Home Subway History The high-priced origins of the Chrystie St. Cut

The high-priced origins of the Chrystie St. Cut

by Benjamin Kabak

The 1972 Vignelli map showed the now-defunct K train making use of the Chrystie St. Cut.

When New York City Transit announced that, as part of their service cuts, the M train would run from Middle Village to Forest Hills via Sixth Ave., many riders were confused about this routing. While those in the know knew about the Chrystie St. Cut, only New Yorkers around for the death of the K train in 1976 could lay claim to knowledge of that connection, and after 34 years of silence, the tunnel connecting Essex St. on the BMT Nassau St. line with Broadway/Lafayette on the IND Sixth Ave. had been lost to the sands of subway time.

Today — two days after Doomsday — we know all about the Chrystie St. Cut. We know that a train with 60-foot cars only can slowly wind its way from Essex to the Sixth Ave., and we know that residents in northern Brooklyn and southern Queens are enjoying the new one-seat ride to Chelsea and Midtown. They ought to, after all; it was an expensive connection to build.

Our tale starts in 1954, nearly 15 years before initial revenue service on the Cut would begin. That year, the Transit Authority, the precursor to the MTA, asked the Board of Estimate for $172 million for capital improvements. In their request was a $37 million outlay for the entire Chrystie St. Connection that would allow BMT trains coming off of the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges to transfer over to the IND tracks in Manhattan. In 2009 dollars, that would be akin to a $292 million price tag, small beans considering the cost of the Second Ave. Subway and 7 line extension.

From the get-go, the project faced a lukewarm reception. New York City planning officials worried that the connection would be a “possible detriment to efficient rapid transit traffic movement” to and from Lower Manhattan. In 1957, however, these objections were put to bed, and the TA promised a three-year construction timeline. The Board of Estimates authorized a $10.2 million expenditure for the first phase, up from $9 million a year before, and on November 25, 1957, officials gathered for the groundbreaking. The price had risen to $58 million or $437 million in 2009 dollars. Even in the 1950s, the TA couldn’t control construction costs.

In 1961, a year after the TA’s initial deadline, trouble began. One report accused the authority of wasting money on the modernization project. As 1961 turned into 1962 turned into 1963, the costs rose from $60 million to $70 million. By the end of 1963, one report had the project’s cost at $74.8 million or $518 million in 2009 dollars. In 1964, the new connection was still supposedly one year away from being ready for service, and the city started a clean-up effort that involved restoring parks and removing unsightly barriers.

Finally, a decade after beginning work, in November of 1967, the Chrystie St. Connection went into service. While the passengers were confused, the Manhattan Bridge connection proved to be a hit. The Williamsburg Bridge/Chrystie St. Cut sections suffered though. The KK, a skip-stop service to Jamaica, went into service in the summer of 1968, and commuters were unhappy. The routes were slow and often indirect. By 1975, the MTA had announced plans to pull the plug on the Chrystie St. Cut, and in August of 1976, amidst budget crises and deficits, the KK was no more. In the end, construction of the Chrystie St. Connection took 10 years while K trains ran through the Cut for just eight.

When the last K train rolled down that line, little did New Yorkers realize that a useful subway connection would be severed from the Beame Years until the reign of King Bloomberg. It is ironic too that service originally cut due to a budget deficit was this time restored for the same reasons. I’ll have more riders of the M train later today, but it is a fascinating history. The Chrystie St. Connection remains vital today as trains coming off of the Manhattan Bridge have used it for decades, and now, after just eight years of initial use and nearly four decades of neglect, the Williamsburg connection has been restored. Through it all, we’re still waiting for both a properly funded transit system and the Second Ave. Subway, an original impetus for the Chrystie St. work all those years ago.

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Researcher June 30, 2010 - 7:18 am

And this was designed to be part of the 2nd Avenue line. Had some earlier plans proceeded, the Grand Street station would have been a transfer with the side platforms becoming island platforms.

Jerrold June 30, 2010 - 12:23 pm

Isn’t THAT what’s still supposed to happen, if they ever actually build Phase 4?
Look at the map at the top of this page:
Grand St.(B, D, T).

Marc Shepherd June 30, 2010 - 4:41 pm

In the current proposal, the SAS tracks would run underneath the current Grand St. station, rather than side by side. In this respect, it would resemble Seventh Avenue–53rd Street, with two tracks on each of two levels. The MTA now believes that the side-by-side option at Grand St. would require too much surface-level disruption.

Alon Levy July 1, 2010 - 11:34 am

Even a two-level Grand Street station would be much better than 7th Avenue. At 7th/53rd, the IND deliberately avoided making the useful transfers cross-platform, as part of its ideology about having strict uptown and downtown directions. Instead, it made both useful transfers require walking up the stairs.

At a two-level Grand Street station, you’d at least have elevators and go down for some transfers.

Andrew July 2, 2010 - 7:14 pm

The most useful transfers (Queens to CPW and vice versa) are downstairs. The cross-platform transfers are somewhat useful, especially on weekends (no M) and during GO’s (to get from 50th to CPW when the C is running express). The upstairs transfers are completely useless.

And I suspect that the layout at that station was dictated largely by the geometrics of the tracks threading around each other.

Scott E June 30, 2010 - 7:49 am

Before the cut was reopened for revenue service this week, I would imagine it still was used for some purpose, wasn’t it? We’ve heard nothing about rehabilitating this section of track, its signals, etc in preparation for this routing change. Surely it couldn’t have sat dormant for 34 years.

Nathanael July 2, 2010 - 2:58 pm

It was used for empty stock movements.

Joe July 6, 2010 - 5:34 pm

In passing F trains, it was evident that work was being done on the track. I don’t know if a full-blown track replacement was done (like the double crossover that was replaced at 2 Ave prior to the V service beginning), but it appeared as though it was being prepped for regular use.

AlexB June 30, 2010 - 9:45 am

The Chrystie Street Connections were built as a small part of a system-wide expansion of which the centerpiece was the 2nd Ave line. The 63rd St tunnel and the Chrystie St tunnel were both supposed to feed directly into or provide convenient connections to 2nd Ave. Is it not a little weird that the connection to the Jamaica/Williamsburg Bridge line makes a connection to 2nd Ave impossible??? Neither Essex nor Bway-Lafayette are anywhere near 2nd Ave. A connection from Bowery to Grand would be feasible and useful, but has never been proposed. Is there any explanation for this?

Marc Shepherd June 30, 2010 - 4:47 pm

I believe the connection you are discussing was considered. The main issue is that the J/M stations have 480-foot platforms, whereas the IND stations have 600-foot platforms. Either the SAS would need to be limited to 480-foot trains, or the Nassau Street Line platforms would need to be extended by 120 feet apiece.

Extending the Nassau Street platforms is very difficult. The line passes through old neighborhoods, where there is no clearance for expansion. Limiting the SAS to 480-foot trains would be awfully short-sighted.

BrooklynBus June 30, 2010 - 10:47 am

The fact that such an expensive connection was built and allowed to lay dormant for so many years is in itself ridiculous.

Benjamin Kabak June 30, 2010 - 10:48 am

To be clear, the expensive project was the entire Chrystie St. Connection that included reworking the Manhattan Bridge-to-DeKalb Ave. exchange. The Cut was just one part of the whole, and that was the only part allowed to remain dormant.

It’s still ridiculous.

Kid Twist June 30, 2010 - 10:50 am

So now the connection from the Nassau Loop to the Montague Street Tunnel is going to lie dormant for years. Also ridiculous.

Kai B June 30, 2010 - 1:57 pm

It’s used occasionally for “special” J-Trains to replace the 4 on weekends (Chambers to Prospect Park).

Kid Twist June 30, 2010 - 3:07 pm

Well, it’ll be interesting if they do that again, since the southbound platform at Broad Street is now exit-only.

Brian | BK Southie June 30, 2010 - 6:58 pm

Uh, guys? The J and Z still go to Broad Street during the workweek. The only track that won’t be getting regular use here is the connection from Broad Street to the Montague Tunnel.

Brian | BK Southie June 30, 2010 - 7:04 pm

I’m sorry, I read that too fast. I see your point, Kid. There are two entrances to the southbound platform, one of them is the mezzanine that connects to both platforms, and that’s always been open on those ‘special J’ weekends (even though the station has usually been shuttered on weekends). I think the HEET turnstiles remain exit-only, even on Special J weekends, but on that point I could be wrong. (It’s been a reallly long time since I’ve used Broad Street on one of those special J’s.)

Andrew July 2, 2010 - 7:16 pm

It’s ridiculous that the connection was built? Perhaps.

Or it’s ridiculous that, once it was built, it was only used for a few years? No it’s not. By the time the K was canceled, the connection was a sunk cost. The existence of a track doesn’t imply that it needs to be used.

Nabe News: June 30 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle June 30, 2010 - 1:33 pm

[…] the M train and the long-dormant “Chrystie Street Cut” [Second Avenue […]

Kai B June 30, 2010 - 3:50 pm

In 2009 it would have actually cost $1.37 billion, at least according to this inflation calculator: http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

Seems a little more in line with the size of the project.

Kai B June 30, 2010 - 3:52 pm

Er, actually you were right about just the Christie piece. I calculated the whole amount requested from the BoE. My mistake.

The High Cost of the Chrystie Street Revision July 1, 2010 - 2:25 am

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Dispatches from the M: Sixth Ave. Sagas :: Second Ave. Sagas July 1, 2010 - 12:02 pm

[…] MTA reactivated the Chystie St. Cut earlier this week when service changes forced the M up Sixth Ave. to replace the V train. While […]

Bob Olmsted July 15, 2010 - 11:46 pm

The Chrystie Street connection consists of two connections: Manhattan Bridge via Grand St and Willie B via Essex St. The connections couldn’t open until two other projects were completed: 6th Ave express tracks (for capacity) and the 57 St station (to turn KK trains). The alignment and profiles of the line on Chrystie St allow for two 2nd Ave tracks to thread through the complex and widening Grand St into an express type station, and also allowed for a 2nd Ave connection to Nassau St at Delancey St. The concept was that all platforms would be lengthened (about 75 to 85 feet, not 120 ft)for ten (60-ft) cars, including Nassau St and the J line (which was to be realigned at Crescent St and 3-tracked).

A glimpse of the subway map past :: Second Ave. Sagas September 16, 2010 - 12:25 pm

[…] subway station at 57th St. and 6th Ave. is an oddity in midtown. Opened in 1968 as part of the massive Chrystie St. project, it served as the northern terminal for the AirTrain, a Grand St. shuttle and various other Sixth […]

Video of the Day: New York Subway 1986 NYC :: Second Ave. Sagas April 1, 2011 - 2:03 am

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Photo: Subway routes presents, subway routes past :: Second Ave. Sagas September 13, 2012 - 12:13 am

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W.B. March 28, 2016 - 12:02 am

The irony of the M train now using the “Chrystie Street cut” has to do with when the KK was first launched in 1968; MTA planners also intended, at the time, for an MM train (to be colored green) to run on that same route, only to Metropolitan Avenue. (Route rollsigns prepared in 1969 as on R16 class subway cars showed an MM line among the other lettered routes.) The terminus differed from the 1968 plan and the post-2010 line, though: in 1968, it was to be 57th Street-6th Avenue, today it’s 71st and Continental Avenues.


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