The Second Avenue Subway as part of a new Second System


In my previous post, I described a “core” expansion that would relieve the Lexington Avenue Line in Manhattan, the Queens Blvd Line in Queens, and the Jerome Av and Grand Concourse Lines in the Bronx. This new Second System would relieve services enough to embark on a new series of expansions in the outer boroughs that would relieve congested bus corridors, and shorten commute times for outer borough commuters by a significant amount.

The Bronx


The new Second System would see very minimal expansion in the Bronx. Most north-south travel needs would be met by the existing network, the Third Av/Pelham Pkwy Line, and the planned Penn Station Access project in the East Bronx. Coupled with the fact that there is no available north-south capacity from the new “core” system or the existing system to extend north, that would mean no new north-south lines within the Bronx.

However, a new extension of the A to Fordham Plaza would run east, using the yard tracks into the 207 St Yard, crossing the river using a bridge, and then tunneling into the ridge before traveling under Fordham Rd to Fordham Plaza. This would replace the western half of the busy Bx12 Select Bus route, connecting the A to the 1, 4, D, and Metro-North, and the new Pelham Pkwy line to Co-op City. At Fordham Plaza, the line could either terminate at a middle platform built at the station, or merge into the Pelham Pkwy line and continue on to Bay Plaza.

Side note: due to the use of the 207 St Yard tracks, trains would turn off just before Dyckman St. As a result, Inwood-207 St could potentially be shut down if the MTA desired to do so, and used for train storage or as a relocation of the Transit Museum, which the “core” connection between Hanover Square and Court St would’ve displaced.

Queens and… Nassau?


The “core” system would relieve the overcrowded Flushing and Queens Blvd lines by either taking over railroad rights-of-way (in the case of the Port Washington Branch) or by constructing lines parallel to them (in the case of the Main Line.) While the takeover of the Port Washington branch would give subway service to Northern Queens and Nassau immediately, the Second System would be needed to fully utilize the capacity freed up by the Queens Blvd Bypass, which would link the 63 St tunnel to Forest Hills, taking over local service east of Forest Hills to 179th St. Using this new capacity, nearly all the lines currently terminating in Forest Hills and Jamaica could be extended.

Illustration of current and future Queens Blvd & Bypass services.

Illustration of current and future Queens Blvd & Bypass services.

The local Queens Blvd lines would also be extended, but for different reasons. Currently, both terminate at Forest Hills, but the service run on these lines is limited by the need to fumigate passengers at the end of a line. One of the local lines would be extended south to meet the deactivated Rockaway Beach Branch ROW, running south before terminating at Howard Beach – JFK Airport. This would provide a valuable north-south connection in Queens, as well as provide faster midtown access than the current A train. The other local line would be extended east of Forest Hills via 73 Av to 188th St. While bus service past 188th St continues to be intense, extension east would be complicated by the slow speed of the local train. (It doesn’t matter which local service gets extended where, but for the sake of argument let’s suppose that the M goes to Howard Beach and the R goes to 188th St.) This would decongest the situation at the existing terminal, but if either extension occurred Woodhaven Blvd on the Queens Blvd line would have to be converted to an express station; even today, Roosevelt Av gets too crowded from people transferring from the east, and the extension of the local lines would only make it worse.

The express Queens Blvd lines would be extended both east and south. The F would be extended down Hillside Avenue to Springfield Blvd, while the E would turn south and join the LIRR ROW directly south of the existing station paralleling the existing tracks to Springfield Blvd, as the 1968 Program for Action called for. Both would make stops at streets with major bus routes, providing quick connections to the bus network while obviating the need for many bus lines to divert into Jamaica. This would allow for a rationalization of the bus network in both eastern and southern Queens. Either could be extended to Nassau and terminate at a major hub (North Shore LIJ for the F, and either Valley Stream LIRR or Green Acres Mall for the E), but I would consider that too expensive and too extensive to include in this Second System.



In the “core” expansion, a Utica Av line would be built, extending the 4 south to Avenue H and eventually Kings Plaza. This line would then be connected to the Second Avenue trunk via Williamsburg and the Lower East Side, giving one of the two major subway-free corridors in Brooklyn a subway line. As part of the new Second System, the Nostrand Avenue line would also be extended south to Avenue U. No other major expansions would occur, except the Triboro RX.

Triboro RX


This is included as part of the Second System mostly because it would be cheap to construct. There are two versions of the plan that have been pushed, differing in how they travel through the Bronx. One would use an abandoned railway line to connect to the 6, the 2/5, and eventually the B/D and 4 at Yankee Stadium, while the other would run along the Amtrak ROW to Hunts Point and Co-op City. I don’t like either option; the former has poor connections to some of the subway lines it crosses and doesn’t connect to many more of them, while the latter doesn’t even intersect subway lines. In fact, I don’t really support the notion of the Triboro RX going into the Bronx at all; it would needlessly make the circumferential arc too wide while suboptimally connecting to lines in places that do not currently support a lot of Bronx-Queens travel. (There was formerly a bus line across the Triboro between the Bronx and Queens, but it was discontinued due to low ridership.) Instead, I would rather have the line turn west at Randall’s Island and connect to the 125th St spur of the Second Avenue Subway. It would provide quick, easy connections to all of the north-south lines, and for the majority of people it would not significantly increase circumferential travel time.

Ultimately, I believe that these expansions would be suitable for New York for the next fifty or hundred years. After this expansion, focus should be shifted to building a robust surface network, whether or not it is light rail, BRT, or streetcars. This will be detailed in a later post.

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17 comments on “The Second Avenue Subway as part of a new Second System
  1. orulz says:

    This is impressive work. It seems a substantial part of this proposal is based around converting existing commuter branches or abandoned rights-of-way to subway lines which would be an economical way to get better service to a lot of people. It seems you have proposed taking over the the Port Washington, Rockaway Beach, Bay Ridge, and Atlantic (east of Jamaica) branches, and putting tracks in vacant spaces on the Hell Gate line and LIRR Main Line.

    I wonder if you can find or see any use for converting other underutilized or abandoned branches such as the Port Morris branch of the LIRR, or the Montauk Branch from Long Island City to Jamaica.

    Connecting the Triboro RX to 125th street is a better plan IMO than running it into the Bronx, however, if you’re using 2 of the 4 tracks on the hell gate line to get to Randall’s Island that leaves 2 tracks on the line unused north of there. Hence the Port Morris branch.

    Anyway, this is pretty impressive. Thanks for posting it.

    • Henry says:

      No problem!

      The Port Morris Branch of MNR was supposed to be used in the original iteration of the Triboro RX. It’s cheap and it’s there, but it’s not very ideal; its routing is awkward, and it completely misses the 2/5. There’s also the issue of how many people actually want to go from Melrose to Port Morris, and I don’t think that’s very many people. The Montauk Line has the issue of there not being much demand for it; the buses serving those neighborhoods are neither crowded nor frequent, a good portion of the route is not situated ideally for ridership or development (either next to parks, cemeteries, Newton Creek or industry), and there’s nowhere to link it to in the west. Not every piece of disused rail infrastructure should be used for rail. (Also, neither the Bay Ridge or Atlantic proposals involve taking over the lines outright; both only call for the construction of parallel tracks.)

      • orulz says:

        Thanks for the reply. What is the purpose of the gap between the tracks on the 2/5 between Brook Ave and St Ann’s and Ave. Was there once an elevated line heading west along Westchester Avenue (or was one planned at some point?) Could the elevated structure be modified to allow a new station in that gap? That would solve the problem of missing the 2/5. But you may be right about the demand (or lack thereof.)

        The Montauk branch does not go through high density areas by NY standards, for the exact reasons you mention, but nonetheless, subway conversion has been proposed before and it does fill a gap in the subway network. The Q55 and Q54 parallel routes combine for about 20,000 daily riders, which is not huge but it is also not nothing – not to mention the bus routes that cross it perpendicularly. Maybe on the western end, a terminus at Long Island City is not perfect; but perhaps if it curved north and terminated at Queens Plaza it would be sufficient, with oodles of options for continuing to Manhattan or northern Queens. This would sort of be a standalone line so one could potentially imagine it implemented as light rail.

        The idea of relocating the museum to Inwood-207 is a nice touch.

        As for the Utica line connection to the 2nd ave subway, this is the biggest “reach” you have made. Ideally the north and southbound tracks would be vertically shifted (one going up the other going down) to allow for a flying junction without needing an extra wide cavern. This sort of thing would have to be built into the plan from day one. Any suggestion or mention of this in planning documents?

      • Henry says:

        There is no record of a station there. The express tracks begin just east of the gap, so I’m assuming it exists to make room for a third track; the presence of the third track interlocking so close also complicates the building of a station there, even if there is enough room for it (and there does appear to be.) If you look at the Bronx bus map, however, that location is not located near any bus lines that don’t follow the tracks; building a station there would be too close to the stations on either side, but both of those stations do connect to several bus lines. I don’t think it’s worth it to revive a routing like the old Port Morris Branch.

        Not all those bus riders from the Q54 and Q55 are going to transfer to a Montauk Line. Also keep in mind that those bus routes have a different western end that could account for much of their ridership; Williamsburg is quite a ways from LIC, and Ridgewood is much more vibrant than Middle Village.

        The Second Avenue Subway planning documents call for a pair of storage tracks between 21 and 9 Sts. This is where the turnout to Williamsburg would occur.

      • GojiMet86 says:

        Hi Henry, this is a 5 month late response, but that gap between St. Ann’s Avenue and Brook Avenue is a remnant of the 3rd Avenue elevated line. The 3rd Ave. trains would terminate at Freeman Street, which had switches north of the station, long removed now.

  2. vanshnookenraggen says:

    Love what you’ve done, Henry. A few small things I noticed:

    Inwood-207th St would not have to be abandoned; Notice the A train runs two branches, 3 at rush hour. Since your extension of the A to Coop City also runs with 2nd Ave service splitting the A at Dyckman-200 St there doesn’t seem to be an issue in loss of service. Inwood-207 St could be the terminal for Lefferts Blvd trains and Coop City the terminal for Far Rockaway trains.

    On your map you show the R train running under 73rd. Just to nitpick the map, such a branch would use the yard tracks after Forest Hills and would run along the side of the yard. Maybe adjust the line to show this.

    Given that the ESA is going to allow for more Port Washington trains I think turning the line over to 2nd Ave service is a non-starter. 2nd Ave-Superexpress service would be better used as local service from Forest Hills to Jamaica-179th, to Springfield Blvd (with the E returning to Hillside Ave) or even along 73rd instead of the R.

    Due to the design of Howard Beach the M train would actually need to be extended to Rockaway Park, an extension that would do away with the current shuttle situation and improve operations along the line.

    The 2nd Ave-Utica Ave line would be better placed as it was once designed to run down Houston St with a connection to the unused center tracks on the 6th Ave line at 2nd Ave. This would allow for at least a 3rd express track running along the length of the Utica Ave subway much like the Concourse Line in the Bronx. While not ideal it is a cheaper way to provide express service. (Also on your map you show the line meeting the Crosstown Line at Union Ave station but given that the line runs down Grand St it would in fact be meeting the Crosstown Line at Metropolitan Ave station as the mezzanine there extends to Grand).

    You mentioned needing to take land along the LIRR ROWs but in actuality the land taking would be far less. The ROW along the LIRR Main Line from where the Port Wash. branches off to the old Rockaway Beach Branch has an abandoned pair of track beds (which were used by the Rockway Branch). Some rejiggering would need to be done but less land would be needed than you think. Also the plans for the Southeast Queens Line had it completely replacing the LIRR from Jamaica to Springfield Blvd.

    Great work!

    • Henry says:

      If Inwood-207 were to be kept, that would most likely result in Far Rock trains terminating at Inwood and Lefferts terminating in Co-op or Fordham Plaza (dependent on where the terminus for the A is located in the Bronx), just to keep the length of any individual service pattern down. That being said, neither branch of the A runs frequently enough to be its own service, so splitting them would require a boost in service on the branches and possibly elimination of Rockaway Park rush-hour service. Howard Beach has also been used as a terminus in the past for JFK Express trains; I see no reason why A trains couldn’t terminate there, albeit with some reconfiguration of the station.

      I was actually thinking of doing it via the lower level before the 75 Av station to avoid the yard, but that works too if you somehow reconfigure the yard.

      ESA is going to turn the services from a train every half hour to a pair of trains every half-hour, which is still not subway level service. Getting rid of the PW branch does allow for more service east of Jamaica, especially if the Oyster Bay Branch is ever electrified. Plus, Corona and Flushing desperately need the additional service.

      While I get that the original plan was to do it via Houston St, that wouldn’t work today. As it is all four services are routed into Brooklyn and are well used; to add another service to a Utica Av line via Sixth Avenue, you need to pick between screwing over Myrtle, Culver, Brighton, or West End Line riders, all of which are pretty happy with Sixth Avenue services. As for the depiction of the Union Av subway stop, I chose on the maps to list the cross street of the new stations, not necessarily the name of the actual stop there today. (It definitely makes more sense than S 4, which is both overbuilt and not near the center of the action today.) I don’t think there’s a need for express tracks, particularly if there’s wide stop spacing and the train is going to merge back into the same tracks. When was the last time you saw a train using the Jerome Av or Astoria Blvd express tracks? The icing on the cake is that with my alignment you get to both serve the actual LES and a section of Williamsburg equidistant from the Canarsie and Jamaica Lines.

      I say land taken along the LIRR ROWs because you need to take anything for an extra pair of tracks between Sunnyside and Woodside, and any sort of additional land buffer. As for the SE Queens proposal, the proposal was given at a time when LIRR ridership was thought to be in permanent decline. As it is the LIRR is still very busy, and the modern updates to the plan that the RPA has suggested in the past is simultaneously tripling or quadrupling the St. Albans Branch to keep Bablyon trains express during peak hours (which isn’t the official name, but you know what I mean.) It’s a lot easier to add a pair of tracks to the Locust Manor Branch than it is to quadruple or triple the St. Albans branch, at least by just glancing at Google Maps, so I figured it would be easier to just build a new pair of tracks and avoid the hassle of disrupting LIRR service.

      • vanshnookenraggen says:

        For Utica, since 6th Ave is full, why not extend the 8th and 2nd Ave trains via a modified Worth St alignment? A major issue with routing the 2nd Ave train through Tompkins Park is that it leaves riders without some major transfer options. A modified Worth St subway would extend the 8th Ave local (most likely the C) to Utica Ave so having the 2nd Ave subway split at Grand St with a Utica Ave branch connecting to the 8th Ave branch would allow for Utica Ave passengers to transfer to the most number of lines. Utica Ave (and Williamsburg) would then be served by two trains that would distribute passenger loads equally (1 east side and 1 west side). It doesn’t take away any existing service either.

      • Henry says:

        The issue I have with a Worth St alignment is that Worth St is way too south to be useful. The center of gravity of Williamsburg has changed; Bedford Av on the L has three times as many riders as Marcy Av on the J/M/Z, even though Marcy Av is a major bus/subway transfer point. Likewise, even if it was just served by Second Avenue trains no major trunk line connections would be missed; you have the 7th Av and Lexington Lines on Eastern Pkwy, the 8th Av Line and 2nd Av Line on Fulton St, the 6th Av and Nassau St lines at Broadway, and the L at Montrose Av and at a Union Av stop with the G. The only line you miss in Brooklyn is the Broadway Line, which a Worth St subway wouldn’t hit anyways. In fact, a Worth St line wouldn’t really hit any major subway stops, since none of the subway stops in the area have entrances near Worth St in the first place.

  3. Kiran says:

    I love this entire proposal, but the only thing I’m not crazy about is the fact that there would be still no good connection between the Bronx and Queens. I know that there isn’t very much demand for it now, but I think the connection should still be there, perhaps in the form of a stop on the new section of the yellow line at 125th, which could have a walking tunnel over to where the T and the 456 intersect. That way, there would be a simple connection to the Triboro RX for people in the bronx. Also, since this is a pretty comprehensive map of everything that’s feasible and should be added, I personally think the proposed extension of the Astoria line up to LaGuardia Airport should be included as well.

    • Henry says:

      I dislike the idea of a station at 125th/2nd, just because it would be a lot of expense for a station that would essentially only serve transfers (the area is essentially just the onramp for the Triboro), and there’s not much of a functional difference between transferring to a Second Avenue Bronx-bound train over a Lexington Avenue Bronx-bound train.

      I don’t actually think that extension is feasible, mostly because it would have to be elevated, but the runway flight paths for LaGuardia make an elevated extension impossible.

      • Jeremiah Clemente says:

        You could have the Astoria extension go as an elevated via 31st Street, the con-Ed plant, and 19th Avenue to 45th Street. At 45th Street, the line could then dip underground and remain as such until the LaGuardia station. New stations can be built at 20th Avenue, Steinway Street, and Hazen Street.

  4. Very nice work. But as a resident of Eastern Queens I have to disagree with your choice of 73rd Ave as a ROW. 73rd Ave, spanning from Flushing/Kew Garden Hills to Bayside, is 90% residential. A wide, tree-lined street with mostly single-family homes, stretching through a very bucolic, suburban part of the borough. No one would support a tunnel being built that close to their own home, especially in a part of the city like that. A better ROW choice to serve that general area would be the more commercial Union Turnpike, or even the Long Island Expressway/Horace Harding Expressway. Those areas have populations that would justify a massive transit project like rerouting a subway line.

    • Henry says:

      73 Av is the most convenient from an engineering standpoint since the Forest Hills local tracks end right there. Horace Harding is too far from Forest Hills to be viable if you are also extending a QB local line to the Rockaways; you would essentially be abandoning local service at 67 Av and Forest Hills. Union Tpke has the issue of being too far from the local tracks; reaching it would require tunneling under the Queens Boulevard Line.

      • Jeremiah Clemente says:

        Horace Harding can be built as a spur of the line from Woodhaven Blvd, splitting from both local and express tracks before the stop.

  5. Carl M Lavalliere Jr says:

    This would a major expansion for the MTA. It would also be very expensive, I don’t see the powers of the city government having the testicular fortitude to do this. New York City & the MTA has many projects in mind for the future. One of the first is moving the Port Authority Bus Terminal from Manhattan to NJ, extending the # 7 train to Jersey & the 4 train to Kings Plaza Shopping Mall & maybe the BQX? I just want to live long enough to see the beginning of this process. Thank you

  6. Charles Alvarez says:

    Good afternoon from hot and humid Bronx, New York. I often wonder why the city officials continue to waste precious financial resources of doesn’t work instead of on what should be done from a common sense thing.

    I often felt that the Second Avenue Line was and will continue to be a financial money pit of a disaster, when a well thought out light rail would usher in a new era instead of wasting time building a line that would never go to an area of The Bronx that truly needs it.

    The western, middle and far eastern parts of The Bronx could use a far more reliable means of transit that can get many rides that have to rely on cabs, slow buses or their own cars adding to the
    Pollution and congestion in those areas.

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