How Screwed Will Your Subway Line Be by the L Train Shutdown? E/F/M/R Edition

Beware the incoming G-train hordes


During the upcoming L train shutdown set to begin in early 2019, the MTA expects 70 to 80 percent of displaced L riders to take other subway lines. This will affect not only those displaced riders, but all the commuters who currently take the lines that will become filled with L refugees. This week, the Village Voice examines the impact on the E, F, M, and R lines. Click here for previous editions and other L train shutdown coverage.

The E train doesn’t have any extra capacity — it’s already at its upper limit, thanks to its unaccommodating terminal at the World Trade Center. The MTA knows this, which is why the authority picked the E for a pilot program in which it removed some seats to increase capacity by about a hundred riders per train. As recently reported by AMNY, the MTA isn’t sure if this pilot program accomplished much; but it was worth a try, as there weren’t many other options.

This is unfortunate for those of you who ride the E, but it will be even worse once the L shuts down in April 2019.

That’s because the E runs through one of the major transfer hubs of the shutdown, Court Square in Queens, which I have written about before. To recap, displaced L riders heading north of 14th Street will likely opt to take the newly increased G service up to Court Square and transfer there to the E, M, or 7. The M will get three extra trains per hour to help with this load, but the E will not; it already runs fifteen trains per hour, according to internal MTA documents, the most possible given the line’s terminal layouts.

While the G will significantly increase its capacity by six trains per hour (plus every train will double its current length), it’s not clear where all those new riders will go. Some will take the free out-of-station transfer to the 7 just before Court Square, but most will likely try and make the in-station transfer at Court Square to the E or M, in which case the G will dump more passengers off than the increased service can carry.

In the mornings, the crush at this junction may be particularly bad, but at least riders arriving from points east in Queens will already be on the train. The biggest problem for E/M riders will occur in the afternoon rush, when commuters planning to switch to the G have already taken up much of the space on the train, making it even more difficult for additional riders headed to eastern Queens to board.

Which brings us to the R. On its face, the R would seem unaffected by the shutdown; it doesn’t have any direct links with L-adjacent lines in either its Queens or Brooklyn segments. But according to the L shutdown service plans obtained by the Village Voice, two fewer R trains per hour will run through Queens Plaza to accommodate the additional M service. (The two lines share tracks through Queens, so more M’s requires fewer R’s and vice versa.) Unfortunately, this will mean those of you beholden to the R will have a bit of a longer wait and more crowded trains. If you’re M or R agnostic — the two lines run close to each other through midtown — then there won’t be much of a change for you other than the aforementioned boarding issues for the M.

After the Voice reported last week that R train service would be reduced by two trains per hour during the L outage, two state legislators from the Bay Ridge area issued a Facebook statement, on Monday, that MTA chair Joe Lhota had promised R service would not be cut in their districts. Since there’s no way to add M trains while running the current number of R trains in Queens — the shared M/R terminal at Forest Hills–71st Avenue is limited to twenty trains per hour total, according to MTA documents — this would presumably require turning some Brooklyn R trains around in Manhattan, such as by sending two R trains per hour up the Second Avenue Subway line instead of to Queens.

The F gets off pretty easy. No planned service changes, and because it breaks off of Queens Boulevard before the Queens Plaza stop to head to Roosevelt Island and on to Manhattan, it avoids the Long Island City/Hunters Point mess altogether. The main concern would be if current E riders, after a few days of putting up with Court Square transferees, adjust their commutes to take the F instead. But the F, like the E, is already at capacity, so I’m not sure how that would work out for everyone.

What You Should Do If You Currently Take the E/F/M/R

Along with my standard advice that applies to most everyone — move far away from north Brooklyn, get a bike, or change your work hours if you can — all measures should be explored to avoid the Court Square station. But remember the 7 won’t be any better, so don’t think you can just walk to the Hunters Point Avenue station for a free transfer from the G like it’s that easy. Because it’s not. Nothing about the shutdown will be easy. We’re all very, very screwed.