Sandy Update: Where are the L and G trains?

By · Published in 2012

As the Monday morning rush hour has come and gone, we’ve quickly learned that northern Brooklyn and parts of Queens are struggling under the demands of less than 100 percent transit service. With the L and G trains still shuttered due to flooding, residents of areas served by these trains were left with packed M and J trains, very long lines for buses and a growing sense that the MTA views them as second class subway citizens. When, they ask, will service be restored or alternate transportation options be available?

With a crowd swell of voices calling for the restoration of service, the MTA has stressed the attention it will pay to the L and G trains. In a statement this morning on Twitter, the MTA said that getting the G and L back up is “our highest priority.” They offered up more in a subsequent statement:

The MTA is very much aware of the difficult commute for our customers who usually take the G and L trains, as well as the crowding at the Marcy Avenue station. Getting the G and L running again is our highest priority, and crews are working around the clock on both. Pumping the water from those flooded tunnels is only the first step; signals must be fixed or replaced and then tested, among other restorations, before we can safely start service again. We know this is an inconvenience for our customers in the affected neighborhoods, and the entire agency is focused on getting those lines running again.

In other statements, though, MTA officials let slip their on takes on the G train. To The Observer, Adam Lisberg, the MTA’s head spokesperson, talked of ridership. “The answer on the L is that it’s impossible to turn trains around easily mid-route for a Brooklyn shuttle service,” he said. “[It’s] very difficult to set up because of the track layout. They may try now that other lines are getting better service, but that’s just a discussion at this point. As for the G, enough of it is parallel to other lines—plus the naturally low ridership.”

(Later, Lisberg offered up some sympathy and an explanation for G train riders though. “Water that has sloshed in by way of Newtown Creek is obviously going to be more of concern,” he said to Capital New York. “The signal damage in the G tunnel, I’m told, is very severe.”)

Brooklyn politicians though have objected to the MTA’s approach. “The G train is not a second class line,” City Council Member Steve Levin said to The Observer. “It’s essential for the MTA to recognize that. For the last couple of years, ridership has been way up on the line, as many new businesses and residents have become reliant on the G train on a daily basis—not only to get into Manhattan but to travel within Brooklyn and to Queens.”

He continued: “I understand the constraints the MTA is working under, and it’s enormous constraints, what I expect them to do is provide the fullest service possible. I’m not an engineer, and I appreciate how complex the system is, but I expect that my constituents are treated the same as subway riders in every other neighborhood.”

Council Member Diana Reyna issued a similar call: “The task before the MTA is difficult but not impossible, and alternatives must be provided to those commuting to work.” Are the J and M trains — plus subsequent transfers — sufficient alternatives? Riders trying to get to work and school are saying no, and L and G train service may not return for a few days yet. It’s a bad situation made worse right now.

37 Responses to “Sandy Update: Where are the L and G trains?”

  1. Marc Shepherd says:

    Brooklyn pols might not like hearing that the G is a comparatively low-traffic line, but it’s true. Can anyone rationally dispute that? Even the E, one of the busiest routes in the system, only re-started this morning. There couldn’t possibly be enough spare equipment to pump out every tunnel at once.

    • I think the argument is less about the Newtown Creek tunnel and more about running partial G service, at least between Church and Bedford-Nostrand.

      • Nathanael says:

        The next crossover north of Bedford-Norstrand is north of Nassau Ave, and reversing there would probably put trains into the flooded zone. (Yes, there should be at least one more crossover, but there isn’t.)

        But why not run to Bedford-Norstrand? Well, perhaps it was felt that that wouldn’t provide much service.

        • Nathanael says:

          Still looking at track maps, the L really does need more crossovers. The next turnaround option west of Broadway/E New York is… wait for it… just east of Bedford Avenue. I’d lay bets that Bedford Avenue is flooded.

          Future work should add at least one more crossover well outside the flood zone. Also perhaps reconnect the Myrtle Avenue center track from the east side.

          • Matthew says:

            Incorrect; Myrtle Ave can turn trains from both directions. It is often used to short-turn southbound L trains from Manhattan using both tracks and the pocket track south (east) of the station. It can be used as a “north” terminal, but only for trains on the northbound track. Trains can crossover from the northbound track to the southbound track via the pocket track.

            This may not be sufficient for good service, and is similar to 7th Ave IRT trains turning at 14th St on the southbound express track alone.

            • Is that right? The last time I saw a track map, it appeared the pocket track favors the Manhattan-bound direction at Myrtle, and trains would have to reverse direction three times to switch back toward Canarsie.

              • Matthew says:

                It does favor trains returning to Manhattan, but there is an escape at the south end of the pocket to the southbound track instead of a bumper block. It is a direct route but only from the northbound track.

    • Nathanael says:

      It is true that the Brooklyn-Manhattan lines *had* to be prioritized; just look at the populations. (If the merger to form Greater New York had never happened, Brooklyn would be one of the largest cities in the US. Queens wouldn’t.)

      • Frank B says:

        What on earth are you talking about?

        Queens has a population of 2,230,722.
        Brooklyn has a population of 2,504,700.

        If Queens alone were separated from New York, it would be the 4th largest city in the United States, ahead of cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco, and right behind Chicago. And if all 5 boroughs were split, Queens would still be be #5 behind Brooklyn, and notably ahead of Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island.

        Get your facts straight please; the population sizes have changed quite a bit from the 18th Century. 😛

        • Nathanael says:

          OK, point taken, but Brooklyn’s population is still more *concentrated*. Due to crazy political boundaries, some of that “Queens” population is in the Rockaways, Jamaica, etc…. which benefit more from the Brooklyn tubes than the Queens tubes.

          • Frank B says:

            Brooklyn has greater density, yes.

            Wait, you feel that Brooklyn should have The Rockaways and Jamaica?

            That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone suggest the borders are unusual.

            Before they consolidated the 5 boroughs in 1898, Queens County originally consisted of
            what is modern Queens, plus what is now Nassau.

            When the consolidation of the 5 boroughs occurred, the city only absorbed the West Half of Queens County; East Queens County just kind of sat there for a year in limbo, and then became Nassau in 1899.

            That’s why we have the Rockaways. Nassau was part of Queens, and before the Marine Parkway and Cross Bay Bridges popped up, the only way to get there was via the land route through what was once all Queens County.

            And Jamaica part of Brooklyn? You’d have to absorb Woodhaven, and Richmond Hill just to get to Jamaica. I’ve heard of border quandaries with Ridgewood, maybe even Glendale, but Jamaica?

            And Jamaica doesn’t benefit from Brooklyn tubes. The J Train is an old BMT, long, two-tracked, circuitous route that only takes you downtown; the E Train is a fast IND express train that takes you straight to Midtown.

            As for the LIRR tracks, they only go to Atlantic Terminal. How is that better than the East River Tunnels (6 Tracks including 63rd) which will take you straight to Pennsylvania Station? (And soon, Grand Central Terminal)

            Not to knock Brooklyn or anything, I like Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn, (at least for a couple more weeks) but the borders make sense to me; I’ve never really heard anyone say that the political boundaries are crazy. 😛

  2. Alex C says:

    The water, and chemicals from Newton Creek probably make for a tough dewatering job. How are they going to handle the polluted water?

  3. bgriff says:

    G between Church and Bedford-Nostrand at least seems like it should be easily doable, and worthwhile even if ridership would be on the low side. After all serving those stations is justified every other day…

    • BenW says:

      Well, every other day the service goes on to Greenpoint and LIC, which means you’re serving other destinations and useful connections like the L (oops) and the E/M/7. As extra local service backing up the F, plus four stops up Lafayette (one of which is basically a duplicate of a Fulton local stop), I think it’s less obvious that it’s worth the effort to set it up, assuming that there is some cost to doing that. (And I say this as somebody whose stop would be served by the service pattern you’re describing, and is facing a medium-distance extra schelp this week as a result.) That’s making the assumption that there’s a cost in diverted effort as well as electricity to get it running—if there isn’t, then I would agree that the cost is low enough to make it worth doing.

      And yes, the G is a second-class service. Still pretty good! But second-class in the context of NYCTA network, and it’s beyond unreasonable to expect effort to go into returning service under Newtown Creek when the 14th Street tunnel is still dark.

  4. Gordon Werner says:

    I think people need to give the MTA a break … they have obviously been working their collective asses off to get things running again. These two lines were just hit harder than others. Give them a chance.

    • Eric says:

      No one, at least no one that follows transit, begrudges the MTA for the hard work they’ve had to do in the past week. What galls G train riders is the dismissive attitude that the MTA continues to hold towards the G in the face of all available evidence.

      If you don’t follow transit, I don’t even know how you would have found out that the Newtown Creek tunnel was flooded. There was a complete lack of information about the status of the G, followed by offensive dismissals. Only now after Levin and other politicians make noise is the MTA saying the right things. And yet there’s no G shuttle.

      • Nathanael says:

        Definitely not enough information.

      • Frank B says:

        Look on the bright side, at least the G train isn’t treated as badly as the ugly stepchild of the Subway System, The Staten Island Railway.

        Could we at least throw the damn line a bone and give it a letter already? How about the Y train. As in, “‘WHY’ did Mayor Hylan cancel the Staten Island Tunnel?!?!?”

  5. LLQBTT says:

    I’m on my bike because of this since Wed. Best way to get around now…by far.

    I couldn’t even imagine trying the J or M. The J I saw crossing the bridge with was packed such that you had multiple bodies pressed angainst the door. Then it seem delayed outside of Essex for a while.

    However with the N’oreaster approaching, I can only hope that these lines are back in time. I DREAD the commute once it starts raining!

    • Joe says:

      I’ve been walking my commute (Grand Central to Canal) because I haven’t wanted to deal with crowding. The Grand Central platform is bad enough during 2 minute headways. I could walk to the 6 (I live closer to 33rd than Grand Central), but walking’s been fine, if not pleasant. But I am really hoping all is cleared up before the weather gets worse… it was cold this morning.

      My sister lives on the L in Brooklyn, works in lower Manhattan off Canal. She’s been staying with me because the J was that bad.

  6. bgriff says:

    Another thought: it would be highly ironic, in the Alanis Morisette sense, if the CBTC installation on the L line actually resulted in signals that were more susceptible to damage from flooding.

  7. I don’t think anyone doubts that the MTA, especially its unionized workforce, has really gone above and beyond in these very challenging circumstances.

    I also don’t doubt that restoring service to the G- and L-lines will be a monumental challenge, and I don’t fault them for prioritizing the Brooklyn-Manhattan lines first. I imagine that the restoration of service at Coney Island – a major terminal for four lines, and the home of a major maintenance yard – would be a higher priority than the G-line.

    I understand that the G-train has “comparatively” lower ridership than other lines, but the comment the MTA made to Observer really set me off. “Lower” is not the same thing as “low.” I figure that during rush hour, even a six car train that is standing-room only (but not packed to the gills) carries around 400-500 people, and there’s one of these every 10 minutes or less. That’s less than 1,000 people every five minutes, but still too many people to blow off.

    And the G-service is not parallel to other lines. Through Fort Greene, perhaps. But not through Williamsburg and Greenpoint. It is called the ‘crosstown line’ because it crosses other lines, not because it parallel to other lines.

    The local buses aren’t adequate to pick up the demand. You can’t expect the B62 or other bus routes to take on an extra 400-500 people every 10 minutes. Even shuttle buses would be hard pressed to handle it, but they need to be offered.

    That’s what irritated me the most out of this whole affair – now that the bus bridges aren’t needed, they should have some capacity to offer extra buses to bolster service by the G, L, Coney terminal, etc. Instead, making claims of parallel lines and naturally low ridership eroded whatever credibility the MTA had earned for itself the past few days.

  8. JB says:

    L & G riders are in the same boat at PATH riders. At least NYC subways are getting news coverage. PATH has been ignored by the news and basically no information is coming out of PANYNJ. That’s over 250,000 riders with no adequate way into the city.

  9. Cali says:

    Let’s be real here– unless you have multiple hours to dedicate to travel (or a short/direct bus commute), busses are just not a viable option right now.

    The other thing about the G they fail to mention is that, if the J/M is too packed and the L isn’t running, it is the only way people in North Brooklyn can connect to the subway service in downtown Brooklyn/Atlantic terminal. Furthermore, if someone needs to reach south Brooklyn and commutes from Williamburg, what could once be a 2 train trip is now a 4+ train trip (example– if you need to get to Bay Ridge, instead of taking the G or L down to the R, you now must take the J to Essex, switch to another train to get to Canal or Union Square, switch again to get the N, then switch again to get the R in Brooklyn).

    Additionally, there has been no confirmation on whether the M will run late nights/weekends to cover the missing L service. This is a mess.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      If said it before: bicycle. What is happeneing now due to Sandy is going to happen more and more due to bankruptcy. You need to be able to ride a bike to the parts of the system that are running, if not all the way to your destination.

      • Cali says:

        That’s fair. I’m sure plenty are really wishing that bike share program had opened up over the summer as originally planned.

    • Additionally, there has been no confirmation on whether the M will run late nights/weekends to cover the missing L service. This is a mess.

      I just got confirmation from the MTA that M train service is running 24/7 into Manhattan (and to Forest Hills) until full system service is restored.

  10. Cali says:

    Hooray! They really should publicize that fact– I’ve seen tons of people on the MTAInsider twitter asking about this.

  11. Sheyne says:

    Yes it is true that at one time the G has lower ridership than other trains but that’s simply note true any longer. Sure it’s not as packed as some trains – like the L but picture this… The local 7, the E the J the M all lines that’ve been restored and all lines that have 10 cars. The G has 5 and it’s often so packed you can’t get on during rush hour. The misery of G train riders is a daily thing that’s been made worse by spotty B62 bus service and no help nor caring by the MTA who insists on treating the line like it’s 1992! Plain and simple – it takes a lot to fix what’s happened to both the G & L lines but just as simple is the truth that the MTA doesn’t care or they’d have shuttle bus service for both lines. It wouldn’t be as difficult as they want to paint it to be. Yes, longer and yes less comfortable but the alternative is 4 hour commutes each way and walking in what Wed will be a noreaster. Get it together MTA!


  1. […] bad news is that L and G trains — missing on Monday — will not return quite yet. The MTA again stressed tonight that “the top subway […]

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