Transit’s newest train designation is not long for this world. When the MTA announced on Friday that the V train will be cut and the M extended along Sixth Ave. and Queens Boulevard during the week, they put a eight and a half-year-old train on life support. Barring an economic miracle, the V train’s tombstone will read 2001-2010, and it will be a train few will miss.
Today, we roast the V train. It runs a slow local route from Second Ave. on the Lower East Side to Forest Hills in Queens via the 53rd St. tunnel. Designed to alleviate overcrowding along the Queens Boulevard line, the train never garnered much love, and transit advocates saw a promise of express service in Brooklyn that remains unfulfilled. That bright future won’t come to pass until the MTA’s financial picture improves. Instead, let us revisit the history of the maligned V.
For years, the F train ran express in Queens to 179th St. via the 53rd St. tunnel. The MTA had long hoped to connect the 63rd St. tunnel, opened in the mid-1980s, to the Queens Boulevard line, but that 1500-foot section of tunnel would not open until December 16, 2001, nine years after designs commenced on the project. With the new tunnel connector available, some IND Sixth Ave. train could run in Queens and into Manhattan via the 63rd St. tunnel while the other could run into Manhattan via the 53rd St. tunnel. Enter the V train.
The authority first announced plans for the V train in early December of 2000. The new local train was meant to, in the words of agency spokesperson Melissa Farley, ”relieve some of the pressure on the E and F lines.” Originally set to open in August 2001, the 63rd St. Connector and new train line were meant to increase capacity along the Queens Boulevard line from 41 trains per hour to 50.
Long before the first V train hit the tracks, though, the line was beset by controversy. Some politicians wanted the train to run 24 hours and also into Brooklyn, but the going got tough when the G came under fire. At a May 2001 meeting, the MTA approved the V but slashed the G. Instead of running to Forest Hills at all times, G trains were to terminate at Court Square during the week due to capacity demands along Queens Boulevard. Brooklyn and Queens politicians were up in arms, but the MTA gave them only a moving sidewalk in return.
The V itself, making 24 stops in Queens and Manhattan debuted on December 17, 2001, five months later than scheduled due, in part, to the Sept. 11 attacks. From the start, some transit advocates threw the V under the wagon. “My instinct is the V will end up standing for ‘very little used,'” Gene Russianoff, who wanted the express to offer an in-system transfer to the Lexington Ave. IRT line, said. “New Yorkers prize speed over elbow room.”
On its first day, the V was described as both slow and empty. New Yorkers — then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani wondered “What is the V train?” — were confused by the train, and despite an extensive outreach program by Transit, commuters were baffled by the out-of-system transfer between the F at 63rd St. and the IRT and BMT lines at 59th St. The transfer from the 6 to V and E at 53rd St. was not a hit. “I didn’t know anything about the V train,” Donna Samaski said to the Daily News. “I came here looking for the F and now I don’t know where to go.”
Yet, as time wore on, the V trains became more useful. In May 2002, Transit officials noted slightly less crowded Queens Boulevard express trains. Instead of operating at 115 percent capacity during the morning and evening rush hours, the express trains were at 95 percent capacity with the V picking up the slack. Still, others wanted faster trains with better connections and thought that the 53rd St. corridor should have serviced only express trains with the local heading to Queens via 63rd St. “The V is a loser,” Russianoff said, taking a grudge against a train line to an entirely new level. “It’s slow and unpopular, and transit officials should rethink it.”
Today, though, the V is the V. It offers a slow ride from Queens into Manhattan but only by a few minutes. Those who opt for the local can often get a seat even during the peak hours, and with two different tunnels providing express service from Queens Boulevard, the route adjustments have simply became a fact of commuting life.
In a few months, the M will take over this tortured route, and the V with its controversial past will fade into subway history. Who knows what fates await the Brooklyn-based F express plan? Who knows how much more crowded the trains along the BMT 4th Ave. line — currently served by the M — will be? For now, these are the last days of the V, a slow route but one that eventually found its purpose.