We have all seen the rhetoric about adding new transit options for people who live and work in the outer boroughs. We have all seen the talk about what types of transit we should expand and eventually subsidize somehow. We have all seen the ideas thrown around by politicians and their constituents alike and how much they might cost.
This post is no different.
What I will say is this: Triboro RX can be a reality. Here’s how.
Some people are calling for a subway line to go from The Bronx through Queens down to Brooklyn on tracks that are supposedly “lightly used” compared to commuter rail and subway. Others are calling for a Select Bus Service line to run the entire ~25 miles of this theoretical line. Some are calling for a commuter rail/heavy rail system on these tracks. I will make the case for a commuter/heavy rail system, which would probably be more feasible. This is not to say that it will happen or that it will be the cheapest, but it would make for a much better alternative to subway and SBS service.
My inspiration for this post is derived from my experiences with the London Overground in the UK. Basically, just like there is a London Underground (primarily a subway network much like the New York City Subway), there is also the London Overground (primarily a commuter rail-type operation with subway-like tendencies). The Overground was created in 2006 by Transport for London to alleviate some overcrowding on both TfL-controlled Underground lines and National Rail-controlled Main Line services going through Central London and to provide options for those who may not need Central London access. Most Underground and some National Rail services do pass through Central London while others terminate there. Though there are many people who access Central London for work and recreational purposes, there are just about as many if not more people commuting from suburb to suburb or from different boroughs in the Greater London area. Therefore, the Overground, with quite a number of lightly used and disused rail lines in the Main Line network, was created to bridge those boroughs together and provide options for those who don’t necessarily need to go to stations like Bank, Paddington, Kings Cross-St. Pancras, Piccadilly Square, or Westminster. The Overground also helps to get people from areas with mainly bus service to the National Rail and Underground lines that do go to Central London. Though it isn’t a one-seat ride into town, it’s a better alternative to an overtaxed road network and an overtaxed bus system that actually carries more riders per day than even the Underground network.
With that said, if the Triboro RX plan were to become a reality in, let’s say, 10-20 years, it should be done in the style of the London Overground and similar systems in Europe and Japan. Here’s how it would work:
The Triboro RX plan doesn’t necessarily have to be just this one route, although everyone associates “Triboro RX” with one route. Select Bus Service could work in this corridor, but with 25 miles of route to deal with, and the road network which probably cannot support the extra traffic and pollution, I am not sure if SBS is the right path. This does not downplay my support for more inter-borough SBS lines, just not in this context. A subway line would be ideal since we have all these subway lines and subway cars all over the place. The problem there is that a) this would need more subway cars than are already available, and b) the whole line would have to be grade separated from the Amtrak and freight rails because the FRA doesn’t want subway and heavy rail trains to mix (crashworthiness standards are different). Commuter rail can mesh well with Amtrak and freight (it occurs everywhere in this country), so it would be wiser to make the Triboro RX line a heavy rail line.
Being that Metro-North/Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) is still in the process of procuring new M-8 railcars for the New Haven Line, the M-8 rail car would be the perfect platform for the Triboro RX line. The M-8 cars are powered by overhead wires in certain areas and third rail power when they reach the City. The M-8 design is owned by the MTA, so procuring similar rail cars as an add-on to the current 400+ car M-8 contract shouldn’t be too difficult (although the MTA is starting to procure the M9/M9A contract for the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North’s Harlem and Hudson Lines). The worst case scenario would be to use the design for a future M-10 order or possibly a new car type designation, being that this line would probably be run by the City (explained later on).
I chose the M-8 design because Metro-North currently uses this car for the New Haven line, with overhead catenary wire used in Connecticut from New Haven to Greenwich and in Westchester County from Port Chester to Pelham, and with third rail from Pelham to Grand Central. Amtrak uses overhead catenary for the entire stretch of the Northeast Corridor from Washington, DC to Boston. I would utilize the catenary from Co-op City station to just north of Roosevelt Avenue station, and third rail operation everywhere else. Due to operating over the Amtrak Hell Gate line, I felt that using the overhead wires would be better than installing third rail, since the overhead is there and adding third rail would increase capital costs and disrupt service. Third rail can be used elsewhere because if there is to be future connections to LIRR or Metro-North, they already have third rail power and Triboro RX would just simply feed off of that. The M-8s may or may not have the capability to operate with variable-height third rail shoes since LIRR uses over-running third rail (the contact shoe sits on top of the third rail) while Metro-North uses under-running third rail (the contact shoe rubs against the bottom of the third rail). If not, the new class of car for Triboro RX would need variable-height shoes or a shoe that can be raised or lowered with the flick of a switch in the engineer’s cab (there probably can be a switch to choose between Metro-North under-running, LIRR over-running, and Amtrak catenary modes).
As far as the interior goes, this modified M-8 car would have an interior similar to London Overground’s interior, aisle-facing seating with comfortable yet durable fabric to combine the comfort of commuter rail with the capacity and feel of a subway. Unlike the Overground cars, not all of the modified M-8’s seating has to be aisle-facing; between the car ends and the doors can be forward-facing and rear-facing seats while the center can use the subway-style seating layout.
I decided to use the routing that other advocates have used in their maps and ideas, which is the route that runs along Amtrak’s Hell Gate line, CSX’s Fremont line through Queens, and New York & Atlantic’s Bay Ridge line…with some alterations. For illustrative purposes, I have divided this into three sections, one for each borough.
The Bronx section of the Triboro RX line would take the line up the Amtrak Hell Gate line to at least Co-op City, with four stations, the exact four stations outlined in the MTA’s Penn Station Access Study which would bring the New Haven Line into Penn Station. The four stations would be located in Hunts Point (near the Hunts Point Ave (6) station), Parkchester (near White Plains Road/Tremont Avenue), Morris Park (near Albert Einstein college of Medicine on Eastchester Road), and Co-op City (Section 5). An added spur to Yankee Stadium (connection to nearby (B)(D)(4) station) can be done by using the freight line that runs along the Harlem River using a connection to the Hudson Line near Highbridge. After Yankee Stadium, the line can continue to Marble Hill or Riverdale, but I didn’t add that this time because I didn’t think it was reasonable from a operational perspective.
The Queens section would take the line off the Hell Gate Line and bring it down the CSX Fremont line with three new Queens stations and several new Brooklyn stations. The Queens stations would be located in East Elmhurst (near the 74th/Roosevelt station complex), Maspeth (Grand Avenue), and Middle Village (adjacent to the Metropolitan Avenue (M) station). I didn’t include an Astoria station due to the height of the structure in that area. If I did, the station would be located above Astoria Blvd for a connection to a future M60 SBS and Bronx-to-LGA SBS. I have added a branch that leaves the line from the south to the east along a currently-unelectrified LIRR ROW which was used for diesel trains from the Montauk branch to Long Island City. The line would be electrified with third rail from Fresh Pond Yard to Jamaica. I would reactivate the Richmond Hill station at Lefferts Blvd and build a new station in Glendale underneath the Woodhaven Blvd overpass to serve the Q52/53 (maybe future SBS) and the shopping area nearby. The line would connect to Jamaica and then proceed either along the Main Line to Queens Village or along the Far Rockaway branch to Valley Stream, or both. Having multiple branches would increase the reach of Triboro RX as well as make the trunk line a frequent service. Having the line go east from Brooklyn would allow for someone to go from Bay Ridge to Queens Village or from Midwood to Laurelton, addressing the age-old southern-Brooklyn-to-southern-Queens rapid transit link issue which could only currently be accomplished by going up to northern Brooklyn just to continue east or by simply driving.
Note: I did not include a routing that would leave the line from the north to the east due to the layout of Fresh Pond Yard in the area. I felt that due to the track and yard layout, a south to east connector would work better than a north to east connector. Unless, that is, the Triboro RX tracks are elevated above the yard and then a “wye” could be created. In that event, there could realistically be a Bronx-Valley Stream link as well as a Brooklyn-Valley Stream link.
The Brooklyn section would take the line from the CSX Fremont line to the NY&A Bay Ridge line (LIRR Bay Ridge Line) with 12 new stations: Bushwick (adjacent to Wilson Avenue (L) Station), Broadway Junction (near the (A)(C)(L)(J)(Z) station, with connection to the LIRR East New York station nearby), East New York (Adjacent to Livonia Avenue (L) and Junius Street (3) stations), Rockaway Avenue, Brooklyn Terminal Market, East Flatbush (somewhere between Utica Avenue and Kings Highway), Brooklyn College/Flatbush Avenue (near the (2)(5) station, also connection to B44 SBS), Midwood (Avenue H (Q) station), McDonald Avenue (Avenue I (F) station), New Utrecht Avenue (near the (D)(N) station), Bay Ridge (halfway between the Bay Ridge Avenue (R) station and the 59th Street (N)(R) station), and the Brooklyn Army Terminal, with a potential maintenance yard just south of the station.
I placed these stations where I felt would be best for subway and major bus connections, some of which were also highlighted in many Triboro RX theoretical plans that I have seen. I added the Brooklyn Army Terminal due to the increase of commercial activity in the area and the amount of people who take subways and buses from all the way across town (including Queens and Staten Island). The Brooklyn Terminal Market seemed like a perfect stop in the southeastern Brooklyn part of the line. Some of the stations can be built as combination of a rail station and a physical connection to the subway (like the (L) and (3) stations at my East New York station),while others should stay separate (like, perhaps, Broadway Junction or Flatbush Avenue (2)(5) station).
Even though Triboro RX is more of a commuter rail-style operation, the frequency and the service span would be best complemented by a flat-rate fare, much like the subway. I had originally thought that a premium fare somewhere between the subway fare and the express bus fare (maybe $4, which is the weekend CityTicket fare), or possibly the LIRR City Terminal Zone fare west of Jamaica (5.75), would be best. I have since decided that the subway fare would be the better option…simply because making the Triboro RX fare experience seamless with the subway fare means that more New Yorkers would benefit from this service.
If the Triboro RX fare is the same as the subway fare, then Metrocards would be accepted. How, you say? Turnstiles like the subway? Maybe. That, however might lead to costlier and more robust station structures due to fare control areas that would need to be installed at every station.
How about this: proof-of-payment, very much like Select Bus Service. You pay your fare at the machines, a receipt is issued, and you hold on to the receipt for the duration of the ride. No fares would be paid on the train. Receipts would be good only on Triboro RX and then deemed invalid after two hours. Metrocard transfers would have to be encoded on the card for connections between Triboro RX stations and adjacent subway stations much like the Metrocard transfer from the 59th/Lexington (N)(Q)(R)(4)(5)(6) station to the Lexington Avenue/63rd (F) station, provided that the transfer is used within the two-hour period. Much like with SBS, you must get a receipt from Triboro RX machines separately from SBS machines. LIRR and Metro-North customers with UniTicket would be able to display the back of their UniTicket Metrocard as proof of payment, much like with SBS.
Some stations will have ample room for overhead or street level fare control areas, but some places might only have space for a catchment area, an area where people have access to a station within a short walk from the main entrance. A station like Jamaica station would have the fare machines in one of two places: either the upper mezzanine where you have the elevators and the walkway to the Airtrain, or on the platforms to be designated for Triboro RX services. For example, even though Tracks 4 through 8 are for primarily eastbound LIRR services, Track 4 could be the designated eastbound track for Triboro RX. Track 1 could be the designated westbound track for Triboro RX and still discharge westbound Oyster Bay and Montauk trains terminating at Jamaica. Therefore, the platform for Track 4/5 would have Triboro RX machines as would the platform for Track 1/2.
Triboro RX can be owned and operated by the MTA or owned by the City and operated by the MTA. This could be an operating subsidiary similar to MTA Staten Island Railway or MTA Bus Company. It could be named MTA Triboro Railway Express but still subsidized by the City. There could be several potential routes:
- Co-op City to Brooklyn Army Terminal (the core route)
- Yankee Stadium to Brooklyn Army Terminal
- Valley Stream to Brooklyn Army Terminal
- Queens Village to Brooklyn Army Terminal
- Yankee Stadium to Valley Stream (if a wye is built at Fresh Pond Yard)
Here are the stops for the core route, based on my illustrations:
- Co-op City (connections to Bx23, Bx26, Bx28, Bx30, BxM7)
- Morris Park (connections to Bx21, Bx31)
- Parkchester (connections to Bx4A, Bx22, Bx39, Bx40, Bx42)
- Hunts Point (connections to Bx5, Bx6, Bx19, #6 train)
- Roosevelt Avenue (connections to Q32, Q33, Q47, Q49, Q53, Q70, #7, E, F, M, and R trains)
- Maspeth (connections to Q47, Q58, Q59)
- Middle Village (connections to Q38, Q54, Q67, and M train)
- Bushwick (connections to B60, B20 and L train)
- Broadway Junction (connections to LIRR, B12, B20, B25, B83, Q24, Q56, and A, C, L, J, and Z trains)
- East New York (connections to B14, #3 and L trains)
- Rockaway Avenue (connection to B60)
- Brooklyn Terminal Market (connection to B17)
- East Flatbush (connections to B7, B46)
- Brooklyn College/Flatbush Avenue (connections to B6, B11, B41, B44, B44 SBS, B103, Q35, BM2, #2 and #5 trains)
- Midwood (connection to Q train)
- McDonald Avenue (connections to B11 and F train)
- New Utrecht Avenue (connections to B9, D and N trains)
- Bay Ridge (connections to B9, B64, B70, and R train)
- Brooklyn Army Terminal (connection to B11)
Other stations that can be added on later:
- Yankees-E 153rd St (connections to Metro-North, Bx6, Bx13, #4, B, and D trains)
- Glendale (connections to Q11, Q21, Q23, Q52, Q53)
- Richmond Hill (connections to Q10, Q55, Q56, J and Z trains)
- Jamaica (connections to LIRR, Airtrain JFK, Q6, Q8, Q9, Q20A, Q20B, Q24, Q25, Q30, Q31, Q34, Q40, Q43, Q44, Q60, Q65, E, J, and Z trains)
- Hollis (connections to LIRR, Q2, Q3)
- Queens Village (connections to Q1, Q27, Q36, Q83, Q88, NICE Bus, LIRR)
- Locust Manor (connections to Q3, Q85, QM21, LIRR)
- Laurelton (connections to LIRR, Q77, Q85)
- Rosedale (connections to Q5, Q85, x63, LIRR)
- Valley Stream (connections to LIRR, NICE Bus)
Making the core route a subway line is not a bad idea, but with the Amtrak Hell Gate line and potential railroad and airport connections, the heavy rail direction works best. I would save subway expansion for the LIRR Rockaway Beach line, the one that many wanted to convert to the QueensWay. The Rockaway line would spur off the A line and continue up to Woodhaven and potentially connect to the Queens Blvd line via tunnel. Then, we can have a Midtown-to-JFK alternative to the A through Brooklyn or the E all the way over to Jamaica. We can also have a Midtown-to-Aqueduct service for “racino” customers instead of that new “Red Express” the casino introduced.
Triboro Railway Express. The future outer borough transit experience. Now, let’s see if Staten Island can get into the mix with a link between the Staten Island Railway and either the subway or Triboro RX. Maybe in 500 years.