In my previous post, I presented a proposal for half-hourly diesel-electric regional rail service in New York, to be implemented after completion of Gateway, East Side Access, Penn Station Access, and the Third Track. With all the additional capacity, providing this kind of robust regional express capacity would be possible. However, with time, the excess capacity would be exhausted. In addition, it would not fix one of the most pressing problems of the transportation network; currently, passengers are dumped into the local transit system at just two locations, overloading the subway system. If capacity on the rail network is reached after the completion of the initial phase of work, a main goal should thus be to more evenly distribute passengers, to relieve east-west and north-south subway lines. The goal is something akin to London’s Crossrail, or the Paris RER; a cross-city link with multiple stations providing an alternative express network within the city.
That being said, there are several caveats to building such a network. First off, the small width of Manhattan makes building multiple stations in a straight east-west direction very difficult; in the studies for East Side Access, a East Side station on the existing rail line serving Penn was ruled out as too difficult, expensive, and disruptive to build, and was considered operationally undesirable since all trains would have to stop at this new station. To the south, the main sites for potential stations, WTC and Fulton, are so close together that they are connected by a walking passageway, and any such east-west station would have to be carefully nestled into the thicket of lines around Lower Manhattan.
Connecting the future Penn South to GCT also wouldn’t do a lot by itself; passengers heading downtown would still overload north-south subway lines. In addition, if inbound capacity into either terminal was reached during the AM Peak (or outbound in the PM peak), it wouldn’t do much to provide additional peak capacity; it would certainly improve equipment utilization, but ultimately the tracks are the main restricting factor in running more trains, and in the case of Grand Central and Metro-North there are more than enough tracks and platforms to accommodate all the trains that could terminate there, even with inefficient practices. Linking Penn South with the LIRR’s cavern at GCT wouldn’t be good in the long-term either; through-running trains would have to fit in the tight clearances of the 63 St tunnel, so trains with multi-voltage transformers or double-deck cars would not be able to through-run, ruling out the possibility of through-running on track without third rail.
The electric fleets for the three operators would further limit possibilities for connections. As previously mentioned, they all run on different power supplies; making an all-in-one EMU would be very difficult considering the three AC catenary systems and two DC third rail systems. The current fleets were all bought at different times as well, and are sizeable; replacing every last train with a new, multi-voltage train would take a long time, holding up implementation of electric regional rail until most or all of the trains necessary were available.
The solution I am proposing would thus be more similar to Melbourne’s City Loop, Sydney’s City Circle, and New York’s Nassau Street Loop. The primary component of this proposal would be two new two-track tunnels; one for the LIRR from Grand Central to Atlantic Terminal via the East Side and Lower Manhattan, and another two-track tunnel for NJT running from Penn South to Hoboken via the East Side and Greenwich Village. The two tunnels would meet at a central transfer station at Union Square, providing direct regional rail access to fast-growing areas of Brooklyn via the L train.
Intermediate stops at Greenwich Village and at Fulton St would provide additional access to Manhattan and also allow for additional transfers to the subway system at Houston St on the 1 and Spring St on the C and E trains, and also provides new east-west transit links, redistributing passengers more efficiently and reducing the load on the subway.
In New Jersey, the former Morris & Essex Lines (Gladstone Branch, Morristown Line, and Montclair-Boonton Line) would only serve the tunnels via Hoboken, while the Northeast Corridor, Raritan Valley Line, and North Jersey Coast line would only serve the tunnels via Penn. This segregation would allow for a doubling of capacity on those lines while reserving the original two North River Tunnels for use on the diesel regional network and Amtrak.
In the east, the Port Washington and Hempstead branches, along with a new branch to a park & ride at Belmont Park, would run via GCT and Atlantic to Far Rockaway, Long Beach, and West Hempstead. This would be the basis of a new metro-style express service between the inner neighborhoods of Nassau and the City, and super-frequent services would allow for a few additional stops to be added within the city itself without significantly impacting overall travel times, boosting intra-city as well as suburban transportation.
- On the Port Washington branch, two additional stops at Elmhurst (Queens Blvd) and Corona (National St) would provide service to an area that currently relies on the overcrowded Q58 and 7 train.
- The Main Line would see an additional station at Rego Park where the former Rockaway Beach Branch split off.
- On the Atlantic Branch, an additional stop at Woodhaven Blvd would be built.
- On the Far Rockaway and Long Beach branches, stops would be added at Linden (Linden Blvd) and Rochdale (Baisley Blvd).
- On the West Hempstead branch, stops would be added at Farmers (Farmers Blvd) and Springfield (Springfield Blvd).
Upon electrification of the Oyster Bay Branch, services from Belmont Park could be shifted to the Oyster Bay Branch, with diesel services shifted over to the other branches of the regional rail system. Alternatively, Oyster Bay and Babylon trains could also run through the tunnel upon electrification, but this would split the tunnel amongst four services instead of three, limiting frequencies on the outer branches to six trains an hour, or a train every ten minutes; still a large increase in service.
With all this service redirected out of the main railroad tunnel to Penn, express services to Penn on the New Haven Line and Hudson Line could be redirected via Penn to provide additional capacity in the event of the Park Avenue tunnels reaching capacity. Long-term, the success of these plans would also depend on the streamlining and grade separation of junctions throughout the system, and the continued progress of the installation of new signalling, double-tracking, and electrification. However, if fully realized, the plans would result in the biggest change in regional-area transit since the construction of the subway.