Regional Rail for New York, Part II

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.

Click for full image.

Click for full image.


The two tunnels central to the second phase of regional rail.

Greenwich Village Stop

A Greenwich Village stop could potentially be built along Houston or King St.

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.

The proposed configuration of New Jersey Transit services through the new tunnel.

The proposed configuration of New Jersey Transit services through the new tunnel.

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.

Proposed LIRR "Metro-East" service, with new stations shown.

Proposed LIRR “Metro-East” service, with new stations shown.

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.

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Regional Rail in New York, Part I

The subject of regional rail in the metro area comes up from time to time. Regional rail is a great idea in theory; there should be no reason why the metropolitan area’s rail network is physically connected, yet is separated and rendered operationally inefficient by three agencies guarding their turf. However, there are several issues with running regional rail using today’s infrastructure.

A lack of intermediary stations

One of the main features of regional rail, from Paris’s RER and London’s Crossrail to the Center City tunnel in Philadelphia, is multiple, widely spaced stops in central areas. Using multiple stops instead of one stop has two benefits; one, it reduces congestion on other transportation networks, since less people need to  make last-mile trips on other networks, and the ones that will remain will be shorter than they were before. The other benefit is a reduction in dwell time at the existing center city train station; now that people have multiple options instead of being forced to get off at the terminal, it now takes less time for people to get on and off trains at the terminal, allowing for more throughput due to decreased dwell time.

The current commuter rail system has a lot of these issues. Penn and GCT are the only center-city stations, and the overwhelming majority of passengers get off at these stations. As a result, the subway stations serving Penn and GCT serve 45 million to 46 million passengers annually, making them the second and third busiest stops in the system (if you count the Eighth and Seventh Avenue stops at Penn as one station). The lines serving these hubs are overcrowded during the rush, as people heading downtown from Penn crowd onto Seventh Avenue trains, people heading to Midtown from Penn rush onto the E, and passengers from Grand Central overload the maxed-out Lexington Avenue line. Future commuter rail expansions are not going to ease this burden; East Side Access will only serve to overburden the Lexington Avenue line even more, and Penn Station Access will do the same as well. Regional rail would be hard to implement with today’s infrastructure; previous studies for East Side Access have ruled out multiple stops along the 34th St tunnels for NJT and LIRR trains, so dwell times at Penn would remain high, reducing throughput. To make matters worse, the rolling stock itself is not conducive to short dwell times; the two-door per car layout is not good at letting passengers in and out quickly. BART has similar capacity issues on its two-door trains, even though they are much shorter, and is planning to replace them with three-door trains to speed up service.

Inappropriate rolling stock: interoperability

The trains currently in service all run on different power supplies, making interoperability today somewhat difficult. No one currently has all-electric rolling stock that can run on all voltages in the regional rail network. NJT has the most compatible rolling stock, since its electric stock can run on 12.5 kV 25 Hz, 12.5 kV 60 Hz, and 25 kV 60 Hz; they can run on MNR’s New Haven Line, but nothing else. Metro-North has stock running 12.5 kV Hz 60 Hz and 25 kV 60 Hz, but the East River Tunnels and North River Tunnels are electrified at 12.5 kV 25 Hz, meaning that current electric rolling stock can’t run into Penn. The rest of the electric rolling stock on Metro-North and the LIRR run on 750 V DC third rail, but even stock between these two agencies is not compatible; Metro-North uses over-running third rail while the LIRR uses under-running third rail. Theoretically, M8s on the New Haven Line can be run on both types of third rail, but in practice there is not much of a chance or need to do so in operation; the Hell Gate Line splits off before the transition to over-running third rail, making it unnecessary to accommodate both over and under-running third rail at the same time. The only other link between Metro-North and the LIRR is through the Empire Connection, which isn’t electrified, so the use of trains that can switch between over and under-running on demand is mainly for flexibility purposes.

Low likelihood of replacing inappropriate rolling stock

There is also little likelihood that new electric-only rolling stock with appropriate layouts will be ordered for the sake of interoperability. Aside from the M3s and M3As, all three rail operators have electric fleets that are new and could stand another two or even three decades in service, and are thus unlikely to need replacement anytime soon. Replacing them early would not work very well; as the MNR and LIRR are the only two commuter rail operators that use third-rail power and are also the two biggest commuter rail operators in the nation, selling their fleets would be virtually impossible. The M3/3A replacement orders are not nearly big enough to justify multi-voltage trains either; due to the lack of clearance for transformers in the 63 St tunnel to Grand Central, ordering multi-voltage trains would require splitting the M9/9A contract into a multi-voltage and single-voltage train, increasing costs for relatively small benefit. So electric-only through service is virtually impossible for the foreseeable future.

The picture is much rosier when it comes to diesel-operated service; both MNR and the LIRR have expressed interest in replacing their old, unreliable diesel locomotives, with either DMUs or new diesel locomotives. It just so happens that NJT recently received a new reliable diesel-electric locomotive, the ALP45-DP, that can switch between modes on the fly and handles 12.5 kV 25 Hz, 12.5 kV 60 Hz, and 25 kV 60 Hz. This would be a significant upgrading from the existing diesel fleet of the MNR and LIRR; currently they can only handle being on electric mode for about ten minutes, to get in and out of the city, and belch fumes on the rest of their trips. The ALP45-DP would be able to operate at high speeds in both modes and transition easily, and would be able to operate anywhere on the regional rail network; making them third-rail compatible with a similar seamless switch between modes would allow them to maintain electric operation on all electrified track in the region. Coupled with new double-deck cars ,like the Bombardier Multi-Levels, that are able to run across the regional rail network, and the basis for a new regional rail network could be forged from existing diesel services. Such a network would be relatively barebones, and could look something like this:

Click for full Image

Click for full Image

With seven terminals on either side of Penn Station, running two trains an hour from every terminal to the other would result in 14 TPH in both directions. If Gateway, the LIRR Third Track, and East Side Access were completed, that would result in an additional 24 TPH on both sides of Penn, giving more than enough capacity to run this service while still leaving 10 TPH on either side for additional service in New Jersey and Long Island. All this would require is an investment in the rolling stock required, and a small capital improvement; under this plan, the Maybrook Line would be reactivated and two stops would be added so that diesel services on the Harlem Line could access the New Haven Line and Penn Station. This wouldn’t be absolutely necessary, but would become more urgent as the tracks into Grand Central approached capacity.

This provides a lot of additional service to stations that my not see that much of it currently, particularly out in Greenport and Montauk. However, this doesn’t solve a big problem with the commuter rail network; it’s still not particularly good at distributing passengers throughout the core, instead dumping passengers into just two overcrowded transfer hubs. Eventually, as the capacity from East Side Access and Gateway is used up, a more comprehensive plan will be required, to be described in the next post.

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Q44 Select Bus Service, What It Means, and What It Could Be

Planned Q44 SBS Service and Stops (Source: DOT)

The Q44 and Current Plans

The current Q44 is one of the busiest routes in Queens and the city, linking 9,240,459 riders annually with Jamaica, Flushing, and the Bronx. In Queens, it runs through severely congested corridors such as Main St in Flushing, and Hillside Blvd, Sutphin Blvd, and Archer Av in Jamaica, while in the Bronx it makes all local stops. With the introduction of SBS, travel times will be slashed by using off-board fare payment, traffic signal retimings, and bus lanes in congested areas.

Q44 DelaysProposed Bus Lanes

Offset bus lanes in the most congested sections of road in Jamaica and Flushing (as is proposed for Main St, and hopefully the plan in Jamaica) would be a godsend and allow significantly improved bus flows if the bus lanes work as intended and are properly enforced. In this case, curbside lanes are not an acceptable alternative; in the sections where there will be bus lanes, there are often so many bus stops that the entire curb has no parking because it is all reserved for bus stops. Curbside lanes implemented in areas like this would effectively be useless, because buses coming up to occupied stops would have to pull out into general traffic to get around bypass stopped buses, rendering the bus lanes rather pointless.

Ultimately, the plans for new bus lanes are very welcome. However, they’re not the best plan, and they certainly don’t solve all the issues with traffic congestion in Jamaica and Flushing.

What the Jamaica-Flushing SBS Could’ve Been

Original plans did not call for the Q44 to be the only SBS link between Jamaica and Flushing. Originally, as seen in these images from previous study PDFs, the Q25 on Kissena and Parsons Blvds was also considered for SBS treatment in the beginning stages of the study.

Flushing-Jamaica Travel Speeds Original Flushing-Jamaica Plan

The Kissena Blvd/Parsons Blvd corridor is similarly very congested in both Jamaica and Flushing; due to the street layout of Downtown Flushing, nearly all bus routes heading from the southeast (the Q17, 25, 27, and 34) all have to merge onto Kissena Blvd and then Main St to get to Downtown Flushing. SBS treatments such as bus lanes, traffic signal priority, and prepayment would’ve helped traffic on not only the Q25, but these other routes.

To illustrate this point, here are the amount of buses entering Downtown Flushing and Jamaica on a weekday between 6-7PM:

Jamaica-Diagrams Flushing-Diagrams

Highlighted in these images is the path of the Q44:

Jamaica-Diagrams-Q44-only Flushing-Diagrams-Q44-only

As you can see, the Q44 shares its main stretches with a large number of bus routes. However, the lanes for the Q44 would not cover all of the busiest routes (in the case of Jamaica) or would only cover a short distance of the busiest routes (in the case of Flushing.)

Highlighted in the following set of images are the paths of the Q44, and the Q25:

Jamaica-Diagrams-Q44-Q25 Flushing-Diagrams-Q44-Q25

Existing Jamaica Bus LanesIn Jamaica, the impact of the additional Q25 bus lanes would be limited; Jamaica is already covered by a good deal of both offset and curbside lanes, as shown here in an image from DOT’s earlier Jamaica Bus study. However, it would provide bus lanes to a particularly segment of Parsons Blvd that hosts the Q110, Q111, Q112, Q113, and Q114, and would also provide bus lanes on a stretch of Sutphin Blvd that the Q44 does not serve.

In Flushing, the Q25 lanes would have a bigger impact. Most buses heading into Flushing from the south do so using the path of the Q25, from Kissena Blvd to Main St. Bus lanes on these routes would benefit the Q17, Q27, and to a lesser extent the Q65, as well as the Q25. So it is unfortunate that the Q25 seems to have been passed up for SBS improvements.

What to Do Next

Giving the Q44 SBS is good. Giving other busy routes into Jamaica and Flushing SBS service like the Q25, Q65, Q12, Q43, etc. would be even better. However, the limited nature of SBS improvements would probably only be good for a short period of time before Flushing and Jamaica would become congested again. The core of the issue is that all bus traffic in Flushing (and to a lesser extent, Jamaica) is largely funneled into a few roads that become very congested. The problem is particularly acute in Flushing, where nearly all traffic from the south heading further north than Roosevelt Av must merge onto Main St.

The only true way to solve these problems in the long term would be to both extend the subway network east, and to grade separate the busiest of the remaining bus routes. Currently, many routes from the south and east of Jamaica, and the north and east of Flushing, must go out of their way to reach the two subway hubs. Extensions of the subway, while certainly very expensive and very far in the future, would allow routes to be reconfigured in a more optimal manner so that routes would only go into Flushing and Jamaica when necessary. That being said, Flushing and Jamaica are also the two biggest commercial hubs in Eastern Queens, so even then there will still be significant bus traffic in the area.

This significant bus traffic would be best off grade separated; doing so would allow the freeing up of sidewalk space currently taken up by bus stops, and in addition would improve both surface and bus congestion. Ideally, either busway or light-rail tunnels (built to B Division subway standards for later conversion) would traverse the busiest roads in Jamaica and Flushing, with surface portals in less congested areas for diverging branches, similar to what is done in the Philadelphia and Boston streetcar systems. Such a busway system could also be configured to have turnstile-restricted fare control, thus allowing both all-door payment and potential in-station transfers to subway stations. These developments would reduce congestion and allow future growth in Eastern Queens.

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Moving to a new page!

Hello! It’s been more than a year since I’ve made a post on this blog, and I’d like to apologize for the delay; I’ve been working on making new maps after being inspired by the wonderful posts at Transit Maps on Tumblr. So, I have some announcements to make:

1. I’ve started a general New York transit map Tumblr blog. Most of my regular maps will be moving here, as well as the frequent transit maps I post.

2. All the Tomorrow’s Subway posts are stopped, at least for now. I’ve had a year to reflect on and refine my proposals, and at some point I’ll make a new post series on a revamped fantasy subway plan.

To start off, here’s a post from my Tumblr:

Map of 2030 New York City Subway

This is the culmination of a fairly long project to create a modern map based on George Salomon’s 1959 subway map, which was New York City’s first diagrammatic map. However, he was far more visionary than that; in a report he published for the MTA, he recommended a unified wayfinding system for the subway that would represent each trunk line as one color, which is the system we use today to represent subway routes. Unfortunately, the Tauranac map threw out the diagrammatic map, so I took it upon myself to create this.

The original map, while good, had many issues – tick marks and stops were off-centered, stops were unevenly spaced, geographic inaccuracies, etc. However, thanks to the wonders of digital art-making, I was able to fix all of these issues.

Stop spacing was standardized and condensed in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, while the spacing in Queens was expanded (and made geographically accurate as well.) Trunk line names were replaced by the subway’s ubiquitous bullets. Airport routes were also included, as well as the system’s expansions since 1959 (the Chrystie St connection, the 63rd St tunnel, the Archer Av line, and the future 7 Line and 2nd Av extensions, in addition to the various transfers added and the spread of wheelchair accessibility across the system.)

A full link to the PDF can be found here.

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Ten Minute Network – Frequent Transit Map V3.1



  • B9 service added
  • Southern Brooklyn redone for better diagrammatic look
  • Cleaning up of miscellaneous service labels, transfer boxes, etc.
  • Outline of the box is now black

Link to the full PDF is available here.

Posted in Frequent Maps

Ten Minute Network – Frequent Transit Map 3.0

This enormous behemoth is the product of a lot of frustration, determination, and tears. But here it is – the first, and as far as I know, only frequent transit map of the four boroughs.  This has taken the greater part of a month to make – it depicts every frequent transit route operated by NYCT and MTA Bus – every ten minutes or better, all day, Monday-Friday. At first this was supposed to be a simple diagram of the subway, to make Tomorrow’s Subway more polished. It somehow morphed into this.

The scale of this is astounding – originally, this was a quarter of the size it is now. However, due to legibility problems, it was blown up to its current size. If you print the PDF at full scale, it comes out to about 8 feet by 10.5 feet – definitely not something you want to carry around.with you on a normal basis. Perhaps it should’ve stayed as a separate map for each borough. Who knows?

The original plan for the general frequent transit map was to cut out a lot of routes by implementing a 10 minute standard (with 11 minute midday frequencies tolerated) and make something like this Montreal frequent transit map, with individual stops for every bus route. Due to the immense scale of the map, that went out the window first. Next to go were the PATH system in New Jersey and all of Staten Island – PATH was only going to be given a small section of the map anyways, and Staten Island only had one frequent transit route serving it, the S53 – not even the Ferry or the SIR ran 10 minutes all day. After that was the collection of one way avenues in Manhattan, to reduce clutter – that was replaced by a single line representing services running on the same street, which would’ve been much easier to simplify if the M5 didn’t have its odd routing on both 5th and 6th Avenues. Finally, due to a desire to finish the thing, street labels were put aside for a later date. Hopefully, at some point in time I will actually add the features listed here – the street labels, and maybe the stops, or at least just limited stops.

There are some serious geographical distortions – I don’t know how, but somehow the entire area around Coney Island got much bigger than it needed to be. Less noticeable are the geographical distortions around Randall’s Island, the Western Bronx, Eastern Queens, and Southern and Western Brooklyn.

If you spot an error, please feel free to point it out in the comments or in a private message – due to the immense scale of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if I made mistakes here and there – it’s impossible to see mistakes on a canvas that’s 8 by 10.5 feet. Any sort of other feedback would also be greatly appreciated.

Full link to the PDF here.

Posted in Frequent Maps

Yet Another Manhattan Frequency Map

Manhattan Frequency Map

So it’s finally done! I’ve made a frequency map for every borough in the city.

This one was complex because of the density of services – unlike with the other maps, I couldn’t display separate lines for local and express service. There are also no one-way direction arrows (no room to put them anywhere), and no limited-stop circles (the actual Manhattan bus map doesn’t have limited-stops, only SBS stops, and in any case the limited-stops are only four blocks apart most of the time.)

Leave feedback in the comments below!

Manhattan Frequency Map

Posted in Frequent Maps

Yet Another Brooklyn Frequency Map

Brooklyn Frequency Map

I’ve finally finished the Brooklyn Frequent Map! This one was the hardest so far – the hardest thing is not drawing the lines, but it’s presenting transfer points in a clear, legible way, which I’ve tried to do here.

Some sacrifices had to be made – most noticeably, the map doesn’t show Brooklyn’s extensive one-way pairs. If it had any more lines running across central and Downtown Brooklyn, the map wouldn’t be legible. I won’t do this for the Manhattan map (if I make one – the transfers will be a pain @__@)

Leave feedback in the comments below!

Brooklyn Frequency Map

Posted in Frequent Maps

Yet Another Bronx Frequency Map

Bronx Frequency Map

I’ve now redone a third borough’s frequency maps! The Bronx’s was actually quite complicated – in keeping with the other updated Frequency maps, I decided to list all of the connecting trains and buses in Manhattan. Services in the Bronx are extremely densely-packed together, and there are quite a lot of services, so if the map is cluttered, my apologies. This is about as geographically accurate as a schematic map gets, though.

Got any questions or comments? Post feedback below!

Bronx Frequency Map

Posted in Frequent Maps

Yet Another Staten Island Frequency Map

Staten Island Frequency Map

Part II of the new Frequency Maps: the Staten Island Frequency map!

Surprisingly, this was more tedious to work with than the Queens Frequency Map o__O

Enjoy, and leave feedback in the comments below!

Staten Island Frequency Map

Posted in Frequent Maps