Home Second Avenue Subway Second Ave. Subway third track a victim of inflation

Second Ave. Subway third track a victim of inflation

by Benjamin Kabak

When the MTA hinted earlier this week that budgetary problems and concerns about inflation were going to drastically alter the Fulton St. Transit Hub plans, I figured the Second Ave. Subway would not be spared the proverbial knife as well. When MTA CEO Lee Sander said that MTA Capital Construction was looking to trim $1 billion from a few projects, I knew some aspect of the Second Ave. subway would have to go. Luckily, the cuts won’t be too bad.

The cuts, you see, will eliminate a planned third track in the northern reaches of the planned tunnel, according to Pete Donohue of the Daily News. This third track, viewed as a luxury so that functional trains could bypass hypothetical stalled trains does not appear in the project’s Finale Environmental Impact Statement, and I have to believe that, due to the influx of federal funds, the Second Ave. Subway dodged a bullet.

According to the report, the number of stations in the subway line will thankfully stay the same, but this cut basically eliminates the possibility of any future express service along Second Ave. For a long time, subchatters and Second Ave. Subway proponents have debated the need for a third and fourth track under Second Ave. Why build a subway that’s only local, they argue?

I’ve long believed that the Second Ave. subway can and will succeed with just local stops. These stops are, after all, better spaced than the IRT stops from 100 years ago, and because the Second Ave. Subway will use longer trains than the IRT lines in Manhattan, exits from the stations can cover a wider range of blocks. For example, while the train will stop at 72nd St. and 86th St., thus bypassing the popular 79th St., passengers can exit from those stops at 74th St. and 83rd St., respectively. Walking those few blocks to the middle should be easy.

But New Yorkers long accustomed to false starts and sudden stops won’t see the project delayed. As Sander has stressed, the Second Ave. Subway will become a reality, and New Yorkers can thank the feds for that one. Because the Federal Transit Administration has promised funds for the project, the MTA will be able to construct Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway. It may not have those extra tracks; it may not be as opulently ornate as the MTA hopes. But it will provide much-needed relief for the East Side, and it will arrive this time.

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11 comments

Kevin January 29, 2008 - 11:45 pm

I wonder if they can just build space for the third track but not put anything there yet until more money appears.

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Andrew January 30, 2008 - 1:25 am

They could also build an express track under the ones they are building now if there is future demand, much the same way they built the express track on the 6th Ave line from 34th St to W4th decades after the IND had been constructed.

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Alon Levy January 30, 2008 - 2:27 am

I’m not sure, but I think you have to plan the building for express tracks. 6th Avenue Subway was planned to have express tracks added later; one of the designs for SAS called for construction that would make it easy to later extend it to four tracks, but was rejected since the first two tracks would only include three stops between 125th and Hanover Square.

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ScottE January 30, 2008 - 8:28 am

There is really no new news here. The Daily News links says that a third track “could” be trimmed, and the the FEIS that is linked from the original article (which doesn’t include a third track) is dated 2004. I don’t know when the thought of a third track was evaluated, but it certainly hasn’t been on the drawing board for several years.

Also, considering that this project is being done in a phased approach (the first phase only includes three stations along Second Avenue with a connection to the Q at 63rd and Lex, what may happen beyond Phase One – the only one with funding – is anyone’s guess.

Nagaraja said that they would take 30 days to review the other mega-projects (East Side Access, 7-line extension, and Second Avenue Subway) to find out where cuts could be made. Unless it’s positive news (i.e. a transit employee finds a lost, winning Powerball ticket on the floor of the N train) I really don’t expect to hear anything before those 30 days are up, at least.

Having said that — the price of concrete and steel jumed 91% and 25% over the last four years? Wow! I wouldn’t have expected that, but if true, that certainly can explain why the costs have skyrocketed.

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Kid Twist January 30, 2008 - 9:52 am

Kevin, the track itself is relatively cheap. At issue is the cost of making the tunnel 50 percent wider so that it can accommodate three tracks instead of two.

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Marc Shepherd January 30, 2008 - 2:30 pm

The third track in question is actually just a very short segment around 72nd Street. This is in the FEIS. It is intended to provide some routing flexibility, but it is far too short to offer any kind of express service.

At no stage of the current project has there ever been a third or fourth track (or the provision for them) in the design. I believe the original 1920s design was supposed to have been a four-track subway, but since the 1960s it has been two tracks all the way.

I don’t think express service could ever be practical unless the design allowed for it from the start, as was done along Sixth Avenue. It would be too difficult and expensive to retrofit. If the space wasn’t provided for it in advance, it would probably be easier to just build a brand new subway along some other corridor.

I also think that if they believed express service would one day be a offered, the local stations ought to be closer together. Several of the SAS station-to-station distances are considerably longer than usual. South of 96th Street, I believe the longest gap in Manhattan today is 13 blocks, from 72nd Street to 59th Street along the Eighth Avenue Line. The SAS design has four station-station gaps as long or longer than that.

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Cap'n Transit January 30, 2008 - 11:59 pm

How much could they save if they made it cut-and-cover instead of bored tunnels?

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The Secret Conductor January 31, 2008 - 1:47 am

Considering the fact the the whole train line is 12 stop in total, i think it would not be a good idea for an express track. You will end up missing all the people from 125 to 72 street and forcing them to get on the local just to switch at 72 fir the Q (I assume that the Q would be the express train).

Considering what happens on the L train almost every 2 days or so, it would be very VERY wise to have a 3rd track in a couple of places for work -arounds and re-routes.

This is what I think it should be considering my experience on the L line (the L line on has 2 tracks and if anything happens ANYWHERE the whole line experiences delays and may even get shut down):

72 street: 4 tracks – 2 for the T and 2 for the Q. This way both trains can be in the station and one does not have to wait behind the other as it crosses in front of each other… at least have 3 tracks here.

86 street – 2 tracks
96 – 3 tracks for run-arounds
106 and 116 streets- 2 tracks

125 street terminal – 3 tracks (makes it easier for turning trains around especially since their will be 2 train lines terminating there)

Well, that’s my plan.

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peter knox January 31, 2008 - 11:44 pm

Remember that the MTA has not yet begun building the 2nd Avenue Subway. All they have done for the last 9 months is make a mess of the west side of the street while they claim to be relocating sewer, cable, phone lines, etc. They said they would be finished by now with work on the west side of the street; they are not even close to being finished. And to watch these guys at work! This mega public works project has fewer men working on it at any one time than you find on 86th St. putting up those new apartment buildings. And some of the guys who do “work” on the site do nothing but eat Dunkin Donuts and laugh with their buddies. Who could ever have believed that they were going to finish this project by 2013? They extended the target date to 2014 before they even put one shovel in the ground. We are now almost ten months into the project, and they are still preparing to build the subway. So what sucker really thinks that in the next six years the MTA will complete moving all these pipes and cables on the west side of 2nd; go to the east side and move all those pipes and cables: build a hole big enough to put in the enormous boring machine; build the actual tracks; build stations at 96th, 86th, 72nd and 66th? Can’t happen. No possibility. It would take them 3, 4 years to build one station alone. The whole thing (and remember the “whole thing” is not the 2nd Avenue Subway–no, it is a little bitty track that will take Upper Siders 30 blocks) can’t be completed in ten years. And all the lies about the cost!! The MTA said the project would cost 3.8 billion back in 2003. And one still sees that number reported in the papers! Can’t be true. The MTA has only awarded one small contract so far, for something around maybe 337 million and that was 17 million or so over budget. Does anyone really think the rest of the project is going to cost only 3.4 billion? If construction prices have been going up on average about 12 to 15 milliion a month, as is often reported in the papers, then the project must now cost about 4.5 billion. The true number is probably closer to 5 billion. 5 billion at least, and for 30 blocks! We will soon hear about how far behind schedule and over budget the 2nd Avenue Subway is. The MTA has behaved criminally, and their accomplices have been the dishonest politicans and reporters who have covered up this revolting violation of the public trust.

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Sheldn February 27, 2008 - 11:42 pm

Third track? What third track? I know that I’m not saying anything alotgether new – but based on the published plans, the second avenue subway that’s been promised is 2 tracks from end to end except for a few blocks from 72 to 63 to expedite having downtown service split between continuing down second avenue and turning off onto 63rd. Also, for a few feet down 2nd Avenue from 63rd where the tracks from Queens will connect. I’m worried about the project being declared out of money when phase I ends, and that with unused tunneling uptown with aome basic station construction to fill in.

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Kevin Li May 23, 2008 - 12:16 am

I’m looking at the plans and all I see are lots of unnecessary double crossovers. Besides the ones at 125th, 96th, and Hanover Square, I don’t see much use for the other double crossovers. The three-track station at 72nd Street was a good idea; I can see Q trains merging into the line from broadway using the center track very frequently based on my experience with other trains (like the ones heading for Dekalb Avenue or Atlantic-Pacific Street).

If they’re not making the whole line with 4 tracks, they could at least make it 3 tracked. In my opinion, 3 lines should be the minimum necessary for any line to be able to have normal service in case of any single track failure (mechanical problems, congestion, delays, etc).

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