Home MTA Construction Inside the circumferential subway route plans

Inside the circumferential subway route plans

by Benjamin Kabak

During his State of the MTA speech on Monday, Elliot Sander, MTA CEO and executive director, gave a nod to an idea whose time has come. “We need to take a close look at the Regional Plan Association’s circumferential subway line, which would convert the lightly used Bay Ridge freight line into a subway service that would run in an arc from southern Brooklyn to Queens to the Bronx,” he said.

As the population in the City’s outer boroughs continues to explode, the Manhattan-centric limitations of the New York City Subway system are exposed for all to see. Work at LaGuardia but live in the Bronx? The commute involves packed buses or a subway trip into Manhattan and a bus to the airport. Live in Flatbush with family in the Bronx? Take a 75-minute, three-borough subway ride just to get there.

Of course, most of these travelers eschew the subway for the relative convenience of an automobile ride. With the City’s preparing to crack down on auto use, circumstances are ripe for a circumferential subway route to connect Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx while leaving Manhattan to its wiles. For those in the know, this plan — referred to as the Triboro RX — is not new. In fact, the Regional Plan Association has been discussing it since its Third Regional Plan published in 1996.

Last summer, Michael Frumin fleshed out the idea and his work — available in this detailed Frumination post — shows how the city could usher in this rail line by using pre-existing rail rights of way and freight lines that don’t see much traffic. The route would swing through heavily underserved section of the city and connect with up to 20 other subway lines. As Frumin models it, at least 76,000 riders a day would use this line with nearly 45 percent of that total coming from people who do not currently use the subway. In other words, in this conservative model, this circumferential line could get a lot of cars off the road.

While the nitty gritty — the Bay Ridge freight line, existing rights of way through Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx — are important (and viewable here in picture form), the fun stuff is of course a map detailing the potential station stops and reach of what Frumin and the RPA have termed the X train. The train would start in Bay Ridge tracking west with the N line to 62nd St. Next, the line would head WNW, providing connections with the F, Q, 2 and 5 before making stops in Marine Park and Mill Basin East Flatbush and Brownsville, two areas sorely in need of a subway.

In Canarsie, the X would meet up with the L to Broadway Junction. The train would then track the M to Metropolitan Ave. and head north through the underserved areas between Metropolitan Ave. and Jackson Heights in Queens. Heading northeast, the train would run through Astoria, across Randall’s Island and into the Bronx where it would cross the 6 and terminate with the 4, D and B at Yankee Stadium.

For more of the technical challenges this route poses, you can check out Frumin’s overview and the alignment details. But engineering demands aside, this line could be a reality with less of a headache than anyone in New York would believe.

Sure, there are challenges, and the MTA’s track record on recent construction projects is fairly terrible right now. But this line, more than the 7 extension, more than the Fulton Hub, more than just about any other capital construction project, would do wonders for the reach of the New York City Subway system.

Right now, it’s a dream, but with a little initiative, this project could easily become a reality and a much-needed one at that.

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Kevin March 6, 2008 - 1:11 am

The problem I see with this now is the additional commuters the line may bring to the subway. The X would act as a feeder line shuttling commuters in underserved areas to the primary east-west lines to get into the city. Those lines are already pretty packed as it is during the rush hour (not to mention the additional crowding from congestion pricing). For the X to be effective, it has to be coupled with more capacity improvements on the major east-west lines, such as CBTC and maybe even the fabled Queens superexpress.

Angus Grieve-Smith March 6, 2008 - 1:12 am

As I’ve said before, the part I’m most skeptical about is the Hell Gate Bridge. Assuming you restore the fourth track, is that still going to be enough for Amtrak, freight trains, Metro-North to Penn Station, and this rapid transit line?

Kid Twist March 6, 2008 - 10:36 am

Good post again, Ben, but this train would go nowhere near Marine Park or Mill Basin. I think it’s more like East Flatbush and Brownsville.

Benjamin Kabak March 6, 2008 - 10:40 am

Thanks Kid Twist. I was reading the map wrong. It’s fixed.

Marc Shepherd March 6, 2008 - 10:51 am

Whenever someone refers to the Hell Gate route, it seems invariably prefaced by the words “lightly used”. If you assume that the fourth track is restored, and that freight traffic can be scheduled for off-peak hours, I would think that there’s more than enough capacity to dedicate two tracks to rapid transit.

Alfred Beach March 6, 2008 - 3:05 pm

Kevin wrote: “The X would act as a feeder line shuttling commuters in underserved areas to the primary east-west lines to get into the city. ”

The new line might bring more people into manhattan, but I see it as keeping more people out of manhattan who are trying to get around in Brooklyn. For me to get from downtown Brooklyn to home in Bushwick, I take the F into manhattan and change to the JMZ. If there were better way to do that *without* going all the way into manhattan, I’d use that instead.

My thinking is that the number of additional Manhattan bound riders the X would create would be equal to the number of Brooklyn bound riders the X would keep out of Manhattan.

Kid Twist March 6, 2008 - 3:42 pm

I think the X might also make it possible for people to avoid the more crowded lines into Manhattan by giving them a fast way to get to an emptier route. If you live in Queens and want to get downtown, you just might find it worthwhile to take the X to the J instead of first crowding into one of the Queens Boulevard trains and then changing in the city to reach Lower Manhattan.

Angus Grieve-Smith March 6, 2008 - 9:11 pm

Marc, the only place I’ve seen “lightly used” near “Hell Gate” is on Michael Frumin’s own page. Someone ought to be able to get some usage statistics, and some idea of how many trains Metro-North might be sending over the bridge.

If it turns out that there isn’t enough room for rapid transit, though, the Metro-North connection would provide a decent route from the Bronx to Queens, with the ability to transfer to the #6 train at multiple points and to the #2 and #5 at 180th Street, and to the Pelham Parkway BRT when that happens. In Queens, Metro-North passengers would be able to transfer to the #7 at Woodside and the E, V and R at Sunnyside. If the frequency and prices are reasonable, it should be fine.

The “X Train” could follow the NY Connecting Railroad as far as 30th Avenue (Boulevard Gardens/St. Michael’s Cemetary) and there’s plenty of room for a nice big station to transfer between the X and Metro-North trains. The X could turn east along the BQE and Astoria Boulevard to La Guardia.

Alon Levy March 6, 2008 - 10:02 pm

Amtrak never runs more than one train in each direction per half hour from New York to New Haven.

The planned Metro-North connection to Penn Station to my knowledge won’t involve a station in Queens. Either way, current headways on the New Haven Line peak at 6 minutes; even if the entire traffic will shift to Penn Station, this will represent a total of 12 tph while commuter rail lines typically allow for 15. At night there will be more than enough room for freight trains.

Kevin Walsh March 8, 2008 - 10:20 am

For a look at the Bay Ridge/ENY Branch as it is now, check this page



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Jason March 11, 2008 - 10:56 am

I think this is a great and really important plan!

But I do have some concern over impacts to both freight access on Long Island and capacity of the Hells Gate bridge.

If there are 4 tracks on the bridge, 2 for rapid transit and 2 for trains, and if full flyovers are built at the junctions, it probably could work out.

But the way I see it, you almost need 3 tracks for the rest of the alignment in the Queens and Brooklyn, 2 for rapid transit and 1 for freight. Otherwise the transit won’t run at night or freight won’t run at all.

If freight doesn’t run on the rails, it will run on the roads…in trucks. If a cross-harbor freight rail tunnel is built, there will be a lot more demand for that right of way.

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Jon June 11, 2009 - 1:47 am

I think the Bay Bridge branch would be better put to use in an overall plan to increase rail freight to Long Island, perhaps put some of those old LIRR spurs and things to use to reduce the amount of trucks that go to the Island, whos major highways favor cars over trucks. There is so much potential, especially in the Nassau Hub area which has a lot of businesses and a whole abandoned line dating back to the mitchell field days. Stuff coming to Roosevelt Field mall and that area could come by freight train instead of trucks which have to navigate local streets to get there.

Brian Power September 19, 2009 - 3:51 am

I think this would be a good line since i live in maspeth and theres only buses.A connection from the queens blvd line to the x would use the 63 street tunnel when the second av subway is built and could be used for the connection from downtown second av trains toward queens and vice versa.So far the mta doesnt have a train to/from queens down second av,this is a big mistake.It would also take away passengers from the overcrowded 7 line.A metro north line would be a waste for queens as most passengers in queens are low to middle income and cant afford to take the metro north railroad.

moe January 8, 2010 - 1:43 pm

How about extending the rail at Bay Ridge through a tunnel and connecting it to the proposed North Shore Rail in Staten Island, making it the Outerboro RX serving ALL 4 outer boroughs.

marvin gruza January 17, 2012 - 8:35 pm

I would like to suggest that the line run from brooklyn only until the Long Island Expressway. At that point have it turn east over the expressway (actually using the expressway with the existing highway elevated over it so as to allow easier street and subway transfer access) until the Van Wyck. Have the line parallel the Van Wyck north to the Port Washington LIRR and then follow the GCP to LaGuadia and possibily over the Hell Gate into the Bronx.

2 major subway/subway and LIRR transfers would be provided at Queens Blvd (converting the the Woodhaven Station into and express stop as its construction allows) and at the Citifield #7/LIRR station.

I believe that this could make such a line an even greater asset to users throughout the city.

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Frank Laczynski July 18, 2013 - 7:39 pm

Why don’t we keep going at bay ridge to staten island. I believe that at one time the BMT started to tunnel under the harbor at 65th to connect to the N line at bay ridge someplace. I never understood why they never reactivated the project to make staten island connect to the rest of new York city by subway. Well at least I can dream a little.

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