EXCLUSIVE: Cuomo’s L Train Plan Still Has Lots of Pain [Updated]

Exit-only stations, massive crowds and scrubbed buses are part of the now overnight and weekend fix.

Andrew Cuomo Photo: Flickr/NYS Governor's Office
Andrew Cuomo Photo: Flickr/NYS Governor's Office

Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to repair the L train’s Canarsie Tunnel isn’t so painless after all — in fact, the MTA may entirely shut some platforms for extended periods to control crowds waiting for slow trains.

The governor got the “L-Yeah!” headline from both the Daily News and the Post after his announcement earlier this month that he would replace the MTA’s plan to entirely eliminate L service between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 15 months with a “nights and weekends,” one-tube closure fix that would maintain service, albeit on a less-frequent basis.

But Streetsblog has obtained a draft MTA memo that reveals the nuts-and-bolts behind the Cuomo plan — and it isn’t as pretty as the tabloid headlines made it sound.

On weekends, as previously announced, there will be 20-minute gaps between trains, up from four minutes. But the memo — “Potential L Tunnel Weekend and Late Night Service Plan With One-Track Closure” — reveals additional pain as well:

  • Stations at First and Third avenues will likely be reconfigured to exit-only. (“That’s just abysmal for the East Village,” said Jon Orcutt, the spokesman for TransitCenter.)
  • There will be no new inter-borough bus route because such a bus will no longer be “time competitive” if the city eliminates the HOV-3 requirement on the Williamsburg Bridge, as it is expected to do.
  • There will be no additional ferry service.

The overnight plan includes the same 20-minute gaps in train service, plus the following difficulties for riders:

  • There will be no additional L shuttle service.
  • There will be no increase in normal G service.
  • There will be the aforementioned need for “metering” at L platforms at Union Square, Third Avenue, First Avenue and Bedford Avenue. If the monitoring of station crowds reveals a danger, the MTA would temporarily restrict access to the platforms.
  • There will be no new bus service along 14th Street, between the boroughs, or in Brooklyn.

But there are some pluses for riders:

On weekends:

  • There will be service on the M line along the Second Avenue line on the Upper East Side. The train doesn’t currently go there, but can be sent along that route so that it can turn around without affecting other lines, a source said.
  • Service on the G train will run every eight minutes instead of every 10 minutes.
  • There will be out-of-station MetroCard transfers between the Broadway stop on the G and the Hewes Street and Lorimer Street stops on the J and M lines. There will be similar free transfers between the Junius Street stop on the 3 train and the Livonia Avenue stop on the L.
  • The MTA will provide additional service on the M14 bus to reduce waits from 12 minutes to 10 minutes. (Reminder: Under the original shutdown plan, 14th Street was slated to become a bus-only route.)
  • There will be a bus shuttle from the L station at Bedford Avenue to the J and M station at Marcy Avenue

And on the overnights, service will increase along the 7 train, but that improvement had already been announced.

MTA officials were none too pleased by Streetsblog’s scoop.

“The alternative service plan for the L train hasn’t been completed yet, so citing draft and outdated reports is not only irresponsible but it does a disservice to New Yorkers and our customers who need reliable, official information,” the agency said in a statement. “The MTA will work with the community to provide the service they need while keeping the L train open in both directions 24/7 and providing full, unaltered weekday service for 275,000 riders a day.”

It is unclear why the statement characterized the Streetsblog-obtained memo as “outdated.” It is dated Jan. 22 — which was yesterday.

In addition to the exit-only changes at Third and First Avenues, Orcutt was surprised that the MTA wouldn’t push ahead with its plans to at least create Select Bus Service on 14th Street — which was a crucial part of the now-scrubbed L-train shutdown mitigation, but is still needed to improve bus service on a crucial corridor.

“The bus lanes are already painted, so the hard part is done,” Orcutt said. “And if you are going to screw up Third and First Avenue stations, you might as well give people better buses. Fourteenth Street needed it already.”

Story was updated at 6:50 p.m. on Wednesday to add the MTA comment.

  • NYCyclist

    When they first announced the revised plan, with 20 minute headways, I thought there’d be no way they could handle the crowds, with trains normally running as often as every 4 minutes. Even with the just-announced service changes, they still won’t be able to handle the crowds!

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I read that it currently takes 4 minutes to go from 1st Ave to Bedford. Why can’t they manage 10 minute headways? Are they unable to segregate the work side of the tunnel enough to run at full speed?

    The crushloaded trains crawling through the tunnel honking the whole time should be a blast.

  • eastphilliamsburg

    Inbound trains can’t cross over until just before Union Square

  • Daphna

    This is a disaster for nights and weekends. People will not be able to enter the L at the First and Third Avenues stops with no accommodation given. Changing from every 4 minutes to every 20 minutes means 3 trains an hour instead of 15. Those L trains were run every 4 minutes due to high volumes of riders. So now there will be 12 less trains an hour with no accommodation for that. 14th Street and the Williamsburg Bridge need to be used as a busway during periods of this reduced schedule. 12 trains worth of people per hour is a huge number that need to be accommodated. Placing employees who “meter” the platforms and prevent people from entering the L train stops when they are full is no solution at all.

  • Daphne

    Not entering at 3rd ave is not good. This is an important connection with e.g. M15-SBS

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Couldn’t they just install additional switches?

  • What about the citibike expansion?

  • just deplorable

    awful, just let them get it done right the first time instead of a bandaide that will have to be fixed again in 25 years

  • Daphna

    This band-aide “solution” might not last anywhere close to 25 years. It is unused, unproven technology rejected by engineers who studied the problem. This “fix” might need to be repaired continually starting from when it is completed.

  • MTA was considering both options back in 2016. New Yorkers had already decided against a partial closure, and MTA followed up soon after. This is all on Cuomo.

  • Lincoln

    Not easily. It would be a bigger scope project than is now being proposed for the L.

  • Simon Phearson

    So the MTA is taking the same approach to the press that Sarah Huckabee Sanders takes when trying to deflect the most recent embarrassing tell-all about Trump. Makes me feel so much better about this shit.

  • FlappyArms

    Are you referring to racking or FRP, and which engineers rejected those?

  • Jason

    As long as it last until someone else is governor, Cuomo will have gotten what he wanted.

  • DoctorMemory

    At this point I would bet minimally a few hundred dollars on a catastrophic failure of the Canarsie Tunnel before 2025.

    (Disclaimer: I am not a structural engineer. I do, however, have a bit of personal experience working on projects managed by bungee-jumping egomaniacs. Spoiler: they end poorly.)

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Seems like it would be worthwhile if it would enable them to halve the headways during the work hours.

  • BrandonWC

    And on the Brooklyn side, you can’t crossover until after Bedford. http://www.vanshnookenraggen.com/_index/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/NYC_full_trackmap_194.pdf

  • Joe R.

    I was thinking of that also. I’ve seen too many half-assed repairs go bad in my time to have much confidence in this. If the tunnel floods when a train is going through, that’s up to 2000+ deaths, all on Cuomo.

  • sbauman

    It’s possible to operate 10 tph with using a single tube in the Canarsie Tunnel.

    The MTA’s 20 minute headway is the worst possible operation plan. Besides, they operated single tube operation during last week’s midnight hours. They failed miserably to provide even 3 tph service. Here’s a link to a spreadsheet I created of their efforts for the 4 nights of single track operation.


    It was critical that a trains be at Lorimer and Union Sq. at the scheduled times (the RT0 column). Look how late starts from Canarsie percolated throughout the night to prevent the trains from meeting Lorimer and Union Sq (the POS column).

    There’s no secret to 10 tph operation. Travel time between Union Sq and Lorimer (with stops) is 10 minutes one way and 8 minutes the other. The extra 2 minutes is for switching tracks to wrong rail through the tunnel. Studying the real time movements shows that this is padded and the trains can cover the distances in less time.

    Intermediate station service level capacity is 40 tph or 90 second headways. This includes 30 seconds dwell time within each station. One CBTC advantage is that it permits maximum service level operation in either direction without any additional hardware (not at the same time). So, trains can operate at 90 second intervals through the tunnel. The power demand would be no greater than current operation of trains operating at 3 minute intervals in both directions.

    Service level capacity is usually limited by terminal constraints. This is true for the 8th Ave and Canarsie terminals. Manhattan bound trains would terminate at 8th Ave, 6th Ave and Union Sq. The first 2 at 8th Ave, the next 2 at 6th Ave and the last at Union Sq to work within the terminal constraint. Two trains would terminate at Canarsie and one each at E 105th St, New Lots Av, and Livonia Ave because of the location of the switches.

    Five trains would operate at 90 second intervals into Manhattan, then the direction would change with 5 trains operating into Brooklyn. The time for 5 trains to pass a point with 90 second headways is 360 seconds or 6 minutes. Thus, the round trip time through the single tube would be 8 + 6 one way and 10 + 6 the other for a total of 30 minutes. That’s a total of 10 trains in each direction over an hour. If 3 minutes could be shaved off the round trip travel time between Union Sq and Lorimer, then 12 tph would be possible. The real time data for L train movements shows instances where this has occurred.

    Such an operation requires a managerial skill level that has not been exhibited by NYCT management. The good news is that there should be no physical reason why such operation would not be possible. The bad news is that the MTA will be implementing it.

  • Lincoln

    It would likely require more shutdowns to install the switches than is being proposed for the tunnel work.

  • AnoNYC

    Citi Bike is planning to increase coverage substantially so I don’t see why that part of the plan would change.

  • Joe R.

    If the Japanese were operating the system, then 12 tph would be a perfectly attainable goal per your description. Unfortunately, NYCTA employees from management right down to T/Os don’t have the level of discipline necessary to pull it off. Well, at least CBTC takes the T/Os out of the equation but you still have incompetent management.

    And why aren’t we talking about building tail tracks at 8th Avenue? It would save time because trains can pull into the stations at full speed, then enter the tail tracks and switch over.

  • sbauman

    Well, at least CBTC takes the T/Os out of the equation but you still have incompetent management.

    No it doesn’t. Take a look at the linked spreadsheet on the Jan 15th sheet. Take a look at the second (RTN) column for the first 3 runs. The RTN column is the ATS’ last arrival/departure stop times for each station. It’s updated within 30 seconds of the actual arrival.

    Look at the travel time between the departure from Bedford to the arrival at 1 Av. The first trip took from 00:10:00 to 00:14:10 or 4:10 (250 sec). The second took from 00:32:19 to 00:36:26 or 4:07 (247 sec). However, the third took from 00:59:08 to 01:02:40 or 3:32 (212 sec). That’s a 9% deviation for with the T/O removed under ATO.

    why aren’t we talking about building tail tracks at 8th Avenue? It would save time because trains can pull into the stations at full speed, then enter the tail tracks and switch over.

    The relay operation you describe won’t help, unless the tail tracks are long enough to permit trains to exit 8th Ave at full speed. Otherwise, a departing train will delay an incoming one @ 40 tph even without the mandatory fumigation.

    There is a less costly alternative. There’s a middle track between 6th and 8th Aves. It was used for reversing trains, when 6th Ave was the 14th St Line terminal. It was reconfigured backwards for that application sometime in the past. What’s needed is to reconfigure it back to its BMT days with a Y at both 6th and 8th Aves. Alternate trains would terminate at 6th and 8th Aves.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Why were they able to do it at Whitehall and Court Streets before the shutdown of the Montague tube even began?

  • Lincoln

    They didn’t. Those switches were already there.

  • AMH

    I don’t think that’s remotely likely, but a benchwall or cable coming loose and derailing a train seems quite probable.

  • Eric Bolden

    Didn’t know it was once connected on the 6th Ave. side, but that is what they should do.

  • 细细粒波大大

    Why are the people in this comment section vastly more educated than the governor and the MTA? lol

  • BrandonWC

    Mostly they just care more about New Yorkers who take the subway

  • Joe R.

    Most people who care about things like transit, climate change, traffic violence, cycling, and walking tend to be more educated. It’s just the ability to see an issue from all sides, instead of believing the nonsense the government and corporate advertisers spoon-feed the masses.

  • Joe R.

    That’s similar operationally to the #7 terminus, where they have three tracks, which gives the terminal a lot more capacity.

  • Joe R.

    Whatever type of failure happens, it won’t be pretty. There will almost certainly be dozens of injuries. Even worse, they’ll end up going through with the original plan, which is good, but it’ll force people to endure pain twice.

  • AMH

    Yes, I fully expect the need for a full shutdown to become painfully obvious in 10-20 years.

  • Andrew Rosenthal

    Any of you transit geniuses know how to create a report on MTA bus departure times? I am trying to look at bunching on a number of lines? Thanks.

  • sbauman

    Are you talking about scheduled or actual times?

  • EagleEye

    Actual. Thanks.

  • sbauman

    You will need to access the MTA’s real time bus feed. It’s not easy programming. I have not used it – only the subway real time feed. It uses the same GTFS-RT protocol. You will need to obtain a developer key from the MTA. That’s easier than sorting out the data. Here’s a link to a wiki for real time bus access: