.

            Alternately going under Broadway, which would be complicated by the Queens Blvd. locals running under it, it points at 82nd-ish. Slight deviation to the north it connects to 86th.

          • newtonmarunner

            My future subway configuration for Queens to Manhattan (assuming a 50th St. Subway) is as follows:

            Northern to 63rd St. Tunnel to 6th Av. Local
            Flushing to 59th St. Bridge to Broadway Local
            Queens Blvd. Express to 53rd St. Tunnel to 8th Av. Local
            QB Local to 50th St. Tunnel (traditional stops at 3rd, 5th, and 7th Aves.) to Hudson Yards or Jerz
            Astoria to 42nd St. Tunnel to Hudson Yards or Jerz

            Astoria and the Crosstown Line would transfer at Court Sq. to the 50th St Tunnel rather than 53rd for Midtown jobs between 45th and 59th Sts. Northern, which would have the 63rd St. Tunnel, could also transfer at Northern Blvd to the 50th St. Tunnel for Midtown jobs east of Park Av. All this would relieve the 53rd St. Tunnel.

            QB Local past 74th and Roosevelt will likely have transferred to Regional Rail at Elmhurst Av or Triboro, Flushing, or QB Express before entering a Queens-Manhattan Tunnel.

            Obviously, this approach has weaknesses. Northern will have a tough transfer at 63rd/59th & Lex to get downtown. The 50th St. subway has only local connections, and a 3-seat ride (though one cross-platform transfer) to the FiDi for some on the QB Local Line will be necessary. But overall, with the untangled branches, much, much faster, frequent, and more reliable service than currently offered.

          • adirondacker12800

            Few if any people will be transferring in Western Queens to the LIRR no matter how hard transit PeterPans clap their hands. For almost any trip making it a two seat ride or a three seat ride eats up any time you might save.

          • Henry

            A proper crosstown line could be threaded in at 57th St, which is close enough to intersecting stops on nearly every north-south line. But honestly, I would rather that be reserved for a third cross-Hudson PATH tunnel, since that system is at capacity.

    • Alon Levy

      The Hudson Line barely has enough demand for two tracks, let alone four. In my regional rail maps, it gets a branch on Line 2 and only every other train on Line 3, because ultimately half the station radius is water, and outside Yonkers the other half is suburban sprawl.

      • The Economist

        The current service pattern on the Hudson Line cannot be run on two tracks even with better signaling. While many examples of two track lines moving more people than the Hudson Line exist, the length of the Hudson Line necessitates express service making the use of only two tracks impossible. The line effectively has three levels of service: local to Croton-Harmon, express to Poughkeepsie and super-express by Amtrak to Albany and beyond. You cannot run that on two tracks regardless of signaling.
        I do agree with you about the sprawl, but as long as the decision to provide reasonable travel times to Poghkeepsie and to Albany is not reconsidered, you need the extra tracks.
        In terms of splitting the line and sending it to say Penn Station, the reason to do that is not because there is an overwhelming demand for a second terminus. The real reason is to provide service at two intermediate stations that are reasonable job centers. Splitting the line and sending it anywhere else is way too expensive to be justified. Sending it to Penn is justifiable only because the tracks already exist reducing greatly the capital expenditure.

        • Alon Levy

          Oh, sure, but the four tracks there aren’t hitting capacity, ever. 12 tph on each track pair is aspirational; 12 tph local and 6 tph express (plus a few intercities, maybe 2 tph) is more reasonable. So from the perspective of in-city trunk lines, it’s like a two-track line, not a four-track line.

          • adirondacker12800

            Until Amtrak ( or whoever ) builds a tunnel to Poughkeepsie the intercity trains are going to have to share with the express trains between Poughkeepsie and Manhattan. There one an hour to Albany most hours of the day now. Two an hour is reasonable if the travel time gets a lot shorter. One an hour to Montreal, one an hour to Toronto and one an hour to Buffalo is five. Four trains to Poughkeepsie during the peak hour now. An extra one when Penn Station access opens and another one for ridership growth is reasonable. Ten, eleven an hour is conceivable which then makes a tunnel seem much more reasonable. A nice start would be to replace the creaky bridge over the Sputyen Duyvil with a tunnel that connects to the express tracks.

        • johndmuller

          The Economist says:
          “The current service pattern on the Hudson Line cannot be run on two tracks even with better signaling. “

          I believe that you will find, if you look at a Hudson Division schedule, that the Hudson line trains are scheduled so that they can in fact run as a two track railroad. During each round of trains, the diesel trains serving Croton thru Poughkeepsie lead off, followed by third rail trains that serve the upper half of electric territory (up thru Croton), followed by those serving the lower half of electric territory (or all of electric territory as a local). The southbound upper electric is scheduled to start just after the Poughkeepsie train passes, and so on down the line. Depending on the time of day, the round might be divided up into fewer or perhaps additional sub-segments following the same principle. While the GCT to Poughkeepsie trains indeed gain on the prior locals, they only almost, but not quite catch up to the prior round,

          Thus, the Hudson line can in fact run as a two track line. Of course, there is an actual two track section between Spuyten Duyvil and Marble Hill and you will probably find that the the trains are all lined up in that order described above. Even so, in practice the diesels mostly run in the express tracks with the Amtrak trains and the electrics on the outer tracks, although that is not a hard and fast rule. There are some sections of the northbound express track that are not electrified, but I think that is mostly a policy of cheapness rather than anything else, although perhaps there is some technical reason.

          There is a similar schedule pattern on the Harlem line, although they have been gradually adding a third track (now a couple of stops short of White Plains). While they may use the third track in a similar fashion to stream the diesels through the electric territory during rush hour in particular, they could still run that branch also as a two track road. The New Haven trains are more complicated in that there are more Amtrak trains and there are some MN and CDOT branches that mostly do not go into NYC, but terminate in Connecticut; even so, for the most part MN runs on the local tracks and Amtrak on the express (of course, Amtrak splits off below New Rochelle).

          Some sort of service targeting local traffic from along the lower Hudson Valley into Penn Station would be desirable to local residents. Amtrak operated trains along the Hudson are mostly being run at the behest and $$ (if necessary) of Mew York State (who also finance Metro North). Nevertheless, there appears to be no interest in enhancing the Amtrak service to address this potential market. MN is slated to get some sort of Hudson line service into Penn Station along with a similar service on the New Haven line from the other side. These two could be implemented together via thru running, but at present, only the New Haven side is getting any action action at all, and that mostly talk and “wait until after ESA is done”. At least there is some talk and a bit of planning for (re)new(ed) stations in the East Bronx along the NH route, but altogether too little for my taste.

          • adirondacker12800

            Project ridership growth over a decade or two and two tracks doesn’t work. Four tracks on Park Ave. doesn’t work very well now which is why they want to send ten trains an hour to Penn Station instead. Someday.

          • Alon Levy

            They run 50 peak tph on Park Avenue, which can fit in two inbound tracks (barely). The big bottleneck isn’t even Park Avenue, but, dollar for dollar, the flat Hudson/Harlem junction.

            As for ridership growth, where would it even come from? Last year, Westchester County permitted about 1.5 housing units per 1,000 residents. In previous years it was below 1. I complain that Ile-de-France is building too little, and here they build around 6 (and New York builds 2.5).

          • adirondacker12800

            Same place it’s been coming from for the past 30 years? Ridership has doubled, the population hasn’t. Can’ t on hand whine that they aren’t building enough condos near the stations, which they do, and then claim that there won’t be enough riders.

      • adirondacker12800

        It is suburban sprawl if you compare it to the Upper East Side. They are kind of place where people pay extra to buy the houses described as “walk to train” in the real estate ads. New Urbanist’s wet dream of suburban villages. Partly because they were developed before there were cars. Silly people, clustering down by the river before there were automobiles. Or trains. It’s just awful the way Hudson line ridership, all by itself, would be the 8th busiest commuter railroad in the country.

        http://web.mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/2015-MNR-Annual-Ridership-Report.pdf

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_commuter_rail_systems_by_ridership

  5. Eric

    One thing I like about Alon’s plan is its simplicity. It can be reduced to three parts:
    1) NJ to Penn to GCT (same as ARC Alt G)
    2) The “downtown cross” – GCT to Staten Island, NJ to Brooklyn, meeting in Lower Manhattan
    3) Reactivation of some suburban lines (in most cases these are already in planning stages).

    Part 3 has little incremental cost over what is already planned.
    Parts 1 and 2 are simple, easy to understand. Part 1 already had a substantial planning done in ARC.
    Part 2 involves much less tunneling than the RPA plan, both in km and in underwater tunnels, while seemingly offering more transit benefit.

    These features should make it easy to understand and explain.

    • Alon Levy

      Part 3 also includes electrifying more lines; as I suggested in my original posts on The Transport Politic, the most important three are Port Jefferson, Raritan Valley, and Upper Hudson, which have more ridership on the diesel tails than the rest. On the remaining tails for the Manhattan-bound lines (i.e. everything except the Erie lines) it’s less about ridership and more about efficiency gains from eliminating the last few daily diesel trains.

    • newtonmarunner

      I almost always like Alon’s plans because they are so simple. His routes are linear, and are either radial or circumferential but not a hybrid. Rarely does he interline routes, but instead forms a grid-looking network.

      One other simple, easy-to-explain feature of Alon’s regional rail plan is that it provides from any rail line at worst a cross-platform transfer to both Grand Central and Penn — connecting all commuter rail riders to all the east side and west side lines. The same cannot be said of the RPA plan.

      Alon’s plan costs a lot less financially than the RPA plan, and accomplishes a lot more things than the RPA plan. The biggest cost of Alon’s plan is MNR, LIRR, and NJT having to give up a good deal of their autonomy in exchange for far more service, far more connections, far greater expansion of the grid, far more capacity increase, and far more resiliency (making it easier to do maintenance).

  6. Pingback: RPA Fourth Regional Plan: LaGuardia Airport and the Astoria Line | Pedestrian Observations
    • adirondacker12800

      Hudson County real estate is pricey but not that pricey. Hoboken Terminal is across the river from Greenwich Village, not Midtown.

  7. Pingback: The RPA Construction Cost Report | Pedestrian Observations

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