Home Queens From Queens, ideas for an expanded subway system

From Queens, ideas for an expanded subway system

by Benjamin Kabak
The 1939 plans for the IND Second System would have expanded the subways to the far reaches of Queens.

The 1939 plans for the IND Second System would have expanded the subways to the far reaches of Queens.

New York City’s local races — of which there are plenty this year — tend to bring out the crazier transportation ideas. Over at Streetsblog, local candidates have offered up their views on the MTA ranging from the incomprehensible to the sensible while Sal Albanese has focused his mayoral campaign around a congestion traffic plan that would boost mass transit. My favorite though comes to us from Queens.

Leroy Comrie, a current City Council member, is running for Queens Borough President. He isn’t likely to top Melinda Katz who has the backing of the county leaders, but that shouldn’t stop him from trying. In announcing his candidacy, Comrie unveiled his desire to see new subways for Queens. The plans aren’t exactly well formulated or even on the table, but the idea is an intriguing and fanciful one.

The Daily News had more about the ideas put forth by the chair of the Council’s Land Use Committee:

Councilman Leroy Comrie re-launched his bid for borough president this week by dropping a stunning bombshell: he wants a new subway line in Queens. “The E and the F lines are more congested — we could build another line in that tunnel,” said Comrie (D-St. Albans). “Those are the most congested lines in the city.”

The J and Z lines that connect Brooklyn to Queens also could use an overhaul, he said.

The cost of additional service makes Comrie’s proposal as likely as a Mets World Series victory this year. After all, the long delayed Second Avenue subway, which will run from 63rd to 96th Sts. in Manhattan, will cost $4.5 billion by the time it is finished in 2016.

I’m not quite sure what Comrie intends to do with the Queens Boulevard line. There’s no room to “build another line” in the same tunnel, and any new subway in Queens should enhance service, not duplicate preexisting routes. Still, there are significant parts of Queens that are sorely lacking subway service.

For starters, a rail connection to Laguardia would improve mobility to the airport. In terms of access to and through residential neighborhoods, Middle Village could use better subway service, the areas east of Flushing are cut off from the system, and, of course, the Rockaway Beach Branch line could be reactivated. That last proposal has been in the news of late.

With around 2.25 million people, Queens is the second most populous borough, but its subway routes are limited. The western parts of Queens are well served, but the eastern parts are not. Additionally intra-borough, north-south travel is nigh but impossible. Had either version of the Second System plans (1929 or 1939) seen the light of day, Queens would have a more extensive subway network, but only bits and pieces have come online over the decade. None of the transformational lines have seen the light of day.

Ultimately, Comrie’s ideas won’t go anywhere. His candidacy is barely hanging on by a thread, and he’ll likely drop out well before September’s primary. Plus, the Borough President has very little pull in matters of state or even city politics. Still, I like seeing bold ideas presented to the public. Subway expansion plans happen only when leaders are willing to champion them, and if anyone in Queens truly wants better subway service, the calls for it must start somewhere.

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vanshnookenraggen June 7, 2013 - 3:18 am

Queens won’t get a new subway line until politicians accept that it will be either at grade (along existing ROW) or a new elevated line. Modern elevated lines can be built much less intrusive than the one’s from 100 years ago (which is all anyone is going to think of at the mention of “elevated”). NIMBys will freak and yell loud enough that the pols will bark without thinking.

Bolwerk June 7, 2013 - 9:12 am

There is no reason parts of Queens couldn’t have a subsurface line. The price for such a thing shouldn’t approach the costs of SAS.

NIMBYs will hate it just as much, so fuck ’em.

D in Bushwick June 7, 2013 - 11:15 am

You can F the NIMBYs all you want but they will get their way.
It is possible that a new subway line built like the AirTrain over one of the Queens’ expressways might happen, but in reality, the Second Ave Subway will be the last new subway line NYC will ever see.
And they’ll never finish the SAS below 72nd Street.

VLM June 7, 2013 - 11:16 am

I’m always amazed that Ben takes such a light hand with the comments section. You truly do leave some of the worst comments around.

D in Bushwick June 7, 2013 - 12:39 pm

Why? It will take 70 years to open one leg of the proposed Second Ave Subway.
Do you really think another new subway line will get built elsewhere anytime faster given budget constraints and NIMBYs?

Bolwerk June 7, 2013 - 12:50 pm

Budget constraints, in this case, are a political rather than financial problem. If present conditions continue, yes, you’re right, but it would be ridiculous for present conditions to continue indefinitely when they don’t have to.

Bolwerk June 7, 2013 - 11:22 am

You know, if we didn’t have NIMBYs literally dragging down our politics and economy, the idea of building new subway lines would be a fairly trivial thing, as it is in other modern countries.

NIMBYs are allowed to have their voices heard, and maybe shouldn’t be summarily executed, but there is no reason we should, as a society, have to obey them. In fact, we can gauge how well we as a society function by how much we ignore their narcissistic demands.

Seriously: they’re just selfish assholes who injure others, literally without gain for themselves. Fuck ’em.

D in Bushwick June 7, 2013 - 12:35 pm

I fully agree with you about NIMBYs and why big projects just can’t happen anymore.
But then you get big projects like the new WTC and those don’t seem to be so great either.

John-2 June 7, 2013 - 12:14 pm

Like many things, NIMBYism grew out of legitimate concerns over people/neighborhoods being steamrolled by government and special interests on projects that would permanently alter the areas and in many cases, cost people their homes. But over the past 40 or so years, it’s grown into the problem that you can’t build anything simply because there’s going to be some temporary disruption to the area or some minor change to the neighborhood.

An east-west route through Queens that used the 63rd Street tunnel and all or part of the Lower Montauk ROW from about Greenpoint Avenue east to Jamaica would probably attract the fewest number of NIMBYs. But they’re always going to be there, so any new subway construction has to have people backing it willing to stand up to those groups, and a legal system that doesn’t hold those projects hostage to repeated lawsuits for years.

SEAN June 7, 2013 - 2:54 pm

Since you cant totally stop paranoid NIMBY’s, can you at least prevent repeated appeals? It would go something like this… once legal action is invoked, what ever decision is rendered stands. This will also force entities such as the MTA to put there best case up front & problem solve instead of landing in court over every nessessary project. Sounds stupid, but semes to me to be the best rational solution.

BBnet3000 June 7, 2013 - 6:32 am

Queens is also expected to have the fastest population growth over the next few decades.

Honestly, given the fiscal constraints the only way that Queens will get improved transit any time soon is with surface transit. Sadly, this city is really far behind on getting their act together with surface transit.

That said id still like to see Triboro RX get built (though that wouldnt do much to relieve the Queens Blvd line, if anything it could make it worse).

marv June 7, 2013 - 7:44 am

Yes existing ROWs must be used:

As the Clearview Expressway (I-295)was never extended to the south, traffic would remain reasonable if the center lanes were converted to a train line.

I would start a line just south of the Throgs Neck Bridge (some day north of it!!) and continue down the to LIRR main line and then west taking over the atlantic avenue branch into brooklyn.

The hardest part of such a line would be between Hillside Ave and Jamaica Ave where NIMBYs killed the Clearview a generation ago. Backyards are quite deep in this stretch so a cut and cover subway for this stretch could be doable.

Key stops would include a transfers the LIRR port washintgon line, northern Blvd, Union Tpke, Hillside Avenue and Jamaica Station. Both northeast and southeast Queens would be well served.

Eric F June 7, 2013 - 9:31 am

The Clearview should be extended south, preferably in a tunnel, as a reliever for the Van Wyck. This is not some new insight on my part but an idea that has been kicked around for at least a generation. At that point, the northerly sections of the road would see some additional traffic, justifying the 3 x 3. I have had many friends over the years independently tell me a story of back ups on the Cross Island, leading them to improvise using the Clearview, only to find out, too late, that the road inexplicably ends at a ramp traffic light on north-central Queens.

Some of the north-south surface streets in Queens might be amenable to a surface light rail. Maybe Francis Lewis Blvd.?

BruceNY June 7, 2013 - 3:52 pm

What if this line down the center of the Clearview made a turn at Hillside Avenue and became in essence an extension of the F Train? The subway part under Hillside is relatively short, and the Clearview part would be a less expensive elevated (similar to the Airtrain over the Van Wyck).

marv June 9, 2013 - 12:04 am

the route that you are suggesting is:

*very round about – taking user from northern blvd and north down to Hillside avenue for a trip that will then take them back up to northern blvd

*in no way provides a link to downtown

*adds more users on to an already packed line

The line elevated over the the clearview (as opposed to using its two center lanes) would be very difficult as the GCP/Clearview interchange is a 4 level stack – how do you elevate above that so say nothing of then dropping back down into a subway at Hillside avenue.

Queens Crapper June 7, 2013 - 9:27 am

In other cities, subway lines are built down the middle of highways. The LIE would be a good start and not disrupt neighborhoods already disrupted when Robert Moses plowed the highway through them. Using the highway system would bring transit service to a lot of places that currently doesn’t have it.

Eric F June 7, 2013 - 9:41 am

In terms of building usage, I think a subway under Northern Blvd. or Jamaica Avenue would be more useful than one in the median of the LIE. The LIE itself, desperately needs widening in Queens, maybe with a new set of 2x 2 express lanes with very limited exits (Clearview, Queens Blvd., BQE).

VLM June 7, 2013 - 9:42 am

Widening any of the roads you’ve mentioned so far — or really any highway within New York City — is sheer folly at this point in history.

Eric F June 7, 2013 - 10:00 am

What’s folly is thinking that bottleneck relief is somehow counterproductive.

Who is benefited by what is essentially 24/7 gridlock on the LIE in Queens? I don’t get it. The people using that road are well aware of and use the mass transit system, but it is not capable of meeting all transport needs of the people of Queens and adjacent counties, even if expanded. 3×3 is a hopelessly narrow configuration. Getting to 5×5 would put it on par with the Dan Ryan in south Chicago, getting longer trip-related traffic on a separate alignment would speed longer distance travel and local Queens travel.

Queens has been gridlocked for 30+ years now. For what? What did you win by stopping commonsense expansions?

VLM June 7, 2013 - 10:02 am

But why do you think that widening the roads will lead to congestion relief? Every single modern traffic study shows that widening roads simply leads to more traffic, not less. It would be far better to invest in public transit that can get some cars off the road in order to provide relief to the rest.

Eric F June 7, 2013 - 10:10 am

Riiiight. Why expand the mass transit system? This will simply lead to more crowding. Or does this only apply to cars and trucks? If you’ll notice, varying roads in NYC have varying capacity demands. Under your parroted theory, every road would have an equal level of gridlock as people see the new lanes, then quite their jobs so that they can drive across the Kosciuszko Bridge all day, or as freight companies load up 18 wheelers with a single loaf of bread up and down the Van Wyck. The capacity needs of a Clearview are different from that of a Cross Bronx.

Bolwerk June 7, 2013 - 10:30 am

Yes, expanding the mass transit system leads to more crowding, but this increased crowding does not correlate to increased congestion the same way. Some of the reason is probably that each ~1.3 additional users do not demand their own vehicle.

The phenomenon VLM is referring to is called Braess’s Paradox. It occurs when adding capacity to a system actually decreases efficiency. It can affect many kind of systems (e.g., computer networks), but roads are especially susceptible to the problem, I guess because of the high variance in use and user behavior. Not to mention very unpredictable routing….

Either way, he’s not just making something up. It’s been an object of study for several years now.

Eric June 9, 2013 - 4:27 pm

If you expand the LIE – which, as I’m sure you’re aware, would be hideously expensive – it would do nothing to relieve congestion in the long term. This is due to “induced demand” – road traffic increases up to the point where it is too unpleasant for anyone else to want to use the road, i.e. gridlock. Way back in the 1930s it was observed that new auto bridges to Manhattan became gridlocked only a year or two after opening, for just this reason. It’s now 80 years later and cities around the world still have to keep relearning this lesson.

If you want to remove gridlock on the LIE, the only way is to put a substantial toll on it.

AlexB June 10, 2013 - 7:53 pm

The problem with widening the LIE is that you are just relocating the congestion to the next chokepoint, i.e. to the tunnel entrance. The only highway widenings that would really be helpful would be for the Cross Bronx between the Major Deegan and the Hutchinson River Pkwy and the Van Wyck between the Grand Central and the Belt Pkwy. On both of these, the number of lanes leading both to AND from the highway are greater than the number of lanes in that highway. Of course, these two roads would have been widened a long time ago if they weren’t wedged between buildings and other infrastructure on all sides.

marv June 11, 2013 - 12:52 am

When the Airtrain was built, it would have be much more effective if a 6 lane deck had be built over the van wyck from kew gardens to the belt to used by cars only with no intermediate exits. The lower (existing highway) would then have had its two center lanes replaced with a train line and the remaining 4 lanes would be used for trucks and semi-local traffic.

Bolwerk June 7, 2013 - 10:34 am

This is not generally a good idea unless the goal is to feed transit systems with park ‘n riders. Transit works best when it is accessible to neighborhoods.

In Queens, the relatively low rates of auto dependency (at least for getting to work) probably make the idea pretty counterproductive.

SEAN June 7, 2013 - 3:06 pm

Look at the WMATA’s orange line through Arlington vs Fairfax County. In the case of the former, the row is underground allowing for greater walkability & higher transit usage. In the case of the latter, the row runs in the center of I-66 making the area far more car dependent & far less esteticly pleasing.

Alon Levy June 7, 2013 - 3:27 pm

In other cities, the rapid transit lines in the highways painfully underperform. Subways need intense development right next to the stations. Highways are incompatible with that. Subways typically follow arterial streets with at-grade intersections.

Eric June 9, 2013 - 4:28 pm

Yeah, but those are really expensive to build.

Bolwerk June 10, 2013 - 12:40 pm

Who cares? Over the long run, they probably categorically perform better financially than rapid transit lines next to highways and highways themselves.

BoerumBum June 7, 2013 - 10:45 am

I, for one, would love to see a 125th St. crosstown line in Manhattan, that connects through Randall Island to Astoria (above 278), then routes east (above the Grand Central) to Laguardia, then north (above the Whitestone Expressway) to provide access to College Point.

Nancy June 7, 2013 - 12:24 pm

This is an excellent idea!

Kvnbklyn June 7, 2013 - 10:55 am

We’re currently spending $9 billion to double LIRR capacity between Queens and Manhattan. Maybe it’s now the time to put the LIRR to work for Queens? Fare integration with the subway, more frequent trains at Queens stations and building infill stsations would go a long way to extending transit’s reach, reduce overcrowding on the E/F and 7 trains and provide better interborough connections from Jamaica to downtown Brooklyn.

Eric F June 7, 2013 - 11:20 am

Using LIRR would be ok with me, but LIRR network is not all that extensive in Queens, and the Port Wash line, for example, is only a 1 x 1 alignment, so I’m not sure how many more trains you can squeeze in there, even with expanded capacity at the terminal end.

I would have thought the LIRR could act a reliever for the 7 line at Flushing but it doesn’t seem to do so, perhaps because fares are higher and the subway connectivity is low, but maybe that would change with ESA?

Bolwerk June 7, 2013 - 11:25 am

You probably nailed the problem: it’s the fares.

It doesn’t make much sense to me that we can’t just use our unlimited metrocards to travel within the city. It doesn’t even cost the LIRR much to use that extra SRO capacity.

Eric F June 7, 2013 - 12:11 pm

Although, the Flushing LIRR station looks small and antiquated, so the LIRR would probably have to work on it if it actually ever became popular.

Alon Levy June 7, 2013 - 3:30 pm

The ESA documents call for an additional 6 tph at the peak. The problem is not the peak frequency but the off-peak frequency. Let people within the city ride it for subway fare and make sure the base frequency all day is at least a train every 10 minutes and people will use that. The same is true for the Far Rockaway Line and the Long Beach Line (which doesn’t serve Queens but serves an Eastern Queens-dense part of Long Island).

AG June 7, 2013 - 6:17 pm

I think the real reason is there is no free transfer within city limits… The only ppl who would use it are the ones who are currently going somewhere withing walking distance of Penn Station. Rather than paying an extra fare – they most likely just prefer the longer route time.

Henry June 8, 2013 - 12:04 am

It also has to do with the fact that not all trains make all stops, and not all cars on all trains can make all stops – Murray Hill in particular is a four-car station on a sharp curve that is often bypassed.

With the one-way fares being what they are, you’d probably be better off using NYCT services.

peppertree5706 June 7, 2013 - 10:57 am

Still like the idea of converting the Bay Ridge Extension to a subway. In its present right of way, it can go from 37th street in Brooklyn, then parallel to Avenue H and on into Queens.

Also extending the F to Belmont racetrack is a possibility. Perhaps with a new express that has no stops in Queens until it gets to 179th Street.

Building new subway tracks with added stations along LIRR right of way. I think Maspeth should get a station.

These are some ideas of mine.

D in Bushwick June 7, 2013 - 11:22 am

Extending an elevated N Train to LaGuardia over the Grand Central would be possible.
Check this out:

Henry June 8, 2013 - 12:09 am

No, it’s not.

The #1 problem with a GCP alignment from the west is that there is a runway that stops just short of the Parkway. Due to the runway, the streetlights in the area are much shorter than the standard streetlights, and on Google Earth a cleared landing zone is clearly visibile extending south of the runway into Elmhurst.

There is no height clearance for an elevated line. There’s no room for an at-grade line. And there is no room for an underground portal.

The only feasible way to extend rail to LaGuardia without shutting down a runway is either a roundabout route from the east, an at-grade light-rail, or an extendable stub subway, in the style of the Sheppard subway in Toronto.

AlexB June 10, 2013 - 8:32 pm

There actually is room for an at grade line. There is quite a bit of green space along the south side of the highway which could be used for a train line near the runway.

Mike June 7, 2013 - 12:02 pm

The 1980s stub terminal at Jamaica Center wasn’t supposed to end there. One line was supposed to continue east, the other southeast. I think both along LIRR ROW.

Larry Littlefield June 7, 2013 - 3:30 pm

Right, and this is actually a problem, because the current terminal was not planned and built as a terminal. So the switch is too far from the station, and capacity is thus limited.

Epson45 June 8, 2013 - 3:13 am

They run out of money… thats the problem

Larry Littlefield June 7, 2013 - 12:09 pm

While this is pie in the sky, it sure beats Blacksnob Juanita Watkins objecting to the MTA acting on the 45-year-old plan to connect the E to one of two branches of the LIRR in Southeast Queens to extend the subway there.

And working class Whitesnob Geraldine Ferraro marching down the Montauk Branch to oppose its use by a subway through Southwest Queens.

Or Peter Vallone killing the N to LaGuardia.

Because the lesser people use the subway and ruin neighborhoods.

Their successors are the ones proposing the Queensway, or nothing, in the Rockaway Branch.

So maybe if you had a bunch of Queens politicians demanding instead of opposing transit, it would make a difference.

Boris June 7, 2013 - 1:13 pm

For anyone who believes that NIMBYs or local politicians can easily kill projects, just look at the 100+ rezonings Bloomberg rammed down our throats. Many of the upzonings and special deals like Atlantic Yards resulted in megaprojects, gentrification, displacement, and eminent domain. Bloomberg has used the EDC to get anything he wants without going through the traditional public process. Yes, it’s true that those most hurt have been minorities, while the beneficiaries largely white and upper middle class. But transit, like apartment buildings, in increasingly accepted among whites.

It just so happens that what Bloomberg wanted is to benefit luxury housing developers, not transit builders. If a future mayor is as shrewd as him but wants to leave a transit legacy, he/she can get it done, NIMBYs be damned. In fact, Hudson Yards is an example of this.

Larry Littlefield June 7, 2013 - 2:05 pm

“For anyone who believes that NIMBYs or local politicians can easily kill projects, just look at the 100+ rezonings Bloomberg rammed down our throats.”

He also got a subway extension built. But in these cases, you have focused narrow interests getting what they want. The losers, if any, are more diffuse.

The same as the local NIMBYs opposing transit projects with broader benefits.

Alon Levy June 7, 2013 - 3:50 pm

All housing in Manhattan wants to be luxury housing. That’s what happens when there are 2 million rich people who want to live in Manhattan and zoning laws that make it illegal to build housing for 3.5 million so that the next 1.5 million middle-class people can also live there. Thoroughly crappy buildings in Manhattan Valley fill 50-m^2 apartments at $2,000/month. At normal price/rent ratio for the metro area, that’s $480,000/month for 50 m^2, just less than $10,000/m^2, in a meh neighborhood in an old building without laundry. Construction cost for new condos is $2,300/m^2 (link). Every luxury tower that’s put up is a couple hundred rich people who won’t bid up the price in the rest of the city.

AG June 7, 2013 - 6:22 pm

In case you didn’t realize there has been billions of dollars worth of affordable housing that would not have happened without upzoning. In fact – if there was no upzoning pricing in the city would become even more stratified – ala San Francisco. Luxury development doesn’t happen as a result of zoning… it happens when ppl with money find a place desirable to live.

Alon Levy June 7, 2013 - 3:55 pm

Ben, actually, given the full SAS, there is a way of using more QB capacity: reroute some trains from QB local to SAS phases 3 and 4 via 63rd Street. Call this route the U; then there is track sharing north of 63rd between the Q and the T, and south of 63rd between the T and the U.

AG June 7, 2013 - 6:26 pm

Triboro RX and Rockaway Branch re-activation probably are the most realistic. Rail to La Guardia needs to happen too.

Henry June 8, 2013 - 12:10 am

Ideally, the 7 would be extended down Northern, the F down Hillside, and the E to Merrick. These three lines would pretty much solve most of the major problems with the current setup.

AlexB June 10, 2013 - 9:25 pm

Basic ways to expand the subway in Queens (in no particular order):
1)Build phase 3 of the second avenue subway and run one of the local trains to 2nd Ave.

2)The E should be connected to southeast Queens along the Laurelton LIRR branch which would have to be converted to subway standards.

3)With an extra tunnel, the LIRR should be able to become a commuter railroad with some subway-like offerings. How about new cars made for LIRR tracks but with high capacity seating that make all local stops along certain lines, every 20 minutes? I’m thinking the Port Washington line from Douglaston to Grand Central and the Main Line from Mineola/Hempstead to Penn to begin with. Fares would be integrated with the subway.

4)Add more local stops on the Airtrain and run the lower montauk lirr as a “shuttle” with 20 minute headways between long island city and Jamaica.

5) Build the Triboro line. You could start with stations from Astoria to Broadway Junction and then extend into the Bronx and further into Brooklyn

If you want to build more subways in Queens, I think the above ideas are no-brainers. The rights of way are already there, we just need the money!

marv June 11, 2013 - 12:30 am

>>>>>>The E should be connected to southeast Queens along the Laurelton LIRR branch which would have to be converted to subway standards

This is about 12-15 trains per hour on a branch/line that is can handle twice as much. Why not:

*Convert the atlantic avenue (jamaica – brooklyn) LIRR branch to subway service. (After ESA opens, it will not be used for through service). Run a cheaper subway rather than a more costly to operate LIRR shuttle.

* Extend part of this new subway service down the Laurelton LIRR branch along with the “E” to a Valley Stream terminal which will serve as a major transfer point for West Hempstead, Long Beach and Far Rockaway trains, many of which will run as (more frequent) shuttles.

*If funds and political will ever exist, then extend the other part of this new subway service on a new right of way next to or over the LIRR main line east from Jamaica and then north over/along the cross island parkway to Union Tpke. New stops (serving as major bus transfer points) would include: Francis Lewis, Springfield Blvd, Jamaica Ave/Braddock, Hillside Avenue and Union Tpke.

*Another idea is to have the JFK Airtrain become (a premium fare) part of the subway and have some trains use the converted to subway) atlantic avenue (jamaica – brooklyn) LIRR branch to the atlantic terminal. Given that about 10 subway lines stop there, it would make the airtrain that much more attractive. The obvious question is then whether it would be more cost effective (and long term goal congruent) to use (specially made)dual mode trains, or whether to have dual mode power on this stretch of track.

Jonathan June 23, 2013 - 10:19 pm

For eastern Queens, I think a regional rail approach might make a lot of sense. Most of the infrastructure is already there, and if only fares could be integrated with connecting subway and bus routes and schedules improved to create a consistent headway like the subway, it would be possible to provide people in that area with a much faster and more convenient ride at a much lower cost than an extended subway. Of course I am minimizing the challenge of persuading the relevant bureaucracies to implement fare integration and shift the mentality of LIRR from a commuter-oriented operation to rapid transit operation.

Jonathan June 23, 2013 - 10:21 pm

Further to my point above, I just don’t think it makes much sense to build a subway line, especially one in a tunnel, immediately parallel to an electrified multi-track railway line that just happens to be owned and operated by a separate arm of the same agency.

Henry June 23, 2013 - 10:42 pm

LIRR trains are already standing room only past Jamaica, even at 12 car lengths, so any huge ridership gains would necessitate the purchase of better suited rolling stock. The LIRR would need yard space somewhere, and even its current plans for storage expansion for East Side Access, however meager, have encountered opposition.

Whatever track capacity opens up is also going to be gobbled up by Metro North, so the LIRR probably would not be able to handle the crush. In addition, capital work would need to be done to the LIRR’s city stations – some have huge gaps due to curves (Murray Hill), some are not long enough for all cars on a train (Murray Hill, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, and in some cases, Jamaica, etc.), and most of them have crappy street access (poor signage, poor connectivity, narrow passageways). A particular obstacle to increasing frequency beyond a certain point is the existence of a grade crossing at the Little Neck station on the Port Washington Line – the crossing is immediately adjacent to the platforms, and the roadway cannot be lowered due to its use as both the access road for the parking lot, and the only nearby pedestrian connection to the northern section of Little Neck.

Another obstacle is the amount of delays that cascade through the LIRR system on a regular basis. These would be amplified by an increased amount of trains on the tracks at any given time.

Regional rail is all and fine, but even with a menable organization willing to do it, there are significant obstacles on the road to success.

Jonathan June 24, 2013 - 11:43 am

You make good points, but most of the frequency and passenger traffic growth coming from the creation of a real, fare-integrated regional rail system will come at off-peak times. Most people from those areas who are commuting to Manhattan for a 9 to 5 job are already on the LIRR. There’s no question that regional rail would require a complete re-think of how these lines are operated, but it’s certainly possible to handle any conceivable traffic on the routes: just going by Wikipedia (forgive me), the RER A in Paris alone carries 309 million riders per year (1.14 million per day). That’s about 4 times as many as the entire LIRR network, all crowded onto a pair of tracks through central Paris. I doubt much yard space would even be needed, since again most of the added frequency will be off-peak when many trains are currently sitting idle.

The stations would definitely need work, particularly to improve connectivity with other transit modes, but that’s surely more affordable than an entirely new dedicated subway line.

Henry June 25, 2013 - 10:16 pm

This is silly. LIRR ridership is overwhelmingly suburban – high fares and crap frequency make it unattractive (I can save $7+ by using NYCT rather than the LIRR).

To give a sense of the amount of potential ridership growth, here are some figures. There only 8.6K daily riders at the Bayside station, which is the only city station that tops the LIRR’s top ten, and is a special case due to Port Washington’s high frequency. By contrast, the parallel Q12 route carries 11K riders a day, the Q36, Q43, and Q110 carry 30K riders a day, and the Q5, Q111, and Q113 carry 36K riders a day. Together, these are bus routes paralleling LIRR routes that serve primarily as subway feeders, carrying 77K riders per day. In addition, subway stations near lines that feed into LIRR stations (Flushing-Main St, Forest Hills-71st, Kew Gardens-Union Tpke, Jamaica-179th, Sutphin/Archer, and Jamaica Center) handle approximately 190K riders every day. This is essentially 267K daily riders that the LIRR could potentially tap into with lower fares and better scheduling – more than the entire daily ridership of PATH. This is also assuming you don’t add stations anywhere and no bus routes are changed to connect to this better service, but regional rail that makes no stops between Penn and Woodside, or Jamaica and St. Albans or Laurelton, isn’t particularly “regional.”

Given that the LIRR is essentially not utilized by city residents (the Port Washington Line not withstanding) and is already at standing room during the peak, the LIRR holds great promise when it comes to potential in-city ridership growth, but would need either massive signalling upgrades, a change in seating layout, or more bilevels to accomodate even just stealing 5% of the identified ridership. There’s nothing wrong with the merits of pegging the in city fare to say, the express bus fare, but the LIRR is poorly equipped to handle any ridership growth, what with Penn Station Access and all that.


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