Holiday track work will reroute E, M trains between Manhattan and Queens for nine days

The MTA has scheduled nine straight days of signal and track work that will close the 53rd Street Tunnel between Dec. 26, 2020 and Jan. 4, 2021 — forcing the rerouting of the E and M trains during that period.
Photo: MTA New York City Transit: Leonard Wiggins

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York and dropped subway ridership to all-time depths, the period between Christmas and New Year’s Days always saw far fewer commuters than normal — a good time for the MTA to schedule major repairs.

And while other holiday traditions may be in doubt during the pandemic, this is one custom that MTA plans to continue. On Friday, the authority announced a nine-day closure of a subway tube between Manhattan and Queens that will impact the E and M train lines. 

Beginning at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, Dec. 26, and continuing through 5 a.m. Monday morning, Jan. 4, 2021, the 53rd Street Tunnel on the Queens Boulevard Line will be closed as crews install modern signals and perform track maintenance. 

The pre-scheduled improvements goes on as part of the previous five-year capital plan; future upgrades remain in doubt, however, due to the MTA’s ongoing pandemic-related budget crunch — something which MTA President of Construction and Development President Janno Lieber alluded to in a statement on Dec. 4.

“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the MTA remains committed to installing modern signaling throughout the system,” Lieber said. “We are taking advantage of the low ridership over the holiday period and during COVID to get more work done, and to complete it faster. Federal funding is crucial to ensuring projects like this can continue.”

The signal and track upgrades on the Queens Boulevard Line are part of the installation of Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) on the E and M lines. Acting MTA New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg said the program, when fully installed, would allow trains to run more frequently and provide commuters with better, real-time data on train arrivals.

“The work to install modern signaling throughout our system may impact riders for a short time, but will lead to more trains, fewer delays and the improved accuracy of real-time information for decades to come,” Feinberg said. 

That will force the MTA to reroute the E and M lines during that period. E trains will run on the F line in both directions between Roosevelt Avenue in Queens and West 4th Street in Manhattan at all times. 

M trains — which use the 53rd Street Tunnel on weekdays as part of its circumferential loop through Queens and Midtown Manhattan — will have the most dramatic change. On four consecutive weekdays between Monday, Dec. 28 and Thursday, Dec. 31, from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. trains on the line will not travel to and from Forest Hills; the trains will instead run from Middle Village-Metropolitan Avenue to Chambers Street in Lower Manhattan.

Visit mta.info for additional information on the scheduled work and a list of travel alternatives.

The nine-day closure of the 53rd Street Tunnel will make a significant dent in the project’s completion, but the MTA indicated that additional work will be scheduled on the line in 2021. All dates are subject to change.

Overnight service on the E and M lines, and all other subway lines, remain off-limits between 1 and 5 a.m. daily for disinfection.