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IRT Flushing Line

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R-62A car 1914 leads a #7 train into the Main St. Portal. Photo by David Tropiansky, May 2012.

Contents

Overview

The Flushing Line (originally called the Woodside and Corona Line) was one of two lines of the NYC subway to have been operated jointly by two different divisions: the IRT and BMT. The line, built by the City of New York, began April 21st, 1917 with IRT trains running between 42nd St / Grand Central and Alburtis Avenue (now 103rd St.), and joint operation with the BMT began in 1923. The line reached Main St, Flushing, on January 21st, 1928. Elevated BMT rolling stock had to be used on this line because platform clearances were built to IRT specifications east of Queensborough Plaza, and the 67' BMT Standards, as a result, would not fit. BMT wooden cars and IRT steel cars terminated at the underground Main St terminal, but IRT 2nd Ave wooden cars terminated at Willets Point Blvd.

Even though subway service started in 1917, the portion of the line under the East River was originally started by the East River Tunnel Railroad on February 25th, 1885. The original intent of the line was to connect the LIRR and the New York Central railroads. Other than an engineering survey of the East River at the tunnel site, nothing else was done, and in 1887, the company reorganized as the New York and Long Island Railroad Company. The tunnel was planned to run from approximately West 42nd St & 10th Ave, under 42nd St and the East River, to Van Alst Avenue. The rest of the line in Queens would be on private right of way, and various mappings were planned and revised for this section of route.

Various problems occurred causing extensive delays and cost overruns. William Steinway, founder of the Steinway & Sons Piano Co (and for whom the tunnel is named), became involved in 1890. He felt that controlling operations of the tunnel company would boost the value of his real estate and envisioned operating the tunnels using electricity. On June 3rd, 1892, ground- breaking occurred at 50th Ave between Vernon and Jackson Avenues. However, a series of mishaps and an underground water spring hampering debris removal, followed by lawsuits by property owners along the line forced the tunnel to be boarded up on February 2nd, 1893. Various attempts to restart the project between 1893 and 1896 (when Steinway died), and proposals to extend the line into New Jersey, all failed.

In February 1902, August Belmont became interested in the project, which became known as the "Belmont Tunnels", although Belmont preferred the project be known as the "Steinway Tunnels". By May 16th, 1907, the North tube was broken through, and the south tunnel was broken through on August 7th of that same year. Because the Pennsylvania Railroad planned to build a very large station at 32nd & 33rd Streets on the West Side, and also planned to tunnel under the Hudson and East rivers, the motive power for the tunnels was changed to trolley cars. However, because of the low clearance of the tunnels, use of the typical trolley wire could not be used; instead, overhead "third rail" was hung from the roof of the tunnel using special brackets. The Van Alst Ave station was originally on a loop at the end of a 50' radius curve and was located near 50th Ave & Van Alst Avenue. At Grand Central was another loop located under Park Avenue and East 42nd St. The official opening was September 24th, 1907 for Belmont, the Mayor and other officials.

However, because Mr. Belmont did not have a franchise to operate the line, and a company to run it (because of litigation with New York City), Belmont was forced to board up the tunnel. From October 23rd, 1907 until 1915, the completed tunnel was idle of traffic! On April 3rd, 1913, NYC purchased the tunnels from Belmont as part of the Dual Contracts for $3 million, and the tunnels were placed under IRT operation. With "minor" modifications, the tunnel could accommodate subway trains. Because of the steep grade of the tunnels, special "Steinway" cars were built to run on the line. With the conversion to rapid transit, the loops on both ends of the Steinway tunnels were abandoned. No vestiges of the Queens loop remain today as the Hunters Point Station occupies the site. Remnants of the Manhattan loop still exist, but are not accessible by passengers, since these remnants are occupied by machinery. The Manhattan loop is just west of the current Grand Central Station stop on the #7 line. Subway service began on this section of the line on April 21st, 1917. See also: The Steinway Tunnels.

The line was extended to Times Square with a stop at 5th Ave & 42nd St. The line runs under the 42nd St shuttle and ends at the lower level IND 8th Ave & 42nd St station's east wall. The 5th Ave station opened March 22nd, 1926, and Times Square opened March 14th, 1927.

For the 1939/40 World's Fair, the Willets Point Blvd station was rebuilt, centered on 123rd St, just west of where this station used to be. 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 Blvd station was a "minor" stop on the Flushing Line; it had only 2 stairways and short station canopies at platform level. It was rebuilt into the much larger station seen today, and the ramp used during two World's Fairs is still in existence, but is currently not used. Express service to the World's Fair began on the Flushing Line on April 24th, 1939.

In 1938, an order of all-new World's Fair cars was placed with the St Louis Car Company. These cars broke from IRT "tradition" in that they did not have vestibules at each car end. In addition, because the IRT was bankrupt at the time, the cars were built as single ended cars, with train controls for the motorman on one side and door controls for the conductor on the other. These cars spent their last days on the 3rd Ave El in the Bronx. Car 5653 still exists in the Coney Island shops, though in deplorable condition.

Not to be outdone, the BMT rebuilt 90 open gate cars into closed-end cars that became known as the "Q" Types. The BMT showcase cars, the 67' standards, D-Types and multi-sectioned cars, could not run on this part of the subway because the Flushing Line was still jointly served by the BMT and IRT, with equipment that had to be manufactured to IRT standards. The Q Types were built as 3 car sets, and only the cars at the ends were fitted with traction motors and motorman controls. The equipment was repainted in the now famous blue and orange, the World's Fair colors. 9 years after the closing of the Fair, in 1949, the BMT "Q" Types were moved to the 3rd Ave El in Manhattan using old IRT Composite car trucks, and ran only as expresses, because their weight was still a bit too high for the older, local tracks. So the last BMT designed car ran on the last IRT elevated in Manhattan!

Like BMT "Q" Types replacing the older gate cars that rode on the line for the opening of the 1939/40 World's Fair, the procedure would be repeated again when, in 1964, the picture window (World's Fair) R-36s replaced the (by then) older R-15s for the 1964/65 World's Fair. In 1942, when Second Avenue El service ended, major overhauls for the Corona fleet were transferred to the Coney Island shop. In addition, free transfers to the 3rd Avenue El were offered at 42nd St from June 13th, 1942 (when 2nd Ave El service ended) until May 12th, 1955 (when 3rd Ave El service ended). In the fall of 1949, the joint BMT/IRT service arrangement ended. The Flushing Line became the responsibility of the IRT, and the Astoria Line had its platforms shaved back, and became an extension of the BMT. Because of this, routes through the (then) 8 track Queensborough Plaza station were consolidated and the northern half of the structure was torn down. Evidence of where the torn-down platforms were, as well as the trackways which approached this area, can still be seen in the ironwork at the station.

The Main St Flushing station was never meant to be the terminal of the line. The Public Service Commission, in June of 1913, was actively engaged in considering extensions of the line beyond Main St, but it never came to pass. It has still never come to pass.

Timeline

  • 25 February 1885: East River Tunnel Railroad Company was incorporated
  • 22 July 1887: Reorganized as the New York and Long Island Railroad Company
  • 7 January 1888: First proposed route mapped out.
  • 1892: Route for tunnel finally settled upon.
  • 3 June 1892: Ground broken at 50th Ave between Vernon and Jackson Avenues
  • 28 December 1892: Dynamite explosion kills 5, injures 20
  • 1896: William J. Steinway dies.
  • 1905: Construction resumes under August Belmont.
  • 16 May 1907: North Steinway tube drilled through.
  • 7 August 1907: South Steinway tube drilled through.
  • 21 September 1907: First test trip under the East River.
  • 23 October 1907: Cars removed from tunnel. Belmont seals tunnel pending its sale.
  • 3 Apil 1913: New York City purchases tunnels from Belmont for $3,000,000.
  • 13 June 1915: IRT Steinway cars enter tunnel. First test trip as an IRT line was made.
  • 21 April 1917: Service between Grand Central and Queensborough Plaza commences.
  • 14 March 1927: Service extended to Times Square.
  • 1928: Corona Shops opened.
  • 1938: World's Fair IRT cars debut for the 1939/1940 World's Fair.
  • 24 April 1939: World's Fair IRT express services debuts.
  • 13 June 1942: Second Avenue EL service over Queensborough Bridge discontinued.
  • 1949 (Fall): Routes through Queensborough Plaza consolidated; northern portion of structure torn down.
  • 1992 to 1995: Queens Blvd viaduct rehabilitated.
  • 2003: The World's Fair picture window R-36 "Redbird" trains finally displaced by R-62A stainless steel cars moved over from the IRT main lines.
  • 2008: Construction begun for an extension west of Times Square to the Javitz Center. The route will pass thru the lower level of the 42nd St/Port Authority IND station.

Construction

Most of the Steinway Tunnel is of the deep-bored tunnel type. There is some cut and cover construction in Queens. The tunnel is 2 tracks from Vernon/Jackson Ave to Times Square.

All the elevated structures in Queens are of the standard Dual-Contracts box-girder variety. The EL is 3 tracks from 33rd St to Main St/Flushing.

Railfan Perspective

From a railfan's perspective, the Flushing Line is excellent:

The rush hour express run between Queensborough Plaza and Main St is very fast. This is the only line in the subway that normally runs 11 car trains. The R62A cars that displaced the "redbirds" also still offer a railfan-window view, albeit on most trains it is only available at the Flushing-bound end of the train.

Queensborough Plaza offers various photo opportunities. From the upper level of Queensborough Plaza, you can photograph N trains exiting the 60th St tunnel, again, with Manhattan as a backdrop. From the street, you can get even closer photographs of N trains exiting the 60th St portal. Finally, Queensborough Plaza is the only station in the entire NYC Subway System where you can get a cross-the- platform transfer between the IRT and the BMT. There's frequent service, so you never have to wait long for a picture.

At Willets Point Blvd, you can photograph the Flushing fleet resting in the sunshine in Corona Yard. The ramps built for the World's Fair now carry passengers bound for Flushing Meadow Park and the US Tennis Stadium. The LIRR also runs in that area. Clear shots of the #7 line can be obtained from this ramp facing east between Willets Point Blvd and the curve leading down towards Main St/Flushing.

During rush hours, stand at 111th St and photograph express trains on the upper level center express track and imagine what the 3rd Ave El may have been like with its upper level express tracks approaching stations. This is also a good place to get yard moves in and out of Corona Yard.

Route Map

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Stations/Sites

IRT Flushing Line
7.GIF Times Square · 5th Avenue · Grand Central · Vernon-Jackson Avenues · Hunterspoint Avenue · Court House Square-45th Road · Queensborough Plaza ·33rd Street-Rawson Street · 40th Street-Lowery Street · 46th Street-Bliss Street · 52nd Street-Lincoln Street · 61st Street-Woodside · 69th Street-Fisk Avenue · 74th Street-Broadway · 82nd Street-Jackson Heights · 90th Street-Elmhurst Avenue · Junction Boulevard · 103rd Street-Corona Plaza · 111th Street · Willets Point-Mets · Main Street-Flushing


Page Credits

By Mark S. Feinman, Peggy Darlington, and David Pirmann.









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