The IRT Flushing Line is a rapid transit route of the New York City Subway system, operated as part of the A Division. Originally an Interborough Rapid Transit Company-operated route, the Flushing Line, as originally built, ran from Flushing, Queens, to Times Square, Manhattan; a western extension was built to Hudson Yards in western Manhattan, and the line now stretches from Flushing to Chelsea, Manhattan. It carries trains of the (7) local service, as well as the express <7> during rush hours in the peak direction.
It is shown in the color purple on station signs, the official subway map, internal route maps in R188 cars, and route signs on the sides of R39 subway cars. Before the line was opened all the way to Flushing, it was known as the Corona Line or Woodside and Corona Line. Prior to the discontinuance of BMT services in 1949, the portion of the IRT Flushing Line between Times Square and Queensboro Plaza was known as the Queensboro Line.
The Flushing Line has various styles of architecture, which range from steel girder elevated structures to European-style concrete viaducts. The underground stations have some unique designs as well. The designs include Hunters Point Avenue, which is in an Italianate style; Grand Central – 42nd Street, which is a single round tube similar to a London Underground station; and 34th Street – Hudson Yards, which, with its deep vault and spacious interior, resembles a Washington Metro station.
Extent and serviceEdit
Services that use the Flushing Line are colored purple. The following services use part or all of the Flushing Line:
|<7>||Full line||No service|
The line has two distinct sections, split by the Queensboro Plaza station. It begins as a three-track subway, with the center track used for express service, at Flushing – Main Street. It quickly leaves the ground onto a steel elevated structure above Roosevelt Avenue, passing Citi Field and the USTA National Tennis Center. A flying junction between Mets – Willets Point and 111th Street provides access to Corona Yard from the local tracks. At 48th Street in Sunnyside, the line switches to Queens Boulevard and an ornate concrete viaduct begins. The express track ends between 33rd Street – Rawson Street and Queensboro Plaza.
At Queensboro Plaza, the eastbound track (railroad north) is above the westbound track, with both Flushing Line tracks on the south side of the island platforms. On the north side of these platforms is the BMT Astoria Line. East of this point, both the Flushing Line and the Astoria Line were operated by the IRT. Connections still exist between the eastbound tracks just east of the platforms, but they cannot be used for revenue service because BMT trains are wider than IRT trains. This is the only track connection between the Flushing Line and the rest of the subway system.
West of Queensboro Plaza, the line immediately turns south onto an elevated structure over 23rd Street. It heads into the west end of Amtrak's Sunnyside Yard, and passes through two underground stations before entering Manhattan via the Steinway Tunnel under the East River. In Manhattan, the line runs under 42nd Street, with part directly underneath the 42nd Street Shuttle, before angling towards 41st Street. The Times Square – 42nd Street station, with no track connections to other lines, is directly under 41st Street.
Directly west of Times Square, the tracks curve sharply downward before turning under 11th Avenue. The tracks end at 24th Street, though the last station is at 34th Street – Hudson Yards. This segment was built as part of the extension of the Flushing Line west to Manhattan's Far West Side. A decommissioned lower level at the IND Eighth Avenue Line's 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal station formerly blocked the way; it had been rumored that the IND built it to keep the IRT from extending the Flushing Line, although all initial blueprints indicate that the IRT never planned such an expansion. While some originally questioned the necessity of the plan, with London receiving the 2012 Summer Olympics, the city pursued it as a means to enable the redevelopment of the far West Side under the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project.
The Flushing Line is one of only two New York City non-shuttle subway lines that hosts only a single service and does not share operating trackage with any other line or service; the other is the BMT Canarsie Line, carrying the L. Because of this, there are plans to automate the line with new trains using communication-based train control (CBTC), similar to the Canarsie Line.
The IRT Flushing Line's 7 service has the distinction of running trains with the largest number of cars in the New York City Subway. 7 trains are eleven cars long; most other New York City Subway services run ten or eight-car trains. The trains are not the longest by total length, however. An IND/BMT train of ten 60-foot (18 m)-long cars, which is 600 feet (180 m) long, is still 35 feet (11 m) longer than an IRT train of eleven 51.4-foot (15.7 m)-long cars, which is 565 feet (172 m) long.
Origins of the line and extensions in ManhattanEdit
The earliest origins of the Flushing Line emerged on February 25, 1885, with the construction of the East River Tunnel Railroad in the Steinway Tunnel, with an objective to connect the Long Island Rail Road with the New York Central Railroad. Although a such a plan was studied, no action was taken upon the plan, and the railroad was redesignated as the New York and Long Island Railroad Company in 1887. To run from West 42nd Street and Tenth Avenue to Van Alst Avenue after crossing under the East River, the remainder of the line was planned to be constructed on private lands; as such, numerous alterations were made to the proposal. In 1890, William Steinway advised the company to utilize electricity to power the tunnels, believing that the construction of the tunnel would increase the value of his properties within the vicinity.
On June 3, 1892, building of the tunnel commenced near the intersection of 50th Avenue and Vernon and Jackson Avenues; however, several failures and hindrances, which included an underground spring preventing the extraction of rubble, resulted in the termination of the project on February 2, 1893. Several calls for the resumption of the project between 1893 and 1896, in addition to a proposed extension to New Jersey, were futile. The tunnel opened for subway use in 1915.
Western extensions were built in the 1920's and in the mid-2010's, with part underneath the 42nd Street Shuttle:
- Grand Central to Fifth Avenue on March 22, 1926
- West to Times Square on March 14, 1927
- Towards Hudson Yards on September 15, 2015, with a station at 10th Avenue.
Construction in Queens under Dual ContractsEdit
An extension from the Steinway Tunnel to Hunters Point Avenue opened on February 15, 1916, and later to Queensboro Plaza on November 5, 1916. At Queensboro Plaza, the line met the BMT's 60th Street Tunnel, as well as a spur from the elevated IRT Second Avenue Line on the Queensboro Bridge. From this point east, the Flushing and Astoria Lines were built by the City of New York as part of the Dual Contracts. They were officially IRT lines. BMT trains ran only to Queensboro Plaza, on a different platform of the IRT. This platform was made as a terminal for BMT lines. IRT trains simply continued from the Queensboro Line and Queensboro Bridge onto the lines to Astoria and Flushing, originally called the Corona Line or Woodside and Corona Line before it was completed to Flushing.
The line was opened from Queensboro Plaza to 103rd Street – Corona Plaza on April 21, 1917. East of there, sources conflict on when each section opened. A New York Times article from May 8 reports that service began on May 7 to what is now the Mets – Willets Point station, and mentions delays due to the structure sinking. Articles from May 13 and May 15 cover a celebration to coincide with the opening to the Willets Point stop on May 14. Finally, a January 22, 1928 article reports that the line had ended at 103rd Street–Corona Plaza until January 21; the extension had been finished over a year earlier but had to be strengthened due to structural problems.
The eastern extension to Flushing – Main Street opened on January 2, 1928. However, Flushing – Main Street was not originally intended to be the end of the line. The Public Service Commission, in June 1913, was actively engaged in considering extensions of the line beyond Flushing, but these extensions, later planned as part of a large system expansion, were never built. At the time, the line continued past Flushing – Main Street and into a train storage area. The terminal underwent a major renovation project between 1999 and 2000, making the station ADA-compliant and demolishing the storage tracks as a result.
For the 1939 New York World's Fair, the Willets Point Boulevard station was rebuilt and centered on 123rd Street, just west of where the station originally lay. Some remnants of the old station are still visible; ironwork tends to indicate where the older outside-platform stations were, and the remains of the fare entry area can be seen east of the current station. The original Willets Point Boulevard station was a "minor" stop on the Flushing Line; it had only two stairways and short station canopies at platform level. It was rebuilt into the much larger station in use today, and the ramp used during two World's Fairs still exists, but is only used during special events, such as the US Open for tennis. Express service to the World's Fair began on the Flushing Line on April 24, 1939. This was the first time the middle express track had been used for revenue service; prior to the fair, the express track had only been used for non-revenue moves and re-routes during construction.
Currently and historically, IRT subway services on the Flushing Line were assigned the number 7, though this did not appear on any equipment until the introduction of the R12 class cars in 1948.
Service curtailments and slight improvementsEdit
In 1949, when IRT Second Avenue Line service ended, major overhauls for the Corona fleet were transferred to the Coney Island shop. In addition, free transfers to the IRT Third Avenue Line were offered at Grand Central from October 17, 1949 (when Second Avenue Line service ended, including the Queensboro Bridge connection) until May 12, 1955 (when Third Avenue Line service ended). In the fall of 1949, the Astoria Line became the responsibility of BMT. The Astoria Line had its platforms shaved back, and became BMT-only. Because of this, routes through the then eight-track Queensboro Plaza terminal was later consolidated and the remains of the structure were later torn down. Evidence of where the torn-down platforms were, as well as the trackways that approached this area, can still be seen in the ironwork at the station.
The station's extra-long platforms, which allow for 11-car operation, are also a remnant of the joint service period. However, the rest of the stations on the line were only able to fit 9-car trainsets. These platforms were extended to 11 cars in the late 1950s.
Identification of Trains and Routing Automatically (IDENTRA) was implemented on the line in the 1957 and used until 1997, when a route selector punch box with B1 Astoria, local/express buttons was installed at the 10/11 car marker on the upper level of Queensboro Plaza. IDENTRA used a removable round circular disc type radio antennas assembly, slide-mounted on the small mounting brackets that were attached on the front of R12, R14, R15, and R17 cars that were assigned to the 7 route, which has been used on the line since 1948. Similar to the use of radio transponders in the CBTC installation, the system used the round circular antennas with a small box type selector switch to determine whether a train was running local or express, then accordingly switched the track at interlockings near Queensboro Plaza and Flushing – Main Street stations. This move reduced the number of signal towers on the line from 10 to 2 and allowed to operate 37 eleven-car trains instead of only 30 nine-car trains per hour. This system, still in use by many transit agencies such as SEPTA's Broad Street Line, is also nicknamed the "toilet seat" because the removable disc antenna is shaped like a toilet seat.
Decline and rehabilitationEdit
As with the rest of the system, the IRT Flushing Line was allowed to deteriorate throughout the 1970s to the late 1980s. Structural defects in the subway that required immediate attention at the time were labeled as "Code Red" defects or "Red Tag" areas; these Code Red defects were numerous on the Flushing Line. Some columns that supported elevated structures on the Flushing Line were so shaky that trains would not run if the wind exceeded 65 miles per hour (105 km/h). This was particularly widespread on the Flushing Line, as well as the BMT Jamaica Line.
On May 13, 1985, a 4 and a half-year long project to overhaul the IRT Flushing Line commenced. It forced single-tracking on much of the line during weekends, and the complete elimination of express service for the duration of the project. Consequently, the MTA advertised this change by putting leaflets in the New York Times, the Staten Island Advance, the Daily News, and Newsday. The project would lay new track, replace or repair concrete and steel structures, replace wooden station canopies with aluminum ones, improve lighting, improve signage, and install new ventilation and pumping equipment. Expanded service would be provided when the Mets played home games or when there were sporting events in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park. Paradoxically, Flushing local trains had better on-time performance during the construction than before it started.
The $60 million rehabilitation project on the Queens Boulevard concrete viaduct ended on August 21, 1989. When Flushing express service was restored, trains no longer stopped at 61st Street – Woodside. This led to protests to get express service back at 61st Street station. The reason for the stop's discontinuance on the Flushing express was because the MTA felt it took too long to transfer between locals and expresses. The service was also due to fears of delays on the line when locals and expresses would merge after 33rd Street – Rawson Street. The change was supposed to enable local trains to stop at 61st Street every four minutes (15 trains per hour (tph)) during rush hours, but the trains really arrived every 8–10 minutes (or 6–8 tph), according to riders. The community opposition led to service changes, and expresses began stopping at Woodside a few months later.
Automation of the lineEdit
In January 2012, the MTA selected Thales for a $343 million contract to set up a communications-based train control (CBTC) system as part of the plan to automate the line. This was the second installation of CBTC, following a successful implementation on the BMT Canarsie Line. The total cost was $550 million for the signals and other trackside infrastructure, and $613.7 million for CBTC-compliant rolling stock. The safety assessment at system level was performed using the formal method Event-B.
The Flushing Line was chosen for the next implementation of CBTC because it is also a self-contained line with no direct connections to other subway lines currently in use. Funding was allocated in the 2010–2014 capital budget for CBTC installation on the Flushing Line, with scheduled installation completion in 2016 or 2017. The R188 cars were ordered to replace the R39s and equip the line with compatible rolling stock. CBTC on the line will allow the 7 to run 2 more trains per hour (tph) during peak hours (it currently runs 27 tph). However, the system is currently retrofitted to operate at 33 tph even without CBTC.
The first train of R188 cars began operating in passenger service on November 9, 2013. Test runs of R188s in automated mode were set to start in late 2014.