Five years ago, straphangers, politicians and transit advocates arrived in Astoria with cardboard coffins and tombstones to mourn the death of the W train, just shy of its ninth birthday.
Its untimely demise came along with the also-young V train and dozens of bus routes. Their cause of death was a massive budget hole, resulting in the largest service cuts in MTA history.
As the agency plans to re-route the Q line to the new Second Avenue Subway instead of its current route to Queens as early as December 2016, the MTA has begun considering a plan to bring the W line back from the dead, according to several people inside and outside of the agency with knowledge of the talks.
MTA officials have been discussing, largely in private with rider advocates and public officials, what to do about train service in Queens when the Q runs to the Upper East Side instead of Astoria. They all agree that the system couldn’t get by with only the N train — ridership along the N/Q line has been increasing in recent years.
Andrew Albert, the MTA’s second-longest-serving board member, told amNewYork he recommended bringing back the W line.
“That would be the sensible thing to do,” said Albert, who also serves as chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council. “I don’t know what else you would put there and not be ultra-confusing to people.”
Bill Henderson of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said many who track the system think a second line will be needed once the Q is diverted to Manhattan.
“You wouldn’t be able to ramp up the N enough to be able to provide an acceptable level of service for Astoria,” Henderson said.
If the new W train followed its old path, riders traveling from Astoria to lower Manhattan would no longer need to transfer at 59th Street to the crowded Lexington Avenue line. The N train could also run express in Manhattan again– speeding up commutes for tens of thousands of riders.
Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign also supports the idea and Richard Barone, director of transportation programs for the Regional Plan Association, called restoring the line “the most straightforward thing to do.”
None could remember another time when an entire line was eliminated, only to be brought back. The only thing that came close was when the H decal, which had been used along the Rockaway Park in Brooklyn, was used temporarily to mark free shuttles in the Rockaways for six months after Superstorm Sandy.
An MTA spokesman said it’s “premature” for the agency to announce its plans, but confirmed the idea of bringing back the W line has been talked about internally.
“The current level of service in Astoria will not decrease,” spokesman Kevin Ortiz said. He added that bringing back the W line “certainly has been discussed; no decision has been made.”
The MTA estimated it saved about $3.4 million annually by cutting the W, which traveled between Astoria and Lower Manhattan during the week and let the N run express in Manhattan. At the time, the agency estimated 77,000 weekday passengers would have longer travel times. Another 56,000 would have longer waits and trains would be more crowded overall. Ridership numbers have since reached record levels .
Reviving the W wouldn’t be as difficult a feat as bringing the No. 7 train to the Far West Side, or building the Second Avenue Subway. The infrastructure already exists for it — its stations are in use and the routes are still programmed into many subway cars. As far as communicating the W’s return, the MTA has already budgeted for new signs and maps once the Second Avenue Subway goes online. It shouldn’t create extra confusion or costs to make other changes at the same time.
John Montemarano, director of station signage since 1994 and an MTA employee of 35 years, has seen the birth of the W, V and Second Avenue Subway, as well as the death of the W, V and No. 9. Other lines have shrunk, grown and changed because of ridership shifts, budget changes, the 9/11 attacks and Sandy damage. Now, new stations are being finished along Second Avenue and the No. 7 line.
If the MTA adds or revives a line, Montemarano said he would need about four months to get the transit system ready. It would take that long for the 48 workers in his department to survey the stations, design signs, check their accuracy and then create signs in the Brooklyn shop that would be loaded into trains to carry them to each station for installation. A small station would need about 60 new signs, while a larger station like 34th Street-Herald Square will need closer to 800. Small circular decals cost about $5 to make up, while bigger signs can be upwards of $200.
“It’s not difficult at all – service changes are one of our primary functions,” said Montemarano. “Whatever Operations wants to run, we just have to make sure our signs are correct.”
“We have it down to a science,” he added. “There’s no more learning curve.”
Barone said he wished the MTA was more flexible with lines.
“In some ways, I wish the MTA would play around with services more, sort of experiment with service changes more,” he said.
Henderson hopes the MTA considers extending the W past the Financial District.
“This might be an opportunity to look at that and see whether there is justification for possibly running it in Brooklyn,” said Henderson.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, who represents Astoria and was at the W train’s funeral before she was elected to office, said even if it returns, more service is needed.
“The community is bursting at the seams,” said Simotas.
“It would be great if they could resuscitate and revive it five, six, seven years later,” she added. “They should have never eliminated the line in the first place.”
CORRECTION: In an article on Monday about the possible return of the W train, amNewYork misidentified the route the H train traveled in the 1980s. It was along Rockaway Park, not Franklin Avenue.