“Triboro RX” Could Provide More Transit Opportunities

The "Triboro RX" and New Transit Riders by Origin (Michael Frumin, 2007)

For the Regional Plan Association, Michael Frumin visualized their plan for a rapid transit line in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx that could be built almost entirely on pre-existing rail and would connect with at least twenty existing subway lines. The "Triboro RX", which originated in the 1996 Third Regional Plan, could provide effective transit between these boroughs at a fraction of the cost of most transit projects.

Working with Jeff Zupan and Alexis Perrotta, I helped to develop a possible alignment for the Triboro RX, and a crude estimate of what levels of initial commuter ridership one could expect to see if it were built. At the end of the day, we can comfortably say that at least 76,000 New Yorkers (including 32,000 diverting from other modes of transportation) would use the Triboro RX to get to and from their jobs every day. This number that is quite competitive with many existing lines, and without ever touching the island of Manhattan.

At the heart of our ability to make this estimate is the Journey-to-Work data published by the census — counts of commuters between every census tract and every other census tract in the city. Given these flow data, the shape of the subway network with and without the Triboro RX, and a rough model of how people make travel decisions on public transportation, it’s not so hard to guess which subway riders would use a new transit line if it were built. Estimating new transit riders is more nuanced, but we did our best with limited resources.

To create these transportation models, Frumin used one of The Open Planning Project’s software projects GeoServer. Take a look at the fruits of Michael’s labor:

How would the TRX tie into congestion pricing? The graphic above shows that the TRX would do a great job of providing mass transit to unserved communities in the outer boroughs.

  • That looks pretty interesting and he obviously put a lot of thought into it.

    Does this use some of the tracks, though, for the proposed but stalled Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel project?

    Good to be thinking about.

  • This is a great, great idea.

    Yes, Gary, it would use the same right-of-way as the Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel. And also the same right-of-way as Amtrak trains traveling to and from Boston and Vermont. Same right-of-way does not mean same tracks. The piece of the TRX that is in the Bronx has no tracks at all, but an intact right-of-way.

    Circumferential transit lines are a rare thing. As far as I know, the G train may be the only one in the western hemisphere. (Hopefully someone can prove me wrong on that.)

    Every time I have the opportunity to ride the G train and am with other people, I find that people are willing to go to walk great distances to find alternatives because the G train has this reputation as offering infrequent service "because it doesn’t go to Manhattan." (The G train does run a bit less frequently than the radial lines during the day, but not as much as people think.)

    The point is that not going to Manhattan would be a PR obstacle for the TRX, not a selling point.

  • I think the TRX sounds really good, the fact that it ends in Bay Ridge means that it could even be linked to Staten Island (i have read that the BMT began building but abandoned tunnels linking brooklyn and SI so supposedly there are 3/4 unfinished tunnels beneath the narrows that connect to the Bay Ridge yards… supposedly)
    Also alot of trips are not into Manhattan, the city has several outer borough business districts (downtown Brooklyn, LIC etc) which would prob benefit from such service.
    As regards the G train, correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t part of the problem that the neighborhoods it connects are not “downtowns” but more residential areas so its usually used for transfer to other lines.
    I believe the right of way in question (the Bronx/Queens section) is part of the MTAs MetroNorth “West Side Access” (ie MetroNorth trains can already use this right of way to get to Penn… in theory, however, Penn is so overcrowded they cant use it, in reality.) My understanding is that once the East Side Access plan is implemented that should free up enough track space to allow MetroNorth access to Penn Station. (see PlaNYC)

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I’ve got more to say about this, but to answer your question, Aaron, I’d say the Montreal Metro‘s Blue line counts as a circumferential line.

  • Hudson-Bergen Light Rail is also circumferential.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Good point, Mike. For that matter, NJ Transit’s River Line is also circumferential (around Philadelphia).

    Frumin’s study is interesting, because it does seem to show that there’s significant potential ridership. It would work for my wife’s commute!

    I’m concerned about whether there’s enough capacity in the right-of-way, though. There’s currently one track used for freight from Oak Point in the Bronx all the way to the Bay Ridge Terminal, and two tracks used by Amtrak from Oak Point to Sunnyside Junction. If the Cross-Harbor freight tunnel is built, they may need to add another track.

    I don’t know if there’s really room to add two tracks anywhere on the right-of-way, other than on the abandoned Port Morris Branch in the Bronx. There certainly isn’t enough room to add two tracks on the Hell Gate Bridge or the NYCR viaduct leading up to it, which would mean either (a) taking the freight track and forcing freight trains to share the two remaining tracks with Amtrak trains and potentially Metro-North trains, (b) taking an Amtrak track and forcing Amtrak (and potentially Metro-North) to use a single track, (c) sharing a track with Amtrak trains, which may run afoul of FRA regulations or (d) using a single-track, which would greatly impede service levels. The proposed Astoria transfer station would also have to be built on of the existing viaduct, which is a tricky proposition.

    The map also shows the proposed line somehow crossing the four-track Harlem Line and traveling along 161st Street in the Bronx for eight blocks. I haven’t heard of a subway under 161st Street, so I’m assuming that one would have to be built.

    I’ve been thinking of this as a B Division subway, but another possibility would be to extend one of the existing Metro-North branch lines like the New Canaan or Danbury Branch (or even the Shore Line East) down to Bay Ridge. Commuter trains are allowed to share tracks with freight trains if necessary. Commuters from Connecticut could transfer at Greenwich, Stamford or Norwalk (as they currently do) or at Woodside, while reverse commuters from Brooklyn and Queens could get to offices in Greenwich and Stamford easier. It would also give commuters from Co-Op City and Parkchester a two-seat ride to Penn Station.

  • P

    I like the idea but like the others I have concern about it competing for space with the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel. But I’d love to see the merits of each idea debated if they are in fact incompatible.

    Regarding the G- I’m sure there’s a bit of a Chicken and Egg problem with maintaining regular ridership but there is seemingly potential for growth as Downtown Brooklyn expands; LIC develops commecially; and the residential areas in between grow.

    One problem of the G that this may avoid is the necessity to share tracks with the F in Brooklyn and, what, the E in Queens? So any service improvements to the G come at the expense of lines going into Manhattan running at capacity already.

  • Ultimate Ride

    Closed or continuous loops are the most heavily used. Lines that dead-end, whether radial or not, have dwindling ridership at their ends (especially in one-fare systems). So if the southern end of this could just hook up with either the E at WTC or the A at Fulton Street, it would maximize the utility of this route.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    There is space for two tracks all the way to Bay Ridge, it used to be two tracks. It was really a very technologically advanced freight service. It ran electric powered freight along the entire length of the right of way. You can still see the insulator on the overheads. 70 years ago electric freight in NYC. If and when the tunnel to Jersey gets built it will run electric as well. The abutters along the way from Borough Park to Canarsie will oppose the tunnel anyway. Queens is already fighting it. Electric service is much, much quieter. My guess is that the NIMBYs along the way will build a perverse coalition with the trucking interests in Jersey and kill the tunnel. Commuter service could still be possible but Hudson Bergen is the only light rail service that runs on FRA trackage. Another issue.

  • jmc

    How could this potentially connect to a JFKWTC link? I heard that funds for that are advancing in Congress…

  • Zach

    re P: The G doesn’t share with the E during peak hours, only at night. It does share with the F (although there’s a movement to shift one of them, or the V, onto the unused express tracks).


    This plan is quite impressive. It could produce a real shortcut for commuters between Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. It seems to connect some very important subway hubs like East New York and Jackson Heights.

    If this plan ever gets implemented, it would probably be best to use commuter rail equipment at a subway fare. Also, the service shouldn’t try to incorporate too many stops, so that it remains a fast alternative to driving or taking the subway through Manhattan.

  • Michael Cairl

    I’ve thought many times about the potential of passenger service on what used to be called the New York Connecting Railroad. Following are some of these thoughts:

    1. Bus lines feeding into subway and rail stations effectively take the place of a circumferential route, but that’s not to say that such a route wouldn’t be a good idea. The Chicago Transit Authority is studying a circumferential route to reduce congestion in the Loop and is looking at heavy rail, light rail, and BRT options. Chicago’s Metra (the commuter rail agency) is looking seriously at a north-south route west of the city limits by knitting together some existing rail lines.

    2. Passenger trains could co-exist with freight trains on the NY Connecting, and co-existence would not require daytime embargoes of freight trains as is the case on the NJ Transit River Line (Trenton-Camden). Sufficient crossovers, and bi-directional signaling, would be required. On the Hell Gate Bridge and approaches there are 4 tracks and advanced signaling on the two used by Amtrak, so there would be no conflict with Amtrak trains or with Metro-North service to Penn Station.

    3. Most of the complaints from Queens about the Cross-Harbor Tunnel arise from increased transfer traffic at the Fresh Pond Yard, not really from the number of trains per se. As for the complaints from Brooklyn about more trains in the open cut, a simple solution would be to roof over the cut, as was done years ago in Riverside Park. That would create new space for parks or buildings.

    4. I think there would be a decent amount of peak-hour ridership on this line, but to ensure any amount of off-peak ridership there would need to be transit-oriented development (TOD) at various points along the route. New clusters at, for example, the Nostrand/Flatbush junction, Brooklyn Terminal Market, East New York LIRR/Broadway Junction, Roosevelt Avenue, and Port Morris would be consistent with PlaNYC 2030, would create outer-borough jobs, and would feed (and be fed by) this passenger service. One of the shining successes of TOD has been with the Washington Metro. Many Metro stations have become hubs of new residential and commercial development. Not only is there no reason it couldn’t happen here, there are many reasons it needs to happen here.

    5. My only quibble with this proposal is its terminus. It would seem to make a lot more sense to run such a service through to Co-Op City, although TOD in the Bronx Hub area shouldn’t be ruled out.

    6. Lastly, this proposal needs to be analyzed alongside alternatives such as BRT.

  • Harlan

    It’s a shame this goes so close to LaGuardia yet does not actually go to LaGuardia!

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Passenger trains coexist with freight trains all over the country, they are both FRA rail. Light rail, trolleys and subways do not share much track at all with FRA rail, like I said before Hudson Bergen and some project in Utah are, I think, the only exceptions presently. Many systems are looking at many things and Chicago seems to be the point of the spear on a lot of transportation innovation these days. Then I guess it is a transportation city as a quick glance a the national rail map will show.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Yes, many of our commuter railroads share tracks with freight trains, but not on lines that see much use. The River Line is one of the few light rail systems that do share track space, and its hours are limited. One of the many reasons for the LIRR third track project is to allow passenger trains to bypass freight trains.

    On shared trackage, I’m skeptical about the frequency of service and the number of hours that would be possible. I don’t think you’d be able to get subway-type levels of service.

    If the cross-harbor rail freight tunnel ever gets built, it’s not just for trains to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, but to the Hudson Valley and New England as well. Since the fire on the Poughkeepsie bridge, the southernmost Hudson River crossing (other than by barge) has been at Selkirk just south of Albany. So there would be more freight trains going over the Hell Gate Bridge as well.

  • While we’re on the subject of Brooklyn and Queens railroad rights-of-way, the LIRR has an east-west branch, known as the Old Montauk Branch, between Long Island City and Jamaica. This branch carries two trains a day on weekdays (one in each direction), and makes no intermediate stops. Until March 16, 1998, the LIRR had service on this line serving five stops (Penny Bridge, Haberman, Fresh Pond, Glendale, and Richmond Hill).

    Regular service ought to be restored on this line.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I agree about the Montauk Branch, but something needs to be done to help people once they get to Long Island City. Here’s the walk from the LIRR station to the nearest subway station:


    It’s three short blocks and one long one, which is not much fun in the winter with the wind coming off the river. The intersection of Borden Avenue with Fifth Street has no traffic light or crosswalk, which can make crossing very difficult there. The satellite view seems to show a sidewalk on the south side of Borden Avenue, but I don’t remember there being one. It’s generally not a pleasant walk, and neither is the walk through the parking lot to the ferry dock.

    The nearest bus, the Q103, is at least as far as the subway station, and doesn’t go to too many job sites.

    The frequencies of the ferry and train connections are also inconvenient. With only a few trains a day, if your #7 train is a few minutes late you miss the one LIRR train that’ll take you home, and then you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.

    For service on that line to be successful, probably the best thing to do would be to have the trains loop back east and terminate at the new Sunnyside station, where they’ll have good subway connections.

  • Emily Litella

    Great idea, and extremely obvious to anyone aware of the Bay Ridge line’s existence. The ‘studies’ alone will cost $40 million. If the second avenue stubway actually does get built it will be a miraculous achievement by government. Triboro RX or any other new starts will likely remain in the realm of dreams of what could have been. We are about to run out of steam here for any large projects (other than military/security) and will be lucky if we can barely maintain existing infrastructure (of all description). Just trying to get people to think of the big picture, that’s all. Us transit geeks have alot to offer, but we need to be educated about larger issues if we are to have a meaningful impact on the future.

    And on another note – would a President Giuliani do anything to normalize the awful imbalance between highway and rail funding flows? Shiver me timbers

  • Henry Man

    Why does it have to end at Yankee Stadium… why.
    There are more areas in the Bronx that seriously need rapid transit by rail… neglected areas and yet Yankee Stadium will be served by a fourth rail line after the (B, D), (4) and the Metro North. east bronx should be served and also central bronx.
    service should penetrate into manhattan since a good number of the lines in manhattan are choked.

  • kevin

    I’d run it to Mercy College instead of Yankee Stadium. But the idea is rather stupid since you’d just get a semi-useless train running to the far reaches of the city instead of providing meaningful connections. I’d fork the L train and extend it down the lower branch to the Brooklyn Army Terminal and then extend the M train northbound towards queens and the bronx. This would give you two very useful lines instead of just one sorta useful one.


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