Even though the 34th Street-Hudson Yards stop on the 7 line won’t host passengers until next weekend, it’s never too early to look ahead to the future. After all, if we’re not planning for what’s next, nothing next will ever arrive, and no recent NYC infrastructure project has seen more discussion about potential future extensions than the 7 line. On the western side, we’ve talked about New Jersey and Chelsea, and an Eastern or northern extension into Queens has always been a tantalizing proposition.
New Jersey: The 7 to Secaucus
Sending the 7 train to Secaucus was one of those ideas that came out of nowhere following Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC tunnel. As I’ve been told in the past, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg essentially scribbled the idea on the back of a cocktail napkin, and his nascent idea has become a steady part of the conversation of some unknown future. It’s not a bad one really.
The driving idea behind the 7 train to Secaucus is that it can alleviate some of the pressure on trans-Hudson rail and road capacity while allowing for a direct connection to the subway. For an idea with no funding and no immediate future, it has some staying power, and in 2013, the New York City EDC issued a feasibility study (which included plans for that in-fill station at 41st Street). The report concluded that the subway extension would be massively popular and provide a 16-minute ride from Secaucus to Grand Central.
Of course, to say there are challenges is an understatement. It’s not unheard of for a subway to connect New York and New Jersey; that is after all what the PATH train does. But those tunnels were built over 100 years ago, and funding for a 7 train to Secaucus just isn’t there. No one on the New Jersey side has really picked up this argument, and even in New York, Staten Island representatives, for one, have raised objections to building a subway to New Jersey before anyone builds a subway to Staten Island. It’s not clear how much this would cost or would it would take to get an FRA waiver to ensure that 7 train rolling stock doesn’t need to comply with over-the-top federal standards.
For now, no one is actively fighting for this project, but it’s out there, just like many other ideas. It’s also farther along in the planning stages than most, but without dollars, it remains just a PDF report and a map. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear of it.
Chelsea: The 7 heads south (or back east)
As part of the new extension, trail tracks for the 7 line head south from 34th Street to around 25th Street. Transit is going to use these tracks to improve terminal operations for the 7, as trains can now enter the station at higher speeds, and for storage since the Corona Yards can’t handle the additional rolling stock needed to maintain 7 train service. The tail tracks also allow the MTA to boost Queens-bound service immediately during rush hour rather than waiting for trains to make the slow crawl from Queens. And yet, there’s something about the tail tracks that seem like a missed opportunity as they reach into a neighborhood underserved by the subway without opening a stop there.
The ideas for sending the 7 into Chelsea are less well-formed than the ones for New Jersey. Long-ago plans never really developed proposed sending the 7 to meet up with the L train along 14th St. to connect two disconnected lines, and when he was in charge of the MTA, Joe Lhota discussed a station at 23rd St. and 11th Avenue. “It’s something that I think would make sense because if you look at the demographics of the West Side, we shouldn’t just make one stop,” he said in 2012. “It’s important to have plans, to have a wish list. [But] I’m not sure it can be done. I’m not sure about how close you can get to the Hudson River.”
Queens: Looking eastward
While an eastward extension doesn’t seem in the cards, Queens beyond Flushing is an area clamoring for better transit service. The infamous Second System plans called for extensions of the Flushing Line into Queens with branches heading either to College Point or Bayside. As Lhota said, “it’s important to have plans,” but this one seems more like a dream from the past than a future we should expect.