Would the 42 St Shuttle be better if it ran to Herald Sq and Penn Station?

While digging through old subway plans on Archive.org I found this odd piece of local boosterism; Subway Problem Solved. “The Thirty-Fourth Street News” published by the 34th St Board of Trade in their first publication (an maybe only?) laid out a pretty ingenious plan for what to do about the shuttle train between Times Sq and Grand Central.

A bit of history: the shuttle train is a vestigial service left over from the first subway which ran up Park Ave South to Grand Central, turned west under 42nd St to Broadway and up to the UWS. Interestingly, the original subway only had express stations at 96th, 72nd, 42nd-Grand Central, 14th-Union Sq, and Brooklyn Bridge. When expanding the Interborough Rapid Transit Co., which built the original subway, designed a system where trains coming from the UWS would run south along 7th Ave to Chambers St and trains running north to Grand Central would continue north under Lexington Ave. This left the original segment between Times Sq and Grand Central cut off, though there were connections left on both ends so that trains could be brought in. As the shuttle was the only way to get from the west side to the east side until the 14th St L train and the Flushing 7 train were opened some years later this caused much congestion along the short line. Many different ideas were floated over the years including converting the whole thing into a moving walkway (like airports have) or continual loop of seats (which, oddly enough, was also a proposal for the original subway system before electric train technology became reliable). Alas it was just easier to do nothing.

"Follow the dotted line" A new subway loop.
“Follow the dotted line” A new subway loop.

The proposal would create a single track loop staring from the existing southern most track at the Grand Central shuttle platform and turn south to connect with the Lexington Av Line using the (still existing) track connection to the south-bound local track. Just south of the 33rd St station a single track would peel off to the west, either under 30th or 31st St, and head to 7th Ave with intermediate stations at 5th-Madison Avs and 6th Ave (Greeley Sq, home to the PATH terminal). The track would merge with the north-bound local track on the 7th Ave Line just south of the 34th-Penn Station station. Then at 42 St-Times Sq the local track would split (within the station!) to link up with the southern shuttle track of the existing 42nd St Shuttle. For clarification: the new shuttle loop would stop at the 1 train platform at Times Sq (and not the existing shuttle platform) and the existing shuttle platform at Grand Central (and not at the 6 train platform).

At first glance this is actually a pretty ingenious idea. Even today the lack of any direct transfer between Penn Station (and the PATH terminal for that matter) and Grand Central causes a lot of congestion in the midtown subways. There are, however, two major issues that the scheme overlooks even though the author claims them not to be problems.

First is that the Lexington Ave Line is the most congested subway in the city so throwing in a shuttle train that would stop at 33rd St along the same tracks as the 6 train would cause massive delays. Interestingly the 7th Ave Line, because it was built later, has a 5th pocket track between 34th St and 42nd St stations which could be configured to allow north-bound express and local trains to enter 42 St station while shuttle trains to use the additional north-bound track to wait as 1 trains leave the station. Unless a 5th track is added to the Lexington Ave Line you are just adding to the congestion and backups.

Second is that because the shuttle platforms at 42 St-Times Sq were build as part of the original subway they are relatively close to the road above. Connecting the north-bound local track to the shuttle track would require running track directly through the heart of the Times Sq station mezzanine and thus require building a totally new mezzanine under Times Sq. As the new shuttle loop would only run clockwise there would still be a need for the use of the northern tracks of the existing shuttle to remain operational.

Times Sq mezzanine connecting the N/Q/R , 1/2/3, and Shuttle trains.  This mezzanine would have to be demolished and rebuilt to allow for the new shuttle loop. Image via Wikipedia.
Times Sq mezzanine connecting the N/Q/R , 1/2/3, and Shuttle trains. This mezzanine would have to be demolished and rebuilt to allow for the new shuttle loop. Image via Wikipedia.

Expanding the Times Sq subway station, while very disruptive and expensive, would probably end up being for the best as in the article the author describes “Shuttle Dread” where in a rider gets so lost trying to navigate the station that he fears for his sanity. (As there is no author listed on the article I’m willing to bet the author was the same person as this John H. Eggers, “a well known business man, [who] has his office in the Times Building and his New York home in a hotel, corner of Fourth Ave [Park Ave South] and Thirty-third Street.” This whole proposal seems like one mans brilliant idea to build a subway that will serve his needs).

"Subway Dread", a New Disease
“Subway Dread”, a New Disease

With the recent completion of the 7 Train extension to 34 St-Hudson Yards I’ve seen at least one proposal (unofficial), linked in with the new Gateway/Amtrak tunnel into Penn Station, to extend the 7 Train again, east, under 30th St to serve the new Moynihan Station and existing Penn Station complex. I don’t see this particular idea going anywhere as the 7 Train extension was paid for by former Mayor Bloomberg with the MTA only building it when they didn’t have to pay for it. Some have also speculated on connecting any new Hudson River tunnel with the new East Side Access terminal under Grand Central, though there are no official plans to do this.

The shuttle loop could be a major benefit to the subway system if its major flaws could be overcome affordably. The MTA and city recently struck a deal with the developers of a new super-tall skyscraper at One Vanderbilt where they would fund expanding mezzanine areas and platform space at Grand Central. While a modern skyscraper already sits on top of where the shuttle platform exists on the Times Sq side of the shuttle, some kind of similar deal could be worked out if another super-tall tower is proposed around Times Sq. Expanding the Times Sq passageways to be less intimidating would be a boon for the system. If the MTA could figure out how to add a 5th track under Park Ave South (which is a much narrower avenue than 7th Ave) then building a subway loop that connects the four busiest subway stations in the city could have a major impact on reducing congestion.

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  1. I think I have a way that the problem of cutting through Times Square could be solved. If I’m not mistaken, there is a track connection between the northbound 7 Ave Local and the northernmost shuttle track. Once the proposed shuttle stopped at the IRT Broadway northbound local platform, it could go north of the station, stop, and then reverse onto the shuttle tracks. The only connection needed then would be track connections to get across to the southbound track of the shuttle. I don’t know how possible either of these things are, but if they could work, it would be a much cheaper way of getting this hypothetical shuttle where it needs to be. I like the idea of the shuttle going down to 34th St a lot.