63rd Street Lines
|IND/BMT 63rd Street Lines|
The F train serves the entire 63rd Street Line at all times.
|System||New York City Subway|
|Locale||Manhattan and Queens|
|Termini||West of Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street, Manhattan
West of 36th Street, Queens
|Owner||City of New York|
|Operator(s)||New York City Transit Authority|
|No. of tracks||2–4|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Electrification||600 V Direct current traction 3rd rail|
The short BMT line connects the express tracks of the BMT Broadway Line from 57th Street – Seventh Avenue to Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street, where it stub-ends. Two diamond crossovers are located just west of the station on both levels to enable trains to switch between this line and the IND line, where the F train currently runs. The line is being continued east towards Second Avenue. It will turn north to connect with the under construction IND Second Avenue Line tracks.
The IND line runs from the IND Sixth Avenue Line at 57th Street in Manhattan east under 63rd Street and the East River through the 63rd Street Tunnel to the IND Queens Boulevard Line in Queens. Crossover tracks connect it to the BMT line railroad south (compass west) of the Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street station. The entire line is served by the F train at all times and coded as new chaining route "T" (T1 and T2).
Extent and service
The following services use the 63rd Street Line:
|Service information||Lines served||Section of line|
|IND||Culver Local, Sixth Avenue Local, Queens Boulevard Express||entire IND section|
|none||BMT||none||entire BMT section|
The BMT 63rd Street line is not currently used for regular service, except for detours due to construction or emergencies. The tracks are coded as BMT chaining, tracks G3 and G4 to distinguish them from the pre-existing G1 and G2 tracks associated with the 60th Street Tunnel and Astoria Line.
The IND 63rd Street Line and BMT 63rd Street Line share only one point of contact, west of Lexington Avenue, where diamond crossovers allow northbound and southbound trains of either line to cross over to the other line. At Lexington Avenue, a double-decked station will allow cross-platform interchange between the two lines when future service is up and running on the long planned Second Avenue Subway line, which will use the BMT 63rd Street Line as a connection for service downtown along the BMT Broadway Line. This double-decked arrangement is reversed from the arrangement at Queensboro Plaza. Trains to Queens (and later Upper Manhattan) are supposed to use the lower level, and trains to downtown Manhattan the upper level (as opposed to the Queensboro Plaza arrangement, with Manhattan-bound trains using the lower level and Queens-bound trains the upper level.)
The 63rd Street Line uses the 63rd Street Tunnel to cross the East River. The 63rd Street Tunnel is a two-level tunnel under the East River, which hosts the 63rd Street Line on its upper level. The lower level, currently without service, is reserved for the Long Island Rail Road's new East Side Access service to Grand Central Terminal, which is expected to commence operations between 2019 and 2024.
In February 1963, the Transit Authority proposed a two-track East River subway tunnel under 76th Street with unspecified connections to the rest of the transit network, at a cost of $139 million. In a May 2, 1963 report, the proposed site of the tunnel was switched to 59th Street. On May 24, Mayor Wagner suggested that a tunnel around 61st Street "be built with all deliberate speed." On October 17, 1963, the Board of Estimate approved a new East River tunnel sited at 64th Street, noting that it would cost $30 million and take seven years to build. The 64th Street site was said to be $5.3 million less expensive, "because of easier grades and smaller curves."
The lack of specificity about how the tunnel would be used was criticized at an early date. In December 1964, the Citizens Budget Committee said that the project (now shifted to a 63rd Street site) was "leading nowhere-to-nowhere." The Committee went on to propose three connections that were eventually adopted (to the BMT Broadway Line and IND Sixth Avenue Line, both at 57th Street, to the IND Queens Boulevard Line at Queens Plaza), and one that wasn't (to the IRT Lexington Avenue Line).
The Board of Estimate approved the revised 63rd Street route on January 14, 1965, at a budget of $28.1 million and a four-year timetable, with the connections to the rest of the transit network awaiting a study that was then scheduled for completion in mid-1966. The Times noted that "A variety of possible connections...are under study," including possible new lines under Madison and Second Avenues. The Transit Authority's chairman, Joseph E. O'Grady, said that the tunnel and the subway connections would eventually be completed at about the same time, "since construction of the tunnel takes at least a year longer than the connections."
In November 1967, voters approved a $2.5 billion transportation bond issue, and in early 1968 officials provided detailed plans for how it would be used. Among many other projects, the proposal included:
- The bi-level 63rd Street tunnel for both subway and Long Island Rail Road service
- A new subway line for northeastern Queens along the Long Island Expressway right-of-way
- A new subway line for eastern Queens running under Jamaica Avenue to Hollis Avenue
- A new subway line for southeastern Queens diverging from the IND Queens Boulevard line at Hillside Avenue, running along the LIRR Atlantic Branch right-of-way
- A super-express bypass for the IND Queens Boulevard Line running along the LIRR mainline between Queens Boulevard and Forest Hills
This proposal, with some modifications, received approval from the Board of Estimate on September 21, 1968.
Construction on the 63rd Street Line began on November 25, 1969, with tunneling westward in Queens, as well as in both directions under Welfare Island (now called Roosevelt Island). The double-deck, 3,140-foot tunnel under the East River was holed through on October 10, 1972. The East River tunnel was completed in 1973, and outfitting for the new lines that were to run through it was to begin in early 1974. Work on the segment of the line that ran under Central Park was started in 1971 and was completed in 1973. Construction on the section between 5th Avenue and Park Avenue began in August 1974.
On March 20, 1975, New York mayor Abraham Beame announced significant cutbacks to the plan. Construction of the Southeastern Queens extension was "delayed to 1981," and the Long Island Rail Road extension through the lower level of the 63rd Street tunnel was "indefinite[ly] shelved." However, it was still anticipated that the Queens Boulevard super-express and the Archer Avenue Line up to Parsons/Archer would still be completed. (The Second Avenue Subway had been dropped the previous December.) The Queens project, although curtailed, was given priority because it was "more advanced in construction."
By the summer of 1976, the Transit Authority would announce that "it will take an extra five or six years—until 1987 or 1988—to complete the new Manhattan–Queens trunk subway line from Central Park to Jamaica via the new 63rd Street tunnel." The main cause of the delay was the 5.8-mile "super express," although it was expected that the three new Archer Avenue line stations could be ready sooner. As an interim measure, the authority proposed a new station at Northern Boulevard, adjacent to the Queens Plaza, possibly opened by 1983 or 1984.
The Manhattan portion of the line was completed in 1976. The Times noted:
Underneath Central Park lie two eerily quiet sets of tracks. They have advanced equipment — welded tracks, fluorescent lighting and rubber-based pads under the rail — that have not yet been installed on most of the system's 230 operating miles.
These tunnels were finished in 1976. This year, the contractor will tear down his two-story office in Central Park, remove the fence near Fifth Avenue and restore foliage and the bird house he damaged, at a cost of $300,000.
By 1981, five years after completion of the tunnel, the Transit Authority expects to put it to use; its brand new quiet tracks will be used as a storage yard for out-of-service trains.
Zoo York Wall
The Zoo York Wall was a graffiti wall within the line's length through Central Park, where subway writers and other street artists "made their marks" in the early 1970s. It was a temporary wall, erected in 1971 by the New York City Transit Authority to block unauthorized entry into the site of the 63rd Street Line running underneath the Central Park Zoo. Its name originates from the 63rd Street Tunnel (which it was supposed to guard), then called the "Zoo York Tunnel". During the tunnel's construction (1971-1973), the tunnel provided a subterranean gathering place for very early subway artists who hung around together in Central Park, and was named Zoo York by ALI, founder of the SOUL ARTISTS graffiti crew. The name came about because it was in a zoo in New York, hence "Zoo York".
Armored with polished aluminium in the futile hope of resisting spray-paint and permanent marker ink, the wall did little to dissuade teenage graffiti writers from climbing over and descending into the tunnel during its construction. Graffiti artists also marked their territory by "tagging" the wall which had been put up around the construction site. Upon completion of the subway project in 1973, the "Zoo York Wall" was torn down.
The name came about because the Central Park Zoo at that time was a classical 19th-century menagerie, populated by wild animals displayed in open-air cages, who paced the bars back and forth neurotically—always hoping for an escape, yet paradoxically blind to the world beyond their cramped quarters. ALI noted that by contrast, here were these feral teenagers, himself included, living in a free society, who sought nothing more wholeheartedly than to crowd together in a deep, dark hole in the ground. Marvelling at their perverse urban psychologies, ALI decided that all city people were insane for seeking imprisonment in tiny apartments, offices, subway cars and the like, and declared that New York City itself was "not New, but a Zoo!" He named the tunnel itself "Zoo York"—a perfect symbol, in his mind, of the dark psyche of the inner city itself.
The unused tunnel
In May 1978, the Times noted, "What started out a few years ago as 40 miles of new subway routes to serve the long-suffering residents of Queens has been whittled down to 15 miles, is years behind schedule, and will cost more than twice as much as originally estimated....The line costs $100,000 a foot, will be very short and will serve only a modest number of riders." The article now noted that the Queens super-express had been deferred "to 1988 at the earliest," and the only sections in progress were the 63rd Street Line to Northern Boulevard, and "a small piece along Archer Avenue." The 63rd Street Line's opening date was projected for 1985. The plan depended on the idea that Queens Boulevard riders would be willing to exit the subway at Queens Plaza and walk a city block to a new station at Northern Boulevard to continue their trip. The transit authority projected that this transfer would draw 11,000 passengers a day.
By October 1980, officials considered stopping both projects and spending the money on maintaining the existing system. By now, the Archer Avenue project was projected for completion in 1984, and the 63rd Street line in 1985. The Times noted that the lower level of the 63rd Street tunnel was still under construction, even though "officials knew that the tunnel would never be used." Richard Ravitch, the MTA chairman, said that to stop the work was impossible or so costly as to make it impractical subsequent to the construction of the subway portion." It "had to be finished — largely for structural reasons — to support the subway tunnel above." It was described as a "tunnel to nowhere."
In the spring of 1983, the MTA took a fresh look at the tunnel, considering every possibility between leaving it as-is (with its terminus in Long Island City), to the original 1960s plan, the cost of which was now estimated at $1 billion. Without some kind of connection to the rest of the Queens subway network, the line was expected to attract just 220 passengers per hour during the morning rush.
The plan eventually adopted was the least expensive (other than doing nothing) — to connect the tunnel to the tracks of the IND Queens Boulevard Line, at a cost of $222 million, and a timetable of at least eight years. It was estimated that the project would attract 16,500 passengers per hour. The MTA board approved this plan on December 14, 1984. The section of the line up to Long Island City was projected to open by the end of 1985.
By June 1985, the project was delayed again:
The 63d Street subway tunnel, which has been under construction for 14 years and was scheduled to open later this year, has serious flaws and will not open on time, transit officials said yesterday.
Some parts of the tunnel, which links Manhattan and Queens, are flooded with six feet of water, officials said. In other areas, girders are rusting and electrical equipment has corroded.
The officials would not predict publicly when the $600 million structure might be opened or how much the repairs would cost.
Two contractors were hired to assess the structural integrity of the tunnel, and the delay was estimated at two years. In August 1985, the federal government—at the instigation of Senator Alphonse D'Amato—suspended funding on both the 63rd Street and Archer Avenue projects—over "concerns with the construction management practices." The two projects had cost $1 billion between them, of which the federal government had provided $530 million for 63rd Street and $295 million for Archer Avenue.
By the end of 1985, the 63rd Street Line's eastern Queens extension was no longer being planned. At 21st Street – Queensbridge, usage estimates for that station in 1984 were 220 passengers per hour. The MTA was studying four options for making this line more useful:
- The Queens Express Bypass: extending the line along the LIRR to Forest Hills – 71st Avenue. It would be completed in 1998 and cost $931 million. This was the original plan for this line proposed in the 1968 MTA Program for Action. This was also the only option that the MTA felt that would provide relief to the E and F express services. At a proposed station at Northern Boulevard, a transfer concourse would have allowed transfers between local, express, and bypass trains.
- Connecting the line to the local tracks of the IND Queens Boulevard Line. It was the cheapest and fastest alternative to complete, as it would be done by 1993 at a cost of $222 million. But critics complained that it would do the least to relieve overcrowding on the E and F services in Queens, the most crowded in the system. The line would leave 2⁄3 of the available capacity of the 63rd Street Line unused and probably make any future expansion of this line unlikely. This was the option ultimately chosen. It was completed in 2001, with connections to the express tracks.
- Extending the 63rd Street Line through the Sunnyside Yard and the LIRR Main Line to the Archer Avenue Line. It would cost $594 million and be completed by 1997, but residents along the proposed route objected to this option.
- Extending the line to Sunnyside Yard in Queens and allow passengers to connect to a new LIRR service stopping in Rosedale and Queens Village. The route of the new LIRR service would be the Montauk Branch, used mostly for freight service. It would cost $488 million and be completed by 1995, but like the Main Line proposal above, Queens residents along the proposed route objected to it.
By 1987, the MTA's contractors had concluded that the tunnel was structurally sound, although federal funding had not yet been released. On February 6, 1987, the MTA approved a new plan to have the tunnel open by October 1989. The agency also proposed a $550 million, 1,500-foot connector to both the express and local tracks of the IND Queens Boulevard Line. Under the plan, the Queens Boulevard Line would be "reverse-signaled," which would accommodate Manhattan-bound trains on three out of the line's four tracks in the morning rush, and the opposite for the evening rush. This part of the plan was not projected to begin before the 1990s.
In June 1987, the federal government completed its own review of the project. "A little light appeared at the end of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's 63rd Street "tunnel to nowhere" last week," the Times reported, as the government's own inspector found the tunnel sound, and released the final installment of $60 million for both the 63rd Street and Archer Avenue projects.
The first train to use the extension was the "rail polisher train", a non-revenue move that occurred on August 1, 1989.
A month shy of twenty years after construction began, both lines went into service on October 29, 1989, after an expenditure of $898 million, with new stations at Lexington Avenue, Roosevelt Island, and 21st Street at 41st Avenue in Queens. The IND line was served by Q trains on weekdays and B trains on weekends. The 1,500-foot connector to the Queens Boulevard Line had not yet started construction. The BMT line was not in use at that time. It was built for future service options, including a connection to the Second Avenue Subway for service from the Upper East Side to Lower Manhattan.
From May to November 1995, the north side of the Manhattan Bridge was closed for reconstruction during middays and weekends and the Q train was routed via Broadway at this time. It used the BMT 63rd Street Line to connect to the IND 63rd Street Line and serve Lexington Avenue, Roosevelt Island, and 21st Street – Queensbridge stations. During reconstruction on the IND side of the line from February 1998 to May 1999, 63rd Street Shuttle trains operated via this line between 21st Street – Queensbridge and 57th Street – Seventh Avenue, later running further to 34th Street – Herald Square.
Connection to the Queens Boulevard Line
Planning for the connection to the IND Queens Boulevard Line began in 1992; construction began in July 1994. The remaining section from 21st Street to the Queens Boulevard Line cost $645 million. In January 2001, the 63rd Street Connector was opened for construction reroutes. The Connector came into regular use on December 16, 2001 with the rerouting of F service at all times to 63rd Street. The construction project also extended the lower level LIRR tunnel and involved a number of other elements, including the integration of ventilation plants, lowering a sewer siphon 50 feet, rehabilitation of elements of the existing line, mitigating ground water, diverting trains which continued to run through the project area and widening of the entry point to the Queens Boulevard Line to six tracks. This new tunnel connection allowed rerouting the Queens Boulevard Line F trains via the 63rd Street Tunnel, which increased capacity on the heavily-travelled Queens Boulevard Line. It also allowed a new local service, the V train, to run along the Sixth Avenue and Queens Boulevard lines; this service has since been discontinued and replaced with an extension of the M train.
Second Avenue Subway
MTA plans to extend the Q service under Central Park and eastward to the stop at Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street before turning north at Second Avenue to merge with the under construction Second Avenue Subway. This will create direct service between the Upper East Side and the existing BMT Broadway Line.
The double-decked Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street station will allow cross-platform interchange between the two 63rd Street lines. It is being renovated to remove the walls on the platforms and open a new entrance on the Third Avenue side of the station. East-bound trains to Queens (and later Upper Manhattan) use the lower level; south-bound trains to Midtown and Lower Manhattan use the upper level.
|Station service legend|
|Stops all times|
|Stops all times except late nights|
|Stops weekdays only|
|Stops rush hours in the peak direction only|
|Time period details|
|Station||Services||Opened||Transfers and notes|
|Line begins as a split from the IND Queens Boulevard Line (F )|
|21st Street – Queensbridge||F||October 29, 1989|
|63rd Street Tunnel|
|Roosevelt Island||F||October 29, 1989|
|63rd Street Tunnel|
|Merges with the IND Second Avenue Line (under construction)|
|Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street||F , no regular service||October 29, 1989||The side of the station dedicated to the BMT 63rd Street Line is incomplete.
It is under construction and scheduled to open in the late 2010s with Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway.
|connecting tracks (No regular service)|
|Merges with IND Sixth Avenue Line (F )|
|Merges with BMT Broadway Line express tracks (no regular service)|
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- Daley, Suzanne (December 15, 1980). "MTA Votes to Extend 63rd St. Line". The New York Times. p. 25.
- Daley, Suzanne (June 28, 1985). "63d St. Subway Tunnel Flawed; Opening Delayed". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
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- Joe Korman (November 12, 2011). "The JoeKorNer Brochures". Retrieved June 5, 2013.
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- "Tunneling for Second Avenue Subway Complete". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. September 22, 2011. Retrieved November 10, 2011.