Home Manhattan 42nd St. Shuttle set to lose a platform but gain cars in modernization project

42nd St. Shuttle set to lose a platform but gain cars in modernization project

by Benjamin Kabak

Renderings show the new look for the Times Square terminal of the 42nd St. Shuttle.

The 42nd Street Shuttle is a quirky relic of New York City subway history. When the Interborough Rapid Transit Company opened city’s first subway in 1904, the current east-west jag across 42nd Street wasn’t a shuttle at all. Rather, it was a key part of the route from the now-abandoned City Hall stop to 145th St. and Broadway. But 101 years ago, on August 1, 1918, the 42nd St. connection was severed when the Dual Systems’ H system went into service, and thus it has remained a three-track shuttle since then. The Times Square terminal is even on the National Register of Historic Places.

Now, three tracks will be reduced to two, and the 42nd St. Shuttle will see its most significant overhaul in a century, the MTA officially announced on Friday. The work will result in two-track island platforms at each end of the Shuttle, two fully ADA-compliant platforms, six-car trains and a new passageway from Times Square connecting the Shuttle to the Sixth Ave. trains. Work is scheduled to begin on August 16 and will wrap in 2022 to coincide with the planned opening of the East Side Access project.

“Making our system accessible and easier to use for all New Yorkers is essential to modernizing the MTA, and this 42 St Shuttle transformation project is another example of our progress. Instead of simply fixing the most urgent conditions, we’re taking this opportunity to truly transform the 42 St Shuttle,” MTA Managing Director Veronique Hakim said in a statement on Friday (while Andy Byford was on vacation). “The project will allow the MTA to move more people, run longer trains and simplify transfers for customers between the city’s busiest transit hubs. We’re making crossing Midtown Manhattan quicker and easier for millions of customers.”

A new staircase where the Walgreens currently sits in Times Square will improve passenger flow into the Shuttle area.

The MTA is calling this a “modernization” project, and here’s what that entails, per the MTA’s press release:

  • Expanding current 4-car train length to 6-car trains: The consolidated track operation will also allow longer 6-car trains to enter the terminals, increasing total peak-hour capacity on trains by 20 percent
  • Centralizing the three-track operation to two tracks on one platform: This will make it easier for customers to identify and get to the next arriving train
  • Reconfiguring the current operation from three tracks on a curve to two straight tracks: This will eliminate large platform gaps, making the shuttle fully accessible for mobility-impaired customers, including wheelchair users, and increasing overall platform safety
  • Replacing the current signal system, which dates back to the 1930s, with new modern signals
  • Upgrading the terminal’s electrical infrastructure and adding new crew facilities

It’s not clear though if this is a true modernization effort, leading to a fully automated shuttle, and the six-car configuration could lead to two-person train operations along 42nd Street. It’s also not clear what the reduction from three tracks to two will do to train frequency, but considering short run times, any change in the number of trains per hour should be minimal. The reconfigured track layout will reduce delays on the Times Square side, and the MTA promises a 20% increase in capacity.

The Grand Central terminal will feature one of the largest platforms in the entire subway system.

They key to both ends of this project though are the reconfigured platforms. Track 2 met its demise back in 1918, and now Track 3 will be covered over. At Grand Central, the new platform, according to the MTA, will be one of the largest in the entire system. At Times Square, the trains on Track 1 will no longer open toward the IRT and BMT complex, and the new platform will be 28 feet wide.

The MTA doesn’t plan to shelve Shuttle service while this project unfolds, but the agency warns of “a few extra minutes of travel time” during a.m. and p.m. peaks. At some point, after all, one the Shuttle tracks will be out of service long before the project wraps. Still, it’s about time — the MTA has been talking about this project, as I mentioned, for years.

A diagram of the new track configuration at Grand Central.

It is worth at least a short aside on the value of this project. It’s not immediately clear how much this project will cost. In the capital dashboard, costs are a shade under $240 million for ADA accessibility upgrades and around $30 million for the station reconfiguration work, but the press release did not include a price tag. The MTA states that over 100,000 riders per day take the Shuttle, and the train alleviates pressure on the 7 — which would be unable to pick up most of the slack. Short of turning 42nd St. in a true transitway — Vision42, anyone? — the Shuttle work is required for ADA compliance purposes and to streamline operations.

Ultimately, though, the Franklin Ave. Shuttle is better, and I will stand by that opinion.

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62 comments

Will August 5, 2019 - 6:27 am

I see clusterfuck written all over it. Longer trains reduce platform longer dwell times in terminals. Was it really needed. How about phase 2 of 2ave subway to 116 street

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Cecil Quash August 5, 2019 - 1:12 pm

6 car trains -longer platforms middle track will be gone only. Will be faster not slower, new stations being built. Old station at Times Sq wont exist anymore .

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Chris August 6, 2019 - 7:00 pm

Given that we’ll have 2 6 car platforms, the people movement capacity would (at worst) be roughly the same as the old layout. However, it will likely have a greater ability to move people between GCT and TSQ, as people won’t need to jockey between platforms serving tracks 1/3 and track 4 to go in either direction. The mess at TSQ is horrendous, and has needed to be cleaned up for a long time. If this means extending the TSQ platforms eastward and providing connections to the 6th Ave lines, then this might be a good deal – even though few people will bother making the underground connection between the IRT and IND lines. A great bonus to this idea will be that the shuttle will be ADA compliant – something needed for a long time.

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Bolwerk August 10, 2019 - 12:29 pm

Agree this probably needs to be done, but TSQ’s crowding is largely a side-effect of its use as a transit terminal. It’d be nice if they’d consider lessening the need to transfer there, though I guess there is no politically easy way to do that.

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Adirondacker12800 August 10, 2019 - 1:11 pm

The Second Avenue subway is diverting some from transferring at 59th and Lex or Grand Central. Unless someone wants to come up with the money to duplicate the original route and then mirror it for the upper Lexington Ave lines and lower Seventh, what else could be done?

Walt Gekko August 14, 2019 - 8:38 pm

It has to be remembered when the Times Square (at that time actually still Longacre Square) station was built, the area was not nearly as big as it would become and certainly was not the transit terminal it is now. That’s why it was built as a local station, otherwise, it would have been built as an express stop and probably could have kept all four tracks for the shuttle in both directions.

Zack August 5, 2019 - 7:24 am

Is their presentation online, or was it just a press release? I’m having trouble visualizing the new layout at Times Square, and I’m especially curious about the connection to 6th Avenue.

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Shaul Picker August 5, 2019 - 7:47 am

I found it from CB6’s website and sent the link to Jose Martinez and posted it on NYC Transit Forums The first phase of the project will shut down Track 1. Here is the current work: STRUCTURAL IMPROVEMENTS
9 PM to 6 AM, Mon to Sat until Aug 30
(S) 42 Street Shuttle – board all trains at tracks 3 and 4

During this time, track 1 is closed due to construction.
______________________________

In addition, there are rumors that there will be changes to rolling stock assignments. The fleet of R62As at Livonia will be reduced by 15 with some cars moving to Westchester, meaning 5 or 6 cars will move to the 6. Once construction progresses to allow 6-car trains, 3 sets of R142As on the 4 will be modified to go into six-car trains on the shuttle.

Besides the OPTO issue, a problem I have is that the three track set-up allows Track 4 to be used to store a train if it needs to go out of service. I hope that they preserve Track 3 within the tunnel to serve as a layup track. I also wonder whether they will connect Tracks 1 and 4. Doing so would increase flexibility, but would require the removal of several columns.

Re:Automation, $1 million was budgeted for a study of automating the shuttle in the 2015-2019 MTA Capital Program, but was removed.

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Rob August 5, 2019 - 7:29 am

“reconfigured track layout will reduce delays” – how so? no switching is involved now.

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Shaul Picker August 5, 2019 - 7:49 am

This will reduce delays because the shuttle will no longer be located on curves, eliminating the need for gap fillers. In addition, with longer trains and reduced columns, dwell times will be reduced. Door holding should go down as people won’t have to run to get to the train.

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Shaul Picker August 5, 2019 - 7:54 am

While I understand that this plan is needed to make the shuttle ADA-accessible, I really don’t like the plan because it will eliminate my favorite place in the entire system-the area by the bridge over Track 4 where you can see the 1, 2 and 3 pass right by. This is the only place in the system where you can LEGALLY watch trains pass by in the tunnel. You can see the 1 pass right by, you can see the 1 2 3 Times Square platforms from an angle, you can see a closed portion of the uptown local platform at Times Square and you can see the old trackways connecting the shuttle and the old Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line. They are turning this into employee space. This drives me nuts. Why can’t they find anywhere else to put the employee space? This is whitewashing the history of the IRT-and this is a very historic location that shows the transition from the original subway to the H system. This should be preserved and should not be blocked off.

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M. Loring August 5, 2019 - 12:19 pm

If I understand your statement correctly, I believe there is another location where you can watch trains pass below in the tunnel… 21st St-Queensbridge F station in LIC. It is a very unique design in the NYC subway system.

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Shaul Picker August 5, 2019 - 1:56 pm

That is not what I am talking about. Look here.

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AMH August 5, 2019 - 2:56 pm

Agreed, it’s very unique. I didn’t realize it was a designated historic place, but I wonder what that means for reconstruction. They should really be opening up and restoring historic features and spaces, not closing any off.

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Jeremiah Clemente August 5, 2019 - 8:54 pm

You oppose the new plan because it eliminates that bridge with the view of the Broadway-Seventh Avenue IRT? Seriously?

As a commuter, that should the last thing you should be worried about. There are other things you should be worried about other than a view of the subway tracks.

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SEAN August 7, 2019 - 8:00 pm

I don’t think AMH was apposed to anything, rather he wants historic elements to be both restored as well as functional. Remember the subway system has numerous historic elements & it would be a shame to lose what makes the subway so unique.

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AMH August 9, 2019 - 2:58 pm

Yes exactly. I was dismayed when the original IRT ceilings were recently ripped out of the 145 St/Lenox station, one of the few that still had them with mouldings intact. The beautiful vaulted brick ceilings at 168 St and 181 St were also unceremoniously removed. I’m worried about losing some of the historic elements of Penn Station that still remain in (semi) plain sight with that “modernization” project. Upgrades can and should restore historic elements rather than discarding them, and I’m wondering if the “historic landmark” designation at Times Sq means anything in that regard.

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Wes August 5, 2019 - 7:55 am

Why not make this driverless? What are the crew facilities for?

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Andrew C August 5, 2019 - 4:00 pm

I recall being told back in the early 80s that the Shuttle was capable of being fully automated, and had been for decades, that this had been successfully done in other cities, but that the Transit Workers’ union fought it because they didn’t want to lose the conductor/driver jobs.

According to Wikipedia, not only is this correct, but a successful automation test was done in NYC way back in 1961:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/42nd_Street_Shuttle#1960s:_Automation_test

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Rob August 13, 2019 - 6:25 am

Are you willing to allow shuttle service to completely shutdown during operating hours to allow for Track personnel to have emergency access to the tracks? That’s exactly what it takes to run any train service fully automated without a crew member on board to monitor the operation and tracks. This is exactly why you still have operators on the 7 & L.

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Larry Littlefield August 15, 2019 - 9:45 am

Or one could just shift to manual control during those times.

In any event, as a customer I will always want an employee on each train, and in each station.

The question is why are there still two employees on the 7 and L.

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CK August 12, 2019 - 5:09 pm

It would require a separate small fleet of trains, which would be rather expensive due to the lack of economies of scale. So unless there’s another A division line being made driverless it’s not likely that the shuttle will be driverless in the foreseeable future.

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AMH August 15, 2019 - 3:07 pm

I think you could just use R188s, which are already equipped for ATO.

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Rob August 5, 2019 - 11:27 am

“At Times Square, the trains on Track 1 will no longer open toward the IRT and BMT complex”

I think I understand what’s happening, but not sure. To reach the trains, you have to go to a center island. The IRT/BMT complex will be blocked by a train, so you have to go around it instead of boarding it from an outside platform? In effect, it will be like all the S trains will be as accessible as Track 4 is now, which means, not very accessible?

Running from the 123 to the S while hoping the S is on Track 1 or 3 is a rite of passage for riders heading to GCT. Sometimes the underlying question of what happened to Track 2 would flash through my brain as I was sucking wind from coming up the 123 staircase, or avoiding a face plant on the short stairs down to the S level. As I’m a glass half empty kind of person, I invariably missed my connection at GCT because the S was always on Track 4.

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Alistair August 5, 2019 - 11:55 am

Not quite — it means that all the trains will be on the equivalent of track 3. It might be that they’ll be able to open the doors on both sides for trains on track 1, but you can definitely think of it as a double-sided track 3 and no track 4.

As someone who comes down the little stairway from 43rd St to the shuttle (will that still exist?) I’ll miss track 4…

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SEAN August 5, 2019 - 8:35 pm

If doors can be opened on both sides at Times Square, you could in effect use one side for boarding & the other for disembarking. This will speed up the boarding process & shorten dwell time. That is a fair trade off for a slightly longer walk.

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AMH August 6, 2019 - 4:16 pm

The press release says that the 43rd St entrance will become an emergency exit only. Even with a new entrance at 42 St, that’s unacceptable.

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AMH August 5, 2019 - 2:59 pm

Yes, it will be a single center island platform farther east into the tunnel so as to be on straight track. It will probably be farther from other trains, making the transfer slightly longer. I still expect the 7 to be better connected, especially on the Times Sq side.

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Thomas Schmidt August 5, 2019 - 3:15 pm

Exactly. The Track 1 shuttle is faster by about 2 minutes, I simply won’t take track 4 from GCT.

This looks like a wast of hundreds of millions of dollars, and will leave at least 1/3rd or shuttle riders worse off than they were before. The Track 4 people will benefit.

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AMH August 6, 2019 - 4:13 pm

You’re saying that if the next train is leaving from track 4, you can wait for a train on track 1 and beat the track 4 train to Times Sq? I find that hard to believe.

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SEAN August 7, 2019 - 9:52 am

That’s not what he ment… you lose two minutes when you need to walk around to reach track 4. Just try it & you’ll see how long it takes when you are fighting crowds.

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CM Adams August 7, 2019 - 3:59 pm

With the new configuration, one will not lose time for trains on track 4. So if the surviving tracks are 1/3 or 1/4, we may see people move more quickly because of the extra capacity on each track.

Thomas Schmidt August 8, 2019 - 10:01 am

I’ve found it’s rarely worth the hike to track 4. That track is in service only at the highest use times. Going to GCT, you need to have walked to it before the doors close; I’ve had enough experiences of taking the long detour to the track and getting there after the doors close.

In the other direction, the track 4 shuttle is a bit further than tracks 1 and 3, about 10 seconds walk. The problem is at Times Square where the crowds, the narrow walkway, and the greater distance mean that I might gain 1 minute saved over a track 1 shuttle, if that’s the next departure. I have taken the track 4 shuttle and been so delayed getting to the west side IRT that a track 1 shuttle has pulled up as I approach.

My calculations are it’s not usually worth it.

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AMH August 12, 2019 - 2:24 pm

That makes sense.

Bobbo August 5, 2019 - 12:43 pm

I’m interested in the connection to the Sixth Avenue line. So essentially the Times Sq. station complex will have two 7 train stops or am I misreading this completetly? And if so, will the walk from the shuttle to the BDFM be any quicker than the current walk from the 7 train 5 Ave. station?

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Michael549 August 5, 2019 - 9:36 pm

The Times Square complex, and the 42nd Street-Sixth Avenue complex will simply remain two separate stations with separate entrances. It is simply that there will be a subway entrance direct to the Times Square Shuttle platforms that is closer to Sixth Avenue. There will remain separate station entrances even while using a connecting passenger walking tunnel. There will not be a “free transfer” between those stations.

(Think of the former connecting Gimbel’s passenger walking tunnel that existed between the Penn Station complex, and the Herald Square complex – two separate stations with separate fare entrances – but a walking tunnel for bad weather. There was not a “free transfer” between those stations.)

Or a more recent version of the same idea – at the Fulton Street Transit Center is there the Dey Street Tunnel that allows folks to walk underground between the FTC and the World Trade Center. There are separate train stations within the World Trade Center with separate fare zones, and the Fulton Transit Center with its separate fare zones and entrances. There is not a “free transfer” between those stations.

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Bobbo August 6, 2019 - 9:20 am

Ok thanks for the clarification.

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Nathanael August 7, 2019 - 9:24 pm

Ah, I missed that the connection is “out of system”.

The trouble with the proposed connection is that it’s illegal.

They’re adding a new stairs-only weather-protected route between two stations. That’s illegal. If they’re adding a new weather-protected route, it has to be wheelchair-accessible — that’s ADA law. You can’t build a new route which is all stairs; you have to have a rolling path.

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AMH August 9, 2019 - 12:33 pm

It’s not stairs-only, it’s going to have an elevator. At least that’s how I read the plan.

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Nathanael August 22, 2019 - 7:32 pm

I looked at the plan in detail. I don’t see an elevator shaft for the connection marked on the diagram.

Shaul Picker August 5, 2019 - 1:56 pm

They will both be in the same station complex.

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Benjamin MacKrell August 5, 2019 - 2:43 pm

Might be the single best place to test out platform doors.

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AMH August 5, 2019 - 2:57 pm

Why do the renderings show B Division cars?

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SEAN August 5, 2019 - 8:26 pm

I think that’s just the rendering & nothing more.

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Larry Littlefield August 6, 2019 - 8:51 am

“A new passageway from Times Square connecting the Shuttle to the Sixth Ave. trains.”

If they are eliminating two of the four original tracks, why isn’t there a pedestrian walkway all the way from Grand Central to Times Square?

It isn’t that far — if you don’t have to wait at all the stoplights.

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AMH August 6, 2019 - 4:10 pm

I’ve wished for such a walkway. If I recall correctly, there was a proposal at one time to eliminate the shuttle completely in favor of a moving walkway. It really isn’t far enough to make trains worthwhile.

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Yeechang Lee August 29, 2019 - 4:43 am

I always wondered why there wasn’t a moving walkway system. Makes me feel good that it isn’t a ridiculous idea, and that someone else agrees with me that the distance isn’t far enough to make trains worthwhile.

(So, why *isn’t* there a moving walkway system?)

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TimK August 29, 2019 - 4:56 am

I’m pretty sure the reason there is no moving walkway system is that the shuttle tracks have “always” been there. The shuttle is a portion of the original IRT line that opened in 1904. In today’s terms, it ran from a terminal at City Hall up to Grand Central, over to Times Square, and up Broadway.

Later, the east side line was extended up Lexington Avenue, and the west side line down Seventh Avenue, forming an H. The crossbar of the H, the “Grand Central over to Times Square” part of my description above, was made into a shuttle.

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AMH August 6, 2019 - 4:08 pm

After reading the press release more closely, I’m still left wondering about a few things.

“Replacing the current signal system, which dates back to the 1930s, with new modern signals” — why are signals needed at all? Each train operates exclusively on its own track, so there’s inherently a 0% risk of a collision.

“A 15-feet wide station staircase with custom station signage and a glass canopy will be installed as part of the One Times Square redevelopment” — What is “custom station signage”? Does that mean it’s nonstandard?

“Adding new crew rooms and reconfiguring the employee facility area with an emergency-only exit redesigned from a small 310-square-feet station exit near the NYPD’s Times Square substation” — I guess this means goodbye to that “secret” entrance. While the new larger entrance is much-needed, NYCT should not be closing ANY existing entrances, especially historic ones. Isn’t this supposed to be a landmark?

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JJJJ August 7, 2019 - 11:11 am

2019 and no automation and no platform screen doors. What a joke

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John August 7, 2019 - 3:46 pm

Now would certainly be the time for it, if ever.

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paulb August 7, 2019 - 12:15 pm

IDK. It’s a healthy walk to the shuttle platform from the green train at Grand Central. This is a lot of money.

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SEAN August 7, 2019 - 8:13 pm

Perhaps, but in the long run it’s a worthwhile project that benefits all riders. As of now the shuttle is useless if you are mobility challenged. Oh yeah… you could take the 7, but do you know how long it takes to reach it on a good day when crowding is counted in?

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The Hunkster August 10, 2019 - 5:35 pm

The NYCTA tried to automate the 0 train, which is legally and technically called for the 42nd Street shuttle, back in 1964 but they didn’t. Now in the next three years, I hope this S train could fully automated and CBTC ready.

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marv August 12, 2019 - 9:44 pm

This is pitiful – you will add almost nothing and burn 10’s of millions of dollars.

As the other reader said: Signals on a one train back and forth shuttle?!?!?

This is nothing more (actually less) than a horizontal elevator.

How many airports have similar shuttles that are driverless?

Sounds like a payday for politically connected contractors.

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Michael549 August 13, 2019 - 5:53 am

In a number of responses there was a question of “why would there be signals on the 42nd Street shuttle?”

The basic answer is that both tracks that are to make up this “new shuttle” route STILL CONNECT to the rest of the NYC Subway system for train maintenance, swap-outs, and other important purposes.

Signals of some kind would be needed to indicate when the path is clear for those shuttle trains to rejoin the regular in-service local tracks of the #1 and the #6 subway lines – for repair work, cleaning, etc. The regular in operation signals would be needed so that regular in service #1 and #6 trains do not go barreling into those shuttle trains when they re-join the regular #1 and #6 local tracks.

The fact that these tracks would remain connected to the rest of the former IRT system was clearly noted in the presentation documents.

In addition even if the 42nd Street subway was automated, signals of some kind would still be needed to “tell the train where it is”, and “if the pathway ahead of it is clear.”

Signals (of some kind) are there for safety reasons – so that trains do not go barreling into each other. I thought that was an important goal.

Mike

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Walt Gekko August 14, 2019 - 8:48 pm

Mike:

I believe that Track 4 will be cut off and the only access to the rest of the system will be from Track 1 leading to the Lexington Avenue line.

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AMH August 15, 2019 - 5:39 pm

Track 4 will still be connected to the 7 Av Line. Trains need to access the yards, so the connection can never be cut.

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yuuka August 16, 2019 - 7:51 am

Kind of makes me wonder whether full automation could be done at the same time as the “parents” of track 1 (Lex) and 4 (7Av) respectively.

Wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to throw in track 1 into the Lex CBTC contract…

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David August 14, 2019 - 6:37 pm

Nice to see a bread and butter issue post here and not just gloom and doom about the Governor and MTA & Albany politics. Reminds me of the old days of this site. More of this Ben! 🙂

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Benjamin Kabak August 14, 2019 - 7:40 pm

I had the same thought while writing it!

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SEAN August 16, 2019 - 8:15 am

Time for you to return to the route of what made this site such a joy to read. If you want gloom & doom, read comments from articles on “American Dream” in NJ.

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