Home Asides Link: A Triboro RX takedown from LTV Squad

Link: A Triboro RX takedown from LTV Squad

by Benjamin Kabak

While browsing LTV Squad’s latest offering on a former subway station entrance, I came across another piece from the mysterious author known as Control. It is, at once, both the most obnoxious and the most compelling takedown of the Triboro RX line I’ve seen so far. While many transit advocates — myself included — are salivating over the idea of such a circumferential routing, Control throws a bunch of hot water over it.

So what are the challenges? The main issue surrounds the way some of the right of way is currently used. A considerable amount of products bound for New York rely on the heavy rail lines used for freight that the Triboro RX would commandeer for passenger rail. Control believes the prices of food and goods would skyrocket, and trash collection could become problematic as well. These are arguments that have been put forward by supporters of a trans-harbor freight rail tunnel who also wish to keep the ROW for freight rail.

The physical challenges too are tremendous. If the MTA can’t get an FRA waiver, the ROW isn’t wide enough to accommodate separate tracks for passenger rail and freight. I’m far less sympathetic to the fact that there has been some encroachment onto the right of way or that eminent domain would be necessary to complete the route, but we can’t ignore those challenges.

Ultimately, I think Control’s take is worth a read. His conclusion — “MOVE CLOSER TO WHERE YOU WORK” — is myopic and undermines his point, but ultimately, Triboro RX isn’t as easy as drawing some lines on a map and calling it a done deal. He writes that “the Triboro RX subway will never, ever happen,” and it’s probably better to pick easier battles.

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Matt September 10, 2013 - 3:25 pm

It amuses me to see how many grand ideas (let’s turn Broadway into a pedestrian mall!) assume that the only users of city streets are passenger vehicles. Goods are apparently delivered by the tooth fairy, who flies them in each night from her factories in the flyover states. During the train-on-the-Tappan-Zee discussion, someone suggested that the bridge wasn’t needed at all. Everyone who uses the bridge could just take transit! Except, you know, the trucks.

Nathanael September 10, 2013 - 3:29 pm

The freight ought to be coming in by rail along the NY Central’s West Side Line to the St. John’s Park Freight Terminal…

…oh, wait. 🙁

Bolwerk September 10, 2013 - 4:50 pm

And then go by truck to…?

I think it would just make more sense to re-jigger the last-mile system. Tram freight maybe? It could make garbage removal easier too.

Bolwerk September 10, 2013 - 3:30 pm

As there are other truck routes across the Hudson, that bridge is not particularly needed as a truck route. Maybe it’s useful, but it’s not strictly needed. There is even one way in which the bridge is incredibly counterproductive: it’s pouring more cars into a regional congestion zone, and may actually be making truck deliveries less efficient.

Undoubtedly, the TZB replacement is not remotely incrementally useful, especially since it doesn’t include rail.

Henry September 10, 2013 - 4:09 pm

The TZB replacement is a textbook example of how NOT to do replacements.

“Hey, let’s make our bridge a single lane wider by creating two spans the size of the existing one! That should be enough, right?”

Hank September 10, 2013 - 4:09 pm

The Tappan Zee bridge is the best way for trucks from points south to get to the Bronx, Westchester, and New England. Their other options are the GWB, which is already a mess, and the Goethals/SIE/Verazzano/Gowanus/Triboro routing, which puts all that traffic through the urban core. The routes to the north, with the exceptions of I84 and the Berkshire extension of the NYS thruway don’t connect to the interstate system. The other two are far out of the way of most delivery destinations, which are -SURPRISE- located along the I95 corridor.

Bolwerk September 10, 2013 - 4:22 pm

Yes, I realize that. But the “best way” for trucks is less important than the “best way” for passengers. Most freight doesn’t care if it has to be diverted a few hours out of the way, and the incremental costs of the diversion are not astronomical.

Making a person’s trip take even a little longer is burdensome. Every passenger whose time is wasted is being fucked over, and so is society because every minute stuck in transit to a destination is one not being spent on a more useful activity (e.g., productive work). The opportunity cost of Cuomo’s bridge-rection is a several billion$ in new passenger rail miles, which in turn means millions of wasted person-hours stuck in traffic or just not bothering to be mobile.

Now, my critique might be different if prices were going to drop because of a new freight route, but that’s not operative here.

Larry Littlefield September 10, 2013 - 5:59 pm

“Most freight doesn’t care if it has to be diverted a few hours out of the way, and the incremental costs of the diversion are not astronomical.”

That attitude is why 90 percent of freight moves by truck. Intermodal traffic averages 30 miles per hour, and sits in a yard for one day at each end. Make that 60 miles per hour and one hour at each end, and maybe rail freight would work.


Bolwerk September 10, 2013 - 6:38 pm

That “attitude” has nothing to do with that. Moving freight tonnage another 15 miles on top of hundreds or thousands of miles probably costs pennies per ton, and it might not be crazy to think that can be offset by improved traffic flow in the case of the TZB. It’s another story if we’re talking about last-mile deliveries, where a bunch of small orders have to be filled (by truck), and each is being interfered with by POVs. That should sound familiar.

Certainly there are critical pressures on the freight system, but they have more to do with capacity than timing. Mind you, the slowest mode (water) is the cheapest.

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 3:56 am

90% of what kind of freight, by what measure (value, volume, ton-km), and in what geography?

Bolwerk September 10, 2013 - 3:25 pm

It’s true that a lot of the appeal to Triborough RX is on the assumption that the freight line will continue to not be terribly useful. If the Cross-Harbor tunnel project comes to fruition, it could really take a lot of trucks off the streets and the line could become much more useful. So, there is a real opportunity cost here between two very compelling uses.

Still, the people who cry “impossible” every time a major project is mentioned are just being myopic (and obnoxious). RX would just become more expensive, not impossible. It could, in fact, be cheaper to bury the freight line, which needs to make infrequent stops, rather than the “subway” (as in rapid transit) service that needs to make frequent stops.

Besides, for a dirt cheap and totally useful inter-borough option, Rockaway remains very compelling. Too bad Mayor Harley-Quinn de Blasio wants to squander our future on busways.

Henry September 10, 2013 - 4:10 pm

To be fairly honest, de Blasio may turn out to be not so bad after all – his responses, at least to StreetsPAC, have been very well informed (although probably not written by him.)

Then you have Quinn, who is actively avoiding questions and proposing an awfully routed circumferential bus route. So the choice is somewhat clearer.

Bolwerk September 10, 2013 - 4:27 pm

I’m not sure StreetsPAC is particularly concerned with transit though, and the few questions they asked mostly had to do with buses.

Nathanael September 10, 2013 - 3:26 pm

The route is extremely valuable for freight rail, if the cross-harbor rail tunnel is built. But the Port Authority hasn’t done a damn thing to build the Cross-Harbor Rail Tunnel, despite being charged with building it about 100 years ago. *sigh*.

It would be possible to run commuter rail (Metro-North style) along with freight along the same route, obviously.

But it wouldn’t work to try to put a subway on that route. It’s one of the few freight rail routes left in New York. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the High Line route were still in operation…. but it’s not.

Benjamin Kabak September 10, 2013 - 3:31 pm

I don’t see why so many people are so hung up on the High Line as a potential rail line. It wasn’t going to be reactivated for so many reasons, and nearly all of those reasons were valid.

Henry September 10, 2013 - 4:15 pm

Didn’t they just issue money for a DEIS (or something) for the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel? Nadler is not going to let that go.

Ant6n September 10, 2013 - 3:35 pm


Alon Levy September 10, 2013 - 8:02 pm

At much higher operating costs, sure.

Joey September 11, 2013 - 12:36 am

Do the higher operating costs come mostly from weight (FRA compliance) or is there something else involved?

Bolwerk September 11, 2013 - 12:39 am

FRA compliance comes with higher labor costs too, and more onerous operating regulations.

In any case, that kind of operation is not right for an inner city rapid transit line.

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 3:55 am

LIRR and Metro-North train drivers make way more money than subway train drivers do. The same is true at the conductor level.

al September 11, 2013 - 11:04 am

Part of LIRR and MNCR operating costs has to do with 2-5 conductors per train. Get transit style fare control and run 2 man trains. Then consider the greater passenger capacity potential of heavy rail cars. They’re wider and can hold more people per length. You’ll need door and seat layouts ala Japanese commuter rail. It won’t close the gap all the way, but its not as large as at first glance.

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 9:32 pm

Yes, part. But the salary of each train driver on Metro-North and the LIRR is higher than the salary of each train driver on the subway – $110,000 a year versus $70,000 if memory serves.

The width of a mainline US railcar is 3.2 meters. The width of a BMT car is 3.05. There’s a difference, but not a large one. There are advantages to using the wider mainline gauge where it’s available, but in a low-investment environment in which the LIRR and Metro-North remain unmodernized it’s not worth it to be compatible with them rather than with the subway.

Henry September 11, 2013 - 1:51 pm

Part of it is because as legacy railroads which never fully merged with a larger regional or national network (as with British Rail and the European networks), trains running on these networks have different rulebooks due to different signalling and whatnot.

We should probably be integrating rail signals into a compatible nationwide standard at some point, but since we’re not even willing to do that with new projects, I’m not sure how we’d do that. (CalTrain spent money on a new signal system 10 years ago, and is building a brand new one that is completely unique to CalTrain and HSR incompatible. Progress!)

JMB September 10, 2013 - 4:17 pm

Anyone got a guess as to the abandoned station Ben linked to? My guess is Bowery on the J.

Benjamin Kabak September 10, 2013 - 4:18 pm

I was hoping someone would ask. 🙂

I think it’s Bowery as well, but I’m not 100 percent certain. There aren’t really (m)any other options. Could be Chambers St. or Canal St. too but I don’t think so.

Benjamin Kabak September 10, 2013 - 4:20 pm

Actually, it’s definitely Bowery. Visual confirmation courtesy of NYC Subway.

Bolwerk September 10, 2013 - 4:25 pm

Man, you had me for a second. Totally thought that was the Port Authority Bus Terminal, but then I figured it was too clean!

JMB September 10, 2013 - 4:35 pm

Classic BMT styling made me think Nassau line right away, and that huge abandoned staircase definitely could be placed at the Chambers St……but i’ve fully explored that stop, abandoned sections and all so I knew it couldn’t be Chambers.

Great find nonetheless, esp the pic of the old token booth!

Chris September 10, 2013 - 4:27 pm

Layout certainly seems to match the blueprints: http://www.columbia.edu/~brenn.....owery.html

Stephen Smith September 10, 2013 - 4:35 pm

If only there were some sort of signaling technology that would allow you to safely run frequent light-weight passenger vehicles and a small number of heavy freight trains per day on the same tracks and a regulatory agency (we could call it the Federal Railroad A…Authority? Agency?) that’s signaled its willingness to consider such things in the near future!

Bolwerk September 10, 2013 - 4:42 pm

Practically speaking, the passenger services may be too fast and frequent to share with freight, however.

Henry September 10, 2013 - 4:57 pm

Not to mention, freight trains in the US in particular tend to be extremely long and slow.

Alon Levy September 10, 2013 - 8:02 pm

No! Local passenger rail averages 30-35 km/h. This is how fast freights go. For example, a similar proposal to reuse parts of the NEC for local passenger rail in Providence involves sharing tracks with freight, and there the freight is actually a minute faster.

Bolwerk September 10, 2013 - 8:29 pm

Subway frequencies and high frequency freight?

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 3:54 am

15-minute frequency, and a P&W mainline with 8 trains per day per direction today with expected growth to 16 per day per direction.

But the frequency that controls the schedule is the frequency of the more frequent service. In other words, if a local and an express train share tracks with timed overtakes, to a good approximation all of the following schedules require the same overtake infrastructure:

1. Local every 10 minutes, express every hour.
2. Local every 10 minutes, express every 10 minutes.
3. Local every hour, express every 10 minutes.

The difference between 8 tpd freight and 16 is in reliability, i.e. how easily a late freight train can be slotted between the next pair of passenger trains. In both cases it’s not a problem since freight trains aren’t going to be spaced just 15 minutes apart, but if freight frequency grows further, significant improvements in reliability are necessary before track sharing can continue.

Bolwerk September 11, 2013 - 12:27 pm

Yes, well, that makes sense to me, but the Cross-Harbor Tunnel people want 60 freights/day, which could be disruptive.

I’m not even entirely sure where all this freight is supposed to go, since there isn’t exactly a large intermodal freight facility on that route that I know of.

Henry September 11, 2013 - 2:01 pm

They want to build one at Maspeth. Understandably, Maspeth is not very happy about this, considering that they’ve been screwed over twice in the past decade by two major infrastructure projects already (moving garbage by truck, and condemning for the Koscuizko Bridge replacement project.)

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 9:26 pm

60? I thought the EIS said 14.

But at any rate, the tunnel requires billions of dollars that frankly have better uses in the region. The freight operators seem uninterested in the tunnel, and given who supports the tunnel (Nadler) and who opposes it (Brooklyn and Queens NIMBYs) it seems like a way to just move trucking impacts from the Upper West Side to Maspeth rather than to reduce net impacts. If the point is to build a rail crossing of the Lower Hudson, it’s almost certainly cheaper to set up an electric district starting in Jersey and continuing eastward and running electric freight trains through Penn Station in the off-peak period.

Bolwerk September 12, 2013 - 9:52 am

Hmm, maybe I was reading anti-tunnel propaganda.
I’m actually not particularly pro-tunnel myself, though I have to admit getting trucks off the bridge is compelling.

Henry September 12, 2013 - 1:27 am

Wouldn’t the length of American freight trains (which can be extremely long) mean that they would require either more overtake space on sidings or at stations, or take more room in a schedule due to the increased amount of signal blocks occupied?

Alon Levy September 12, 2013 - 9:38 am

It would affect siding length, yeah. But signals are symmetric: the only thing that matters is the spacing between successive trains. Squeezing a faster passenger train between two freights creates the same block length issue as squeezing a faster freight train between two passenger trains.

Mike September 10, 2013 - 4:40 pm

Is there really not enough room for 2 tracks of rapid transit and 1 track of freight in the RoW? Most of the bridges in Brooklyn look like they handled 4 tracks in the past, and there were definitely 4 tracks in the tunnel near Broadway Jct. It looks like the RoW doesn’t narrow to 2 tracks until just south of Queens Blvd.

Even if that weren’t an option, FRA compliant M8 cars could just as readily handle the route.

R2 September 10, 2013 - 5:01 pm

I’ll agree with him in that Rockaway Beach branch re-activation would be lower-hanging fruit but the “LIVE CLOSER TO WHERE YOU WORK” is beyond ignorant.

EgoTripExpress September 10, 2013 - 5:32 pm

Ironic how Robert Moses of all people may have already solved this dilemma: http://www.nycroads.com/roads/cross-brooklyn/. Just switch out all those roads for rail.

Now all we need is a blank check and a carte blanche.

AlexB September 10, 2013 - 7:02 pm

It’s hard to take this completely seriously because he’s not presenting other alternatives, only saying why the Triboro line is horrible and unworkable. There’s also not a small amount of freight train worship going on there. No one ever said the Triboro line would be cheap, that it wouldn’t require modifications to the right-of-way and/or bridges, or that the users of the line would not have to be negotiated with. People do correctly claim that it would be much less expensive than your typical subway project, we already own most of the right-of-way, and it naturally connects to multiple pre-existing transit hub and other subway lines. At the very high estimates, this approximately 25 mile line would cost about $3 billion (over $100 million/mile where similar projects in the US cost $50 million/mile). This is not much more than the Airtrain but would deliver at least 5 times as many riders and actually serve New Yorkers, not tourists.

He claims there are 5 trains per day at the north half over the Hells Gate, 1 per day on the Bay Ridge portion, and that the round trip from Oak Point in the Bronx to the Fresh Pond Yard in Queens takes 4 hours. 5/day doesn’t sound that insurmountable and it seems pretty fatalistic to think we couldn’t speed up that 4 hour trip. For passenger rail, it’s going to have to be double tracked anyway for its entire length, increasing capacity, efficiency and speed for freight deliveries, allowing each of those 5 daily trains to operate at the same time. Maybe they go to the Fresh Pond Yard in the night, stay there to be unloaded during the day, and go back the following night. Instead of widening it throughout, maybe they build out the system to 3 tracks where possible to provide sidings for deliveries and car changings. NJ Transit has created relatively inexpensive DMU light rail lines like the River Line that successfully share track with freight companies and I think that would likely be a good model to follow.

He also claims the station at Ditmars & 31st street could not be built because the viaduct that sits on top of it would have to undergo extreme modifications that would shut down the subway for years. Currently, Amtrak uses the southern two tracks, freight uses the northern track, and the other northern track was removed. If Amtrak is shifted to the middle two tracks and freight and triboro trains take the outer two tracks, then you can build side platforms anywhere along the length of the Hells Gate viaduct without having to modify the viaduct itself. Flyovers wouldd be needed to get the Amtrak trains to and from the middle tracks – a costly modification, but not a big deal compared with rebuilding the viaduct and shutting down a subway. I also use the Astoria line every day and I’d describe it as well used and popular, not “very congested” or “stretched thin,” which is hyperbolic and out of sync with reality.

My favorite reason why the line can’t be built is that you’d have to buy new FRA compliant cars and build a new maintenance facility, for a whopping $100 million. In any version of the Triboro being built, you’d have to buy new cars and build new storage and maintenance yards. It called, “the cost of building rail transit anywhere,” and it would be a fraction of the overall project. When they designed the 7 extension, what was included? An expanded Corona yards and more train cars – shocker!

Alon Levy September 10, 2013 - 8:08 pm

DMUs are an awful solution. They pollute the air, and have shit acceleration, which on a route with many stops is a significant slowdown. The difference between top-line DMUs and top-line EMUs accelerating to 100 km/h is about 20 seconds per stop. They also decelerate faster. For a 37-stop route like Triboro RX that’s nearly 15 minutes of end-to-end difference.

To say nothing of the much lower equipment purchase and maintenance costs coming from using B Division rolling stock.

Spendmore Wastemore September 10, 2013 - 9:56 pm

Why not take out some, let’s say 25 of those 37 stops?

People are going to (mostly) use the TriboroRX to get between connecting points, or between boroughs. Have it stop wherever it crosses a subway line or an airport, with a park’n ride at the northern end. It doesn’t replace a 1920s subway line, with stops spaced closely enough to be the only mode of transit.

When you’re stopping you’re not going. Give them a slow, lurching trip and riders will stop to think and say “no go”.

Henry September 11, 2013 - 12:22 am

The line runs through some densely populated neighborhoods. One additional stop with an EMU does not create that much of a time penalty.

In any case, park and ride in New York City would not fly, simply because the city is far too dense for park and ride to work (building a sufficiently sized parking lot that didn’t manage to clog streets would be impossible). Plus, the stretches of track that don’t connect subway lines are also in transit starved neighborhoods with slow bus connections.

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 3:49 am

Why not? Because people expect to be able to walk to their subway stops. You’re proposing to have 12 stops on a 35-km line; I know very few subway systems anywhere in the world with stops spaced 2.9 km apart, and the one that comes to mind first is BART, which underperforms precisely because it’s too express and too suburban-focused. If people have to drive to the subway stop (and park where? Yankee Stadium? How many people park at Yankee Stadium and take the D to Manhattan today?), they’ll just drive all the way except maybe during rush hour. That’s what happens on every commuter rail line in North America, and that’s what happens on BART.

According to Frumin’s market analysis, the markets for new transit riders are not just people using Triboro to get between connecting points. The greatest concentrations of new transit riders are in areas near Triboro stops that aren’t near existing subway stops, especially the parts of Middle Village away from the M terminal.

AlexB September 11, 2013 - 6:41 am

So then use EMUs, but hell will freeze over before anyone along the triboro would ever allow frequent heavy rail to run on that route – division B, division A, or LIRR/MNR. It’s way way too noisy and you’re never going to be able to build enough sound mitigation measures to satisfy the NIMBYs.

Henry September 11, 2013 - 2:09 pm

Sound mitigation is easy, and the noise barriers can be made to look visually pleasing. Not to mention, a lot of the route is along active tracks, industrial land, or parks/graveyards, so we’re not talkin’ about something like the High Line reactivation (which would’ve been extremely disruptive)

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 9:12 pm

People who are used to hating on freight train noise don’t even hear passenger EMUs.

al September 11, 2013 - 11:11 am

What about a DMU with capacitor boost. There are these LI-Ion capacitors that can goose the acceleration and help with fuel consumption and engine emissions.

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 9:10 pm

The power to weight ratio for these DMUs is still for shit. The ones used in Japan get 5 kW/t; the R160, your basic low-performance urban subway train, gets 11.6.


Boris September 10, 2013 - 11:46 pm

The 7 train extension did not include new train cars – the city left the MTA on the hook for those in this supposedly fully city-funded project.

Alon Levy September 10, 2013 - 8:14 pm

Let’s have some proportion. The route has a couple freights per day. Freight can be safely kicked out and food prices are not going to skyrocket; the freight rail mode share in the area is very small, and on the most critical link, across the Hell Gate Bridge, CSX can run trains on the Amtrak tracks.

The “we must save any freight link, no matter how unimportant” attitude is also present on the Peninsula, where there are three freight trains per day on which UP loses money. Despite a trackage rights agreement that explicitly lets commuter rail kick freight out if the service changes in a way that’s incompatible with freight (this was meant for BART, but can also be done for modern commuter EMUs, which can climb steeper grades, requiring shorter structures for grade separations), the Port of San Francisco pretends it is still an important port and must at all costs keep sending its three freights a day on the line.

There are losers from passenger rail improvements. This is true everywhere: on the passenger-only parts of the LIRR, too, the sort of people who a) are price-insensitive, b) only ever go to Manhattan at rush hour, and c) don’t care about reliability would lose out from modernization. The low-hanging fruit are lines where the number of losers is very small, and this is one of them. In an environment in which the rail infrastructure owner were independent from the rail operators, passenger operators would bid a far higher price than the freight operators, enough to be able to demand zero freight service if that conflicts with reliability and capacity goals (which it does south of Fresh Pond Yard).

Spendmore Wastemore September 10, 2013 - 9:05 pm


The LTV folks may not be just a bunch of dumb post-teens. He/she/they have more practical sense than the Catsemadis, and several of the other candidates.
Maybe they should be hired as consultants instead of NYPD angling to arrest them.

Joey September 11, 2013 - 12:35 am

1) There is definitely room for four tracks south of Fresh Pond Junction. Is 24 hour freight access north of there necessary?

2) Has the MTA tried to get an FRA waiver? The FRA isn’t as militant about separation as it used to be, especially with PTC in place.

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 3:33 am

1. Not continuously – parts of the ROW between Fresh Pond and Bay Ridge are only two tracks wide.

2. No, and it shouldn’t. Although the FRA might possibly relent, it’s unreliable, and it’s adamant about separating urban rail from mainline rail. In fact when the ICC stopped the BRT from through-running LIRR trains onto its els into Park Row, that was on electrified lines that to my understanding already had the PTC signaling present on the subway today.

At any rate, passenger service at reasonable frequency (8-10 minutes daytime) precludes any freight service simply because US freight is unreliable. In addition, the line is long enough and the expected headways short enough that it’s not enough for freight to be about as fast as Triboro – it needs to match it in speed on each segment.

Joey September 11, 2013 - 4:47 pm

1) Based on these images I’m estimating that the two-track section extends about from about New Utrecht Ave to Flatbush Ave. Is that correct? Even so, most of the ROW is wide enough for four tracks, though that would require modifying a lot of grade separations and adding various retaining walls.

2) During the day, sure, but what about nights and weekends? Even assuming that 24 hr passenger service is necessary, is it unreasonable to believe that night frequencies would be low enough that freights could be slotted in between them? The unreliability of freight is still an issue, but that could be partially mitigated by holding freight trains until the next available slot.

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 8:53 pm

1. I think so? The problem is that modifying structures like grade separations can make the cost climb very fast.

2. It’s completely possible to share tracks, assuming the FRA will relent (and that’s a huge assumption). However, it might piss off the local neighborhood NIMBYs to have nighttime freight service. Freight trains are loud, even when they don’t blare their horns at grade crossings.

Anon256 September 11, 2013 - 3:49 am

As others have noted the right of way is at least four tracks wide from near Livonia Ave to the Brighton Line (arguably the most useful segment of the TriboroRX proposal), so a branch of the L could be built to Brooklyn College 2/5 and Avenue I B/Q without any regulatorily-problematic track-sharing or disruption of freight.

North of Fresh Pond Yard the two-track New York Connecting Railroad is currently used to get freight to the Hell Gate Bridge, but freight trains could instead use the Lower Montauk Branch from Fresh Pond to Sunnyside Yard where the existing curve near 25th St would connect them straight to the outbound Amtrak tracks, which they could follow over the bridge. This would free up the New York Connecting Railroad to be taken over by an extension of the M train from Metropolitan Ave, which could continue across the four-track Hell Gate Bridge to the Bronx.

llqbtt September 11, 2013 - 1:15 pm

Does Triboro RX need to be a 24/7/365 subway operation? There could be service gaps, say from 2 to 4 am (if that is when the garbage trains comes and goes for example), or 5am to 7am Sunday morning, or..gulp..shuttle buses for those times or whatever to accommodate the freight operation that is anticipated. Something could be worked out.

How do LIRR and NY Atlantic RR work it out?

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 8:44 pm

This would be one of the hardest routes in the system to bustitute, because it follows a railroad ROW rather than a major road the buses can use. A shuttle bus would be twisty and excruciatingly slow.

Bolwerk September 11, 2013 - 9:27 pm

Isn’t that the great joy of buses? The people who depend on them are humiliated, and the higher labor costs -> jawbs!

Economy: fixed

Eric February 18, 2014 - 11:06 am

Only buses in mixed traffic.

Sandy September 11, 2013 - 9:43 pm

Especially in the light of today’s PATH extension news, how about regional rail Triboro+cross-harbor tunnel for both freight and pax, with the cross-harbor extension of Triboro service terminating at EWR (or maybe extending deeper into Jersey). Freight can run midday or at night, so as to minimize interference with pax. Large parts of Queens and Brooklyn get a one-seat ride to EWR and Jersey employment centers, and vice versa. Also provides a redundant path around the Penn Station tunnels in case of disruption. Expensive as all get out and certainly not what the real estate moguls want, but potentially introduces a lot of new flexibility and options.

johndmuller September 12, 2013 - 12:40 am

What about a dual RR and subway as you say, but to Staten Island instead? Send the tunnel somewhere close enough to St. George that a great deal of new ROW is not required to link up with the SI North Shore ROW and hook up the subway line to the SIRT. All of a sudden there are multiple connections, subway from SI to at least a Brooklyn line, and freight and/or commuter rail along the existing RR thru Brooklyn and Queens once some track is laid on the North Shore line. Given that there would be some major bucks involved in the tunnel and the North Shore rehab, getting an upgrade to 4 tracks on the Long Island side (to enable the subway route) should be relatively small potatoes.

It seems that there is quite a bit here for a large, bu not ridiculous amount of money. Using the existing connection to NJ, there is now a new link to the west of the Hudson and multiple passenger connections for the folk on SI.

Sandy September 12, 2013 - 8:18 am

That’s an intriguing idea. Much less tunneling, and you can send passenger trains across SI on the North Shore, then turn them up to EWR and Newark-Penn. I’m not sure it’s feasible, though (inasmuch as any of this dreaming is!); the North Shore ROW presents a few problems. One is that it’s extremely narrow; the clearances might be marginal for modern freight equipment, with modifications being way too expensive to consider. The second is that it runs, at points, right up against the water; in a post-Sandy era (yes, my name as well as the storm) do we really want to rely on a link built right at water level? Finally, given the resistance some SI residents have put up to the mere reintroduction of passenger service on the North Shore, do we really think they’d put up with freight service? I just don’t think heavy rail regional rail or freight service along the North Shore could ever happen, even if there was demand and $$.

That being said, I do think that if one wants to send the subway to SI a branch off of the 4th Ave. line to St. George, continuing onto the SIR (and potentially a reactivated North Shore) makes a lot more sense than a new tunnel under the Narrows. And by connecting to the 4th Ave line there, you can hook directly into the express tracks, which would be necessary to use for any reasonable travel time into Manhattan.

Joey September 12, 2013 - 3:26 pm

The problem being that there isn’t much capacity on the express tracks.

johndmuller September 13, 2013 - 2:18 am

I agree that the North Shore is a dubious prospect for a freight/commuter RR, except perhaps in a role of backup freight route and low frequency commuter RR to either NJ or Long Island.

Regarding the 4th Ave. line, there are several possible arrangements of service, but given the track configurations, some variations could create congestion around DeKalb. Going toward Manhattan, the express tracks currently, the (D) and the (N) lines bypass Dekalb and the (R) line on the local tracks, along with the (B) snd (Q) stop at DeKalb, subsequently heading for either the bridge along with the bypass tracks or the Montegue tunnel, where the (R) goes. The new (SI) would come in someplace south of 59th St. If it ran on the local, everything else could continue to run the same as ever, and the (SI) would stop at DeKalb and then go through the Montegue (it is reasonable to expect that the patrons from SI would be accustomed to arriving at the Battery on the ferry and would mostly be comfortable with that).

The drawback to this is, of course, that they are on the local. No matter that the local probably doesn’t take much, if any longer than an express for those 6 extra stops, I appreciate that many people (myself included) consider it to be a lower class of service (whether it is rational or not).

The routing problem is that whatever configuration of the 4 lines is in effect at the 36th St. station, cannot be changed without placing 3 lines on the same track, however briefly, thus likely introducing congestion and delays. Possibly this could be done between Atlantic/Pacific and Dekalb, but changes in the switching network would be necessary and I am not sure a guaranteed solution is possible without some expensive additional track construction.

By way of an at least psychological improvement, the (SI) could run express from 59th St., bypassing 53rd and 45th, before entering 36th as a local (assuming switches were added for that). After 36th, the (SI) could just skip the 25th and Prospect stops, running through on the local stops, and stop at 9th St. 4th Ave (transfer station), before the final skipped stop at Union St. before arriving at Atlantic/Pacific. This compromise would give the SI customers at least some of the ‘feeling’ of an express and they would in fact be stopping at only 1 of the erstwhile local stops.

Control September 14, 2013 - 12:56 am

My take down of the RX proposal is purposefully obnoxious (I take it as a complement) – because so many of the pie-in-the-sky statements from politicians like Scott Stringer have been lies to the public stating that building it as a subway route would be cheap and easy. (Don’t get me started on Christine Quinn saying it would cost 25M to build as a bus route).

You need to look at the current reality: the route is heavily used for freight, a business that is growing. Any use of this route for transit will have to take that into account.

Much of the ROW through Brooklyn is 2 tracks wide. Fremont – the upper portion of Fresh Pond where CSX/CP, NY&A & P&W exchange cars is 3 tracks wide, with a 4th track being reinstalled because business is up and they need more storage space.

Heavy rail LIRR/MNRR style commuter cars are the only realistic option, though you still need to build stations, buy the equipment, hire and train personnel, and find a plot of land somewhere to use as a servicing facility (maybe the Linden work train yard could be converted?).

The absolute bottom line of my post is that until I put it up, the only words I’ve heard about the RX route are that it’s an awesome idea that will cost basically nothing and reuse a barely used freight route. Unfortunately that is not actual current reality, and won’t be a reality any time in the foreseeable future. There are very large obstacles that no one seems to want to admit, much less talk about. If it took me posting something a little obnoxious online to get people looking at the actual facts and not the lies of politicians, then so be it.

I think it would be a nice transit option, but I think routes like the old LIRR rockaway branch providing a one seat ride to JFK are significantly more important in the short term – and we’re about to lose that route to a ‘rail trail’ that a tiny vocal minority want. The trail people are backed by many deep pocketed groups who are also trying to destroy 2 tourist railroads upstate (Catskill Mtn. & Adirondack Scenic). If transit advocates don’t push back, the Rockaway branch will be a trail, and hundreds of thousands of cab and bus trips will continue to foul the air of Queens and Brooklyn.


PS: At no point do I suggest the harbor freight rail tunnel needs to be built. NYNJRR can keep building freight traffic on that route via buying more car floats – which they’ve recently put out a bid for.

Also – to the commenter that said I didn’t offer an alternative – That’s not my job or the point of my article. Though I did very plainly state Heavy Rail is a more realistic option.


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