New York City Subway R Queens BLvd-Broadway-4 Avenue Local on the SubwayNut (2024)

The R train is an entirely underground* local New York City Subway Line, running via the 4th Avenue, Broadway and Queens Blvd line local tracks, and via the Montague Street and 60 Street tunnels, making 45 station stops from Forest Hills-71 Avenue to 95 Street-Bay Ridge. During late nights R train service only runs from Bay Ridge to Whitehall Street, with N trains running local replacing it at all stations in Manhattan, and E trains at all stations in Queens.

The line operates (since CBTC became live on the Queens Blvd line in 2021) entirely using R160s. Pre-CBTC, the R train ran almost entirely using R46s, with some occasional R32s thrown into the mix (predominately the couple of rush hour trains that entered service at 59 Street and were provided by Coney Island Yard).

Historically the core of the R train (and it’s pre-BMT Route number 2) is the service provided on the 4th Avenue local tracks the whole distance down to Bay Ridge-95 Street. Bay Ridge, as only a 4 stop branch south of 59 Street, along with the fact at 59 Street the local tracks continue south to Bay Ridge, while the express tracks curve east to become the Sea Beach Branch to Coney Island, means that the Bay Ridge stations have only ever received local service. This included the train being named the RR until double-letters were eliminated in 1985.

Until May 24, 1987 R trains ran to Astoria-Ditmars Blvd. On this date the northern terminals of the N and R trains were switched. This gave the R train direct access to a train yard, the Queens Blvd Yard. Previously the R train had no train yard directly along its route with all RR trains needing to deadhead to and from the Coney Island Yard. The N train at the time was served by two yards, Coney Island and Queens Blvd, and is only serviced by Coney Island Yard

If there wasn't the headache of the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd to Bay Ridge line lacking a train yard, operationally running the Astoria to Bay Ridge line makes more sense than current operations today. This provides the potential to de-interline the entire R train route with one dedicated train route running on tracks not shared with any other route. This subway line could run as frequently as every 2 to 3 minutes, similar to the 1 or 6 local trains that don't share tracks with any other subway route. Under this proposal the W train would be redundant and discontinued, the N train would still run to Forest Hills but via the 63 Street tunnel (and via the Broadway Express tracks), never sharing the local tracks with the now super-frequent R train

Since the end of Astoria R train service (the R train previously ran at all times), what to do with late night R train service has been an issue. Until 1990 the R train still ran to Queens (with trains extended in 1988 to Jamaica-179 Street at different times of day after the opening of the Archer Avenue extension in attempts to maintain express service on Hillside Avenue) at all times. In 1990, Bay Ridge residents needing late night service began being at the mercy of a dysfunctional Shuttle train running from 95 Street to 36 Street since there aren’t any switches to change directions until this station. At first this shuttle train ran local on 4 Avenue like regular R train service, but the fact that terminating R Shuttle trains were blocking the local track (used by through N trains) meant that in October 2000 northbound R Shuttle trains became the only R train service to ever be scheduled to run via an Express track, bypassing 53 Street and 45 Street in the northbound direction only. This dysfunction was rendered a moot point on June 16, 2016, when late night R train service was extended to Whitehall Street in Manhattan using the 3rd middle track to terminate (the same track used by W trains, coming from the opposite direction, use during the day).

Superstorm Sandy required the Montague Street tubes to be rebuilt. This split the Weekday R train into two distinct sections, one section of the R train running from Forest Hills to Whitehall Street in Manhattan, and a second section between Court Street and 95 Street in Brooklyn from August 2, 2013 through September 15, 2014. On Weekends the stops between Canal Street and DeKalb Avenue were closed with a single R train service running via the Manhattan Bridge. The unreliability caused by the length of the R train causing long waits for service to Bay Ridge in particular (Queens Blvd riders can also use the M train) even meant that in 2019 some Bay Ridge politicians proposed restoring the split R train service (removing the one seat ride to and from Manhattan) since the temporary Brooklyn only section of the R train was less crowded and more reliable (but required additional transfers for nearly everyone).

The solution though to this unreliability of service to Bay Ridge in rush hours in particular should be found in the potential of restoring the ‘Bankers Specials’ or ‘Chambers Street specials’ that were discontinued in 1987. These special rush hour only trains, signed as RR and then as the diamond-brown R, in their final years provided supplemental rush hour service between Bay Ridge and Chambers Street on the Nassau Street line. The shortness of this route would restore service via a track connection not used since 2010 (and the potential for more frequent service along the Brooklyn portion of the R train, service lost in 2010 from 36 Street north when the M train was changed from Brown to Orange and rerouted from Bay Parkway to Forest Hills) and provide some reliability relief to the R train that can be plagued by delays if there is just one problem with the N,W, or M trains in Manhattan or Queens, all subway lines it must share tracks with.

*R train Passengers can see daylight from the side windows of trains very briefly on a full enclosed bridge between 59 Street and Bay Ridge Avenue when trains, sharing a bridge with 4th Avenue above, cross over the New York and Atlantic Railway Bay Ridge Branch track.

New York City Subway R Queens BLvd-Broadway-4 Avenue Local on the SubwayNut (2024)
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