Home Triboro RX MTA launches Triboro RX feasibility study, 24 years after the initial RPA proposal

MTA launches Triboro RX feasibility study, 24 years after the initial RPA proposal

by Benjamin Kabak

The MTA has launched a study into restoring passenger service on the Bay Ridge Branch.

Nearly two and a half decades after the Regional Plan Association first proposed a circumferential subway route, the Triboro RX moved one small step closer to reality this week as the MTA announced the start of a feasibility study for part of the proposed line. The $1.3 million study will be run by AECOM and WSP and will examine passenger service on the Bay Ridge Branch, which currently serves as a freight corridor through Brooklyn and Queens.

“This project is hugely exciting,” MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber said in a statement on Wednesday, “partly because it is based on the concept of squeezing more out of our already existing infrastructure so we don’t always have to build new subway lines from scratch. Putting mass transit on the Bay Ridge Branch could allow the MTA to serve more neighborhoods and provide better connections to thousands of people throughout Brooklyn and Queens – all while also creating opportunities for increasing environmentally-friendly freight rail in years to come.”

The study, which Dan Rivoli first reported on for NY1 back in October, has a broad mandate. Per the MTA’s release, it will not be limited to only a subway route but will “evaluate the potential for subway, commuter rail, light rail or bus service that would operate in conjunction with existing and planned freight rail service.” The MTA wants to develop a service that would not cost as much as, say, another phase of the Second Ave. Subway and can help connect job separates in growing neighborhoods while facilitating potential reverse commuting as well. As the MTA notes, the Bay Ridge Branch could provide passenger connections to 19 subway lines and the LIRR.

The Bay Ridge Branch is a current freight route that opened for passenger service in 1876 and last served riders in 1924. It is the Long Island Rail Road’s longest freight-only route and has been the subject of constant future plans since the RPA released its Third Regional Plan in 1996. That document [pdf] first proposed creation of a line running perpendicular to the city’s radial subway and connection to the Bronx via the “lightly-used Hell Gate Bridge.” The Triboro RX trains in that proposal would have served Yankee Stadium and could have helped modernize some of the city’s oldest elevateds around.

The current study omits the Bronx connection, reserving it for future examination and will have to account for the reality that CSX Transportation, a notoriously fickle freight operator, owns the northern half. As the MTA wants to maintain and expand freight capabilities, one potential solution could involve timesharing, and we need to look only to New Jersey Transit’s River Line for a freight/passenger time-sharing model. That, along with many other options, is bound to come up in the AECOM/WSP study.

That the MTA is conducting this study, meanwhile, is notable. The Triboro RX Line has been on the MTA’s radar at least since 2008 when then-MTA Executive Director Lee Sander talked up the circumferential line as part of the agency’s 40-year needs. I wrote up his speech and the plans in a 2008 post. During the 2013 mayoral primary, Christine Quinn wanted to implement a Triboro RX SBS route instead of rail. I wasn’t too keen on the idea then, but it too will get its fair shakedown under the current study.

Over the years, though, the RPA has persisted. Drawing parallels to the London Overground, the RPA has made The Triboro a centerpiece of its Fourth Regional Plan, complete with flashy website and reasonable price estimate. The RPA has maintained that 100,000 riders would use the route initially, and their price tag would put the line within the realm of the possible. “The major capital investments needed to build the line would include signals, new track, rail cars and stations, and possibly power substations,” the RPA has stated. “Initial estimates of costs range between $1 billion and $2 billion.”

Interestingly, this new study comes without a clear political champion, a rarity for the MTA and one that indicates a certain level of internal agency curiosity regarding this plan. The recently-released Rockaway Beach Branch Study, which I thought was designed to put the kibosh on talk of that project, had a political champion, but this one does not. Assembly rep Latrice Walker introduced a bill to mandate a study both this year and last, but that bill hasn’t passed the legislature yet. It appears that the MTA is doing this on its own, and the RPA is quite pleased.

“Regional Plan Association is thrilled that the MTA is moving forward on this study, which is the crucial first step to realize our Triboro vision,” RPA CEO Thomas Wright said. “Transit service on the Bay Ridge Line would not only provide better transit service between the outer boroughs but also cut construction and acquisition costs since the rail tracks are already there. This study will build on our initial concept, and evaluate cost, feasibility, among other issues, to help push the project forward. We are excited to keep working with the MTA and all other partners on this.”

For those of us who love to draw on subway maps with crayons, this study is a tantalizing glimpse into a potential future. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.

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13 comments

Larry Penner January 23, 2020 - 7:04 am

You don’t need another study to tell you that project costs will be several billion more. Consider the need to include a series of new stations with elevators and escalators. This is necessary to provide transfer capacity with 15 subway and 4 commuter rail stations that intersect along the route. (Each connecting subway or commuter rail station could easily cost from $50 to $100 million; (Imagine the costs of escalators and including elevators to be in compliance with the Americans wit Disabilities Act). Add to that — new track, signals, power, power substations and a hundred or more new subway cars ($2 million per car). This additional fleet would require construction of a new maintenance, operations and storage yard (several hundred million.) What community would be willing to host such a facility. There is also a potential serious conflict at the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn terminus. This is also a potential site for a connection to the proposed $10 billion Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel project.

History has told us that construction of most major new transportation system expansion projects have taken decades. There is the completion of feasibility studies, environmental reviews, planning, design, engineering, real estate acquisition, permits, procurements, budgeting, identifying and securing funding to pay for all of the above before construction can start.

(Larry Penner — transportation historian, writer and advocate who previously worked for the Federral Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA.

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Mike M. January 23, 2020 - 10:59 am

There are several places where the Bay Ridge right-of-way parallels or intersects existing subway lines close to maintenance facilities. Cars could easily be stored and maintained at Coney Island, Livonia, East New York and/or Fresh Pond yards. There’s also space for some extra storage tracks where the right-of-way widens under the BQE-Belt-Gowanus junction. Some of the existing facilities might have to be reconfigured but this issue does seem like an obstacle.

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SEAN January 23, 2020 - 11:03 am

Larry,

With that attitude, no largescale transit project would be worthwhile as critics would be screaming cost, cost, cost regardless of utility or benefit. Just imagine NYC without the iconic structures that define it’s character, no subways, Grand Central, Empire State Building or anything like that. The city would be a smaller & in my opinion a less interesting place to be.

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Garbop O. January 23, 2020 - 11:26 am

Something like the Stadler FLIRT bi-modal DEMUs would be perfect for this. This would severely cut down on or remove new power infrastructure requirements. The stations don’t need to be super fancy as many of them will be close to existing subway and commuter connections. You don’t need escalators at every (or any) station. Stairs and an elevator are enough to meet ADA standards. There is no reason, even by MTAs poor cost standards, for this to be anywhere past 1 or 2 billion. But hey, Larry with 31 yEaRs of TraNsiT eXpErIaNcE said so, so we must not even bother trying.

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Ben January 28, 2020 - 6:28 pm

Diesel could significantly increase your yard costs, since they require more maintenance. Adding Electricity might be a nice upgrade for the diesel train operators.

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Bolwerk February 6, 2020 - 1:29 pm

…Stadler FLIRT bi-modal DEMUs…

Ew.

Use equipment that’s compatible with most of the rest of the system. And don’t use diesel in 2020.

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Subutay Musuoglu January 23, 2020 - 2:39 pm

It should be noted that another very likely reason why the Bronx segment has been left out of the study is because MNR’s Penn Station Access project will share the Hell Gate Line ROW in the Bronx with Amtrak, presenting a challenge to introduce a potential third transit service onto the route.

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SEAN January 23, 2020 - 4:41 pm

Yes exactly, but perhaps a BRT line could be created to serve the rest of the potential route to Co-op City. In addition to this, existing bus routes should be routed to the new MNR station instead of just Bay Plaza for easy transfers to, from & within the neighborhood as Co-op City is huge with busses going in all directions.

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Subutay Musluoglu January 24, 2020 - 10:35 am

I think it’s safe to assume that key bus routes will be restructured to serve all the new stations in the East Bronx, and I believe that there will be a Transit-Oriented Development undertaken by the City around Hunts Point.

BRT is not practical for the Bronx route for variety of reasons, and besides which it’s highly doubtful Amtrak will ever allow it. If a version of Triboro emerges successfully from the study, it will take many years to implement (early to mid-2030s is reasonable to expect) and mostly likely in a phased approach. In that scenario, the Brooklyn half makes sense as a starting point from an engineering standpoint and the higher number of transfers to existing rail transit routes. The Queens segment could be Phase 2, due to some more engineering challenges.

Future continuation of Triboro into the Bronx makes sense as a Phase 3 rail project, but long after MNR service has started and Amtrak’s own future NEC schedule increases are in place, and things have settled down.

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smartone January 24, 2020 - 10:40 am

NY was ready to give Amazon 3 billion in tax breaks so they would develop a business district in LIC . to take pressure off Manhattan centric business development.
It seems like Triboro RX would do something similar – but it would benefit NYC instead of a rich corporation like Amazon.

As far as the place where trains have to share – why can’t they just dig tunnels underweath current right of way of rails then no need to share the rails ..

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Ben January 28, 2020 - 6:40 pm

This looks like it goes near La Guardia. They should study it together with the air train and consider connecting it to La Guardia as an option to cover both projects.

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Daniel January 31, 2020 - 9:59 pm

I would like to see them consider implementing this by connecting to and extending existing subway lines rather than a parallel noncompatible system. Connect to the L at New Lots, the M at Metropolitan, and the N between New Utrecht and 1st Ave terminus. This would add 2 existing stations, cut 5 redundant stations and 2 large stretches of new trackage. Using compatible equipment and existing facilities would cut construction, operational and training costs.

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James February 26, 2020 - 6:31 pm

As a resident of bushwick who frequently works in jackson heights, astoria, sunset park and other points along the proposed route, I’ve been looking forward to an update on the RX for years. Glad to see it come back to light, it could benefit many many NYers, especially with so much development happening in all these neighborhoods. Fingers crossed!

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