Home Superstorm Sandy With Montague Tube out, other trains more crowded

With Montague Tube out, other trains more crowded

by Benjamin Kabak

Here’s a shocker from The New York Post: In light of the ongoing R train service changes related to Sandy recovery work, other train lines between Brooklyn and Manhattan are more crowded than ever. This is, I’d say, an ON IT-style story, but on a slow news Monday, it made some headlines in Alexander Hamilton’s old newspaper.

Sarcasm aside, there are some bits and pieces of a more meaningful story in here. Let’s take a look at the story that starts out, hyperbolically, with a quote from a former NFLer:

The R train’s damaged Montague tube was shut down in August, sending displaced straphangers to alternate subway lines. Since then, C-train ridership has jumped 40 percent during morning peak periods, according to new MTA data obtained by the Riders Alliance and Straphangers Campaign. “I feel like a sardine packed in a can,” Ellis told The Post. “It’s the worst feeling in a world.”

The MTA said there were an additional 32 riders per car at the Jay Street-MetroTech station between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. from September to November of last year, as compared with the months of January to June. The extra passengers bring the C train to a near- capacity level of 98 percent, up from 70 percent. “That’s inhumane,” said Kahtrell Lewis, a 23-year-old member of the Riders Alliance, blasting the overcrowding. “You can’t move. Everyone is on top of each other.” He added that passengers at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station often have to watch two or three trains go by before they can squeeze in.

The C isn’t the only line where riders are squeezed. The A train saw a 21 percent increase between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at Jay Street-MetroTech station. And at the nearby Borough Hall station, ridership on the 4 line is up nearly 24 percent from 59 to 73 travelers car, while the 5 train saw a 22 percent increase.

The story came to The Post from the Riders Alliance, of which I am a board member, but I’m not sure the increased crowding is the real issue here. I’ve noticed some more crowded trains on my morning commute on the 2 or 3, but the articles doesn’t touch upon the increased ridership on these lines early in the morning. I’ve also noticed these crowds before the Montague Tube underwent repairs, and it wasn’t pleasant then. That said, the C has long had excess capacity between Brooklyn and Manhattan in the morning, and as much as we don’t like to admit it, so has the 4 and 5.

As always, if any area was designed to withstand the pressures of a 14-month outage, it was this particular corridor between Kings and New York Counties. With multiple options and express and local trains serving all corridors, riders fan out across four or five subway lines, and while trains overall are more crowded, the end result isn’t that one line is overtaxed. There is also no other way to perform urgently necessary work on the Montague Tube.

But what the real story is here concerns the C train. It is terrible. It doesn’t run frequently enough; the rolling stock is decrepit; the announcements are inaudible; the stations — including Hoyt/Schermerhorn — are visually unappealing and are generally downright messes. There’s no easy fix that doesn’t involve a lot of money and a commitment the MTA doesn’t seem able to make right now, but at least more people are paying attention. When more people pay attention, good things can happen. For now, though, Sandy reroutes are going to lead to crowded trains, and the C train in particular won’t get any better. After all, it gets only 2 stars on Yelp for a reason.

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Stephen Smith January 21, 2014 - 1:28 am

There’s no easy fix that doesn’t involve a lot of money…

Man, if only there were some way to cut marginal costs of running trains on lines that are not currently maxed out during rush hour (i.e., nearly all non-IRT lines) by a sizable amount without affecting service quality…

John-2 January 21, 2014 - 1:43 am

Going back over 20 years, the C and the Eastern Division have been traditionally the locations where the MTA sends older B Division trains to die (things are better now on the Eastern Division than a decade ago, but riders there still have those R-42s to remind them of the not-so-distant past). The problem will pretty much resolve itself a few years from now when the R-179s show up, though it wouldn’t be a shock to see the A line’s R-46s be bumped down to C service until the R-211s arrive, at which time the C will likely end up with a fleet of R-68 cars (all that’s assuming the MTA in a few years will have fixed the concerns they have over sending the new technology trains on the A to the Rockaways).

Lance January 21, 2014 - 9:37 am

The C will receive the new 179s because they were ordered mostly in four-car sets (the relatively few five-car sets will likely go to Coney Island for fleet expansion in anticipation for 2nd Avenue). The A will not be able to handle 480 foot trains like the C does now.

D. G. Rossiter January 21, 2014 - 5:14 am

Please all go ahead and read the comments in Yelp. I loved this ode to my all-time favourite subway car:

“You’re damn straight I give the C-trizzy 5 shining stars. Why? BECAUSE THE TRAINS ON THIS LINE ARE 47 YEARS OLD!!!

You can’t make that up. The R32s, or “Brightliners” were built in 1965/1965, and are still earning their keep today. Of course they’re uncomfortable, creaky, loud and dirty; they were built a year after President Kennedy was assasinated! When they were built Yogi Berra managed the Yankees, and Whitey Ford was pitching. It was Shea Stadium’s first season. The World’s Fair was in Queens.

Seriously; since these chrome dragons were put in service, FIVE different types of subway cars were designed, put into use, and removed from service and scrapped, and the Cs continue to roll on. Whatever this company did when they made these things ought to be replicated in every way possible. These are the VW Beetle of subway cars; no heat and bumpy, but ready to haul you to your stop.

Keep it real C-train! i hope I last as long as you do.”

My feelings exactly!

Eric Brasure January 21, 2014 - 9:33 am

I don’t mind the R32s. They make me nostalgic and are value for money.

Phantom January 21, 2014 - 11:56 am

I love the R32s also. I’d keep them forever.

BruceNY January 21, 2014 - 2:39 pm

Personally I thought the R38’s were far more aesthetically appealing (despite the wretched “facelift” both models received in the early 90’s)–I miss them a lot. But at least we can all still enjoy a “motorman’s view” out the front window!

Larry Littlefield January 21, 2014 - 6:57 am

“There’s no easy fix that doesn’t involve a lot of money ”

Add two cars per train?

No love for the Brightliners? They are historically about as reliable as subway cars get, even in the bad old days. I guess they won’t be getting the send off the Redbirds did.

Nathanael January 22, 2014 - 1:45 am

“I guess they won’t be getting the send off the Redbirds did.”

They won’t be thrown in the Bay?

SEAN January 21, 2014 - 8:24 am

Here’s a shocker from The New York Post: In light of the ongoing R train service changes related to Sandy recovery work, other train lines between Brooklyn and Manhattan are more crowded than ever.

Wow – way to go NY Post, keep it up.

As I recall, the C was planned to be eliminated do to low ridership, but unsaid was that either the B would need to run full time or the A or D would lose express service along CPW.

Eric Brasure January 21, 2014 - 9:34 am

Huh? The B and the C don’t run the same route in Brooklyn.

Lance January 21, 2014 - 9:41 am

Central Park West’s local stations would be served by the B, as it is now, 50 St would be served only by the E trains and the A would return to the service pattern of the past by running local in Brooklyn at all times. That’s how I’d see that pan out. Obviously, it’s a good thing that never came to pass.

Brooklyn Cowbell Guy January 21, 2014 - 9:48 am

As a college student who dorms by the B & whose parents live by the B, a one seat ride on weekends would be nice. They could send the E to Brooklyn.

John T January 21, 2014 - 8:26 am

I agree with Larry L – make the C trains 10 cars and you’ll also improve the speed – people at far ends of platforms board faster when they don’t have to run then squeeze into the packed 1st or last car.

Luckily they opened the A/C to R connection at Jay St, it is really well used. I use the Court St conneciton between the R & 2/3 daily and I agree, no reall increase in riders to me, perhaps because downtown they are relatively further apart.

Please be nice to our R32s – they are our unappreciated nostalgia train, we’ll miss them when they’re gone. I’ve seen a rare R42 on the C line however, these have issues!

Abba January 21, 2014 - 8:47 am

Yes can’t they make it 10 cars per C train? Do they have enough in stock?

Larry Littlefield January 21, 2014 - 9:37 am

My sense is they cut TPH on the R train, since it will no longer be going through. Let’s say they cut it from 10 TPH to 8 TPH.

That’s two trains and 20 cars that are freed up each hour. So you could add two cars per C train for 10 trains per hour until R service is increased again.

John-2 January 21, 2014 - 12:01 pm

That’s easy to do with the R-32s, but not-so-easy with the newer trains on the other lines, which are locked into four- or five-car units. So even though you have 20 extra cars, you can’t split their up onto 10 other eight-car trains.

Bolwerk January 21, 2014 - 12:02 pm

The A/C tunnel is one of the most busy in terms of TPH (probably not in terms of passengers).

Larry Littlefield January 21, 2014 - 2:28 pm

Last I heard it was at 26, with just 8 C trains.

Back in the day when service levels were higher (and there were fewer spares), the A and E used to go to Brooklyn, proving 30 tph full length on the line, with the CC going to what would become the WTC.

JMB January 21, 2014 - 9:37 am

Article mentions crush loading on the C, but no mention of the N where I would hazard to say that the majority of displaced R train riders ended up. And trust me, the N is packed to the gills by the time it rolls into 59th in BK. Ive all about given up on ever catching one and instead I opt to stay on the R until 36th where I might be able to squeeze onto a D train.

Seriously, shutting the Montague down has been an epic pain in the ass both coming and going. I’ve tried each alternative (N,D, A/C or the IRT lines) and each line is packed by the time R riders can transfer to it. My 1 -seat ride from 86th to Cityhall used to take at most 35 minutes,..now its approaching an hour and thats on good days.

MTA could solve this anxiety-inducing crushload by adding far more N trains during the peak hours. I just keep telling myself just a few more months but my more cyncial neighbors are already betting the MTA will miss the Oct.2014 deadline to reopen Montague.

JMB January 21, 2014 - 9:41 am

My 1 -seat ride from 86th to Cityhall used to take at most 35 minutes,..now its approaching an hour and thats on good days.

Forgot to mention the commute has shifted from a truly one seat ride (seated allll the way) to requiring to two other trains, with both packed up like sardines.


Larry Littlefield January 21, 2014 - 9:40 am

“I feel like a sardine packed in a can,” Ellis told The Post. “It’s the worst feeling in a world.”

It is worth noting that being crush-loaded on a train with no air conditioning and windows open and letting in huge noise ricocheting in from the tunnel walls was the everyday experience back in the day.

Sandy is just preparing us for life a decade or so after the debts of the past 20 years lead to the collapse of the “maintenance” part of the MTA capital plan.

Herb Lehman January 21, 2014 - 11:51 am

Interesting that the largest crush from the R would go to the C train, of all possible trains, but it kind of makes sense with the Jay St-Metrotech transfer. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised that more people haven’t migrated from the R to the 4/5. Then again, the 4/5 was crowded enough before that adding a few more people doesn’t make that much of a difference.

Michael January 21, 2014 - 1:55 pm

Plenty of former R-train users at Whitehall Street-South Ferry have migrated to the #4 and #5 lines. During the weekdays when the Manhattan and Queens only version of the R-train there is a sizable amount of folks that take that R-train uptown from the ferry terminal. However the Brooklyn bound folk – have to rely upon the #4 and #5 trains since Bowling Green is the nearest station within easy walking distance of the Whitehall Ferry Terminal. (The trek to/from the Ferry Terminal to either Wall Street on the #2 and #3, or Broad Street on the J-train is simply not an easy or timely uphill trek. I’ve been there & done that.)

On the weekends when the R-train travels over the Manhattan Bridge, and the stations from City Hall to Whitehall Street are closed – folks traveling on the eastside have only the #4 or #5 trains available to get to/from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal.

Usually folks leaving the ferry terminal headed toward Brooklyn walk on the Broadway side of Battery Park headed to the #4 and #5 trains to Brooklyn, there’s a nice crowd of folks making the trek. At all times of the day and night, there’s the usual trek of folks headed up Whitehall Street to Bowling Green to take the uptown trains. Since the #4 and #5 trains are usually crowded anyway, the riders to/from Whitehall Street-South Ferry blend into the crowds, and add to the already crowded trains.

The connection between the R-train and the A and C trains at Jay Street-Borough Hall is an especially important connection for me, since it was my usual pathway to/from work. I used the R-train at Whitehall Street to transfer to the A or C trains to get to/from work. Making the trip with the #4 and #5 trains at Fulton Street, especially when the A and C trains get re-routed over the F-train’s Rutgers Street tunnel, required time-consuming trips to/from West 4th Street, when the only connection between the #4 and #5 and the A and C trains has been disrupted is a pure pain in the ass. There were plenty of times over the years before that connection was built that I’d make an “out of system” transfer between the R-train and the A/C trains rather than deal with the mess of the tunnel re-routes. The R-train between Brooklyn and Manhattan provided a very useful pathway, that the closure of the Montague Street Tunnel illustrates.

While it is important to look at Brooklyn-based riders of the R-train (who are headed to/from Manhattan) that have been affected by the closing of the Montague Street tunnel for repair work, there are also other riders that have been affected by the closure as well. It is good idea to look at the affect not only for various trips during the weekdays, but also on weekends and nights.


Larry Littlefield January 21, 2014 - 2:30 pm

Not to mention the “winter operations” impact. In past blizzards, I’ve been able to get to work by walking the 1.5 miles to 9th Street and 4th Avenue, and taking the all-underground R to work.

Herb Lehman January 21, 2014 - 4:32 pm

Mike: I agree with you on all those points and I miss the R train terribly on the weekends. I’m not downplaying the loss of the R train at all. I was just surprised that the load on the 4/5 hasn’t been even worse than it is.

Rob January 21, 2014 - 3:01 pm

‘the 4/5 was crowded enough before’? These cats said ridership on the 4 line was 59 travelers car [sic] – for the rush hr peak, that’s almost empty in my book.

Benjamin Kabak January 21, 2014 - 3:04 pm

That’s for the C, not the 4/5. At no peak-hour is ridership that low on the 4/5 for the Manhattan/Brooklyn river crossing.

Simon January 21, 2014 - 3:48 pm

Right, but it doesn’t make sense that trains would already be packed at Hoyt-Schermerhorn because of the R. Sounds like ridership is up anyway.

Spiderpig January 21, 2014 - 4:23 pm

These people should try riding the 6 from 86th to Grand Central on weekday mornings.

tacony January 22, 2014 - 12:14 pm

the C has long had excess capacity between Brooklyn and Manhattan in the morning, and as much as we don’t like to admit it, so has the 4 and 5.

Why “don’t [we] like to admit it”? The 4/5 are packed between the Bronx and 14th Street. If anything this is an argument for upzoning the area around the 4/5 in Brooklyn (and completing the 2nd Ave Subway and replacing the 3rd Avenue El in the Bronx)!

mike February 13, 2014 - 8:39 am

added to that more illegals and foreigners in this city than ever before.and the women with baby carriages really makes me laugh.they have no respect to fold the stroller,i mean carriage.why do u need to bring a fancuy large stroller on rush hr trains?geez,and lets not forget the isiots with the large backpacks who just feel its ok to leave it on and make everyone go around them.idits

mike February 13, 2014 - 8:40 am

why did they make the irt trains with poles right by the door?everyone stands around it and no one can enter.and the black guys who think they own the doorway.they will not step aside or off when the doors open.


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