Lunchtime data: destroying my dreams of an express F train

I live in New York. Like most New Yorkers, I ride the subway to work — in my case, the F train. Like most New York subway lines, the F is really quite busy. Unlike many other subway lines, it has a secret: an express track in Brooklyn that no-one is using.

Well, it isn’t really a secret. I see it every day. It taunts me with the dream of less crowded, quicker trains to midtown Manhattan. So why don’t we have an express train already? Well, at least two reasons. One, money — the MTA doesn’t have a lot of it spare. Not a lot we can do about that here. Two, the dream express train would still have to join up with the existing trains before going into Manhattan, and there’s no spare capacity — so we’d have to take away some local trains in order to provide express ones.

But hey, it could be worth it. As a quick lunchtime project, I took the MTA’s annual ridership data to see where most people are getting on these trains, then took a look at the incredibly detailed track maps available on nycsubway.org to see which stations would be express-capable. Express-capable stations in red, incapable in blue:

(Bergen St actually could be express capable — it has a downstairs platform — but after a wall collapse it isn’t usable)

Oh dear. While the balance further out into Brooklyn isn’t bad, the heavily populated areas closer to Manhattan would really suffer. Looking at the totals, some 9.5 million rides would be able to catch an express train — but 22.5 million* would not. And we’d have to take trains away from them in order to do it.

So, the conclusion of my lunchtime project is that all my dreams are all dead and unattainable. At least until we have some better signals along the B/D/F/M line into Manhattan, anyway. Oh well.


An interesting historical footnote I discovered while researching — between 1968 and 1976 the MTA did use these tracks, with the F train operating express and the G local. But ask a local stop user if they’d like to exchange their one-stop F ride for a two-stop G to A/C one. I doubt they’d be too enthusiastic.

*Correction: I mistakenly counted Fort Hamilton Parkway as an express-capable station. Although express tracks pass under it there aren’t any platforms. I’ve amended the chart and figures, thanks to Lawrence Velázquez for pointing that out.

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