clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

New York City’s 'W' subway line is coming back from the dead after six years

New, 19 comments

Pronounced 'double-you' for those unfamiliar

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

You probably haven't heard of the W train. It was a local line that was part of New York City's subway system and ran between Queens and Manhattan (and initially down to Coney Island) from 2001 to 2010, when it was axed due to budget constraints. (The Z train was also scaled back at the time.) On Friday, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority confirmed rumors that it was considering bringing the W back into service, but while that in-and-of-itself isn't that interesting, what the W's resurrection means is very significant.

By bringing back the W, the MTA would be able to reroute the Q train to serve the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, the first major expansion of the subway system in decades and a project so long in the works (the original concept came out in 1929) it has become almost mythical.

"an unprecedented accomplishment in the MTA's modern existence"

The MTA says the Second Avenue Subway's first phase will serve an existing F train station at Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street, on the Upper East Side, as well as three brand new stations at 72nd, 86th, and 96th streets. And when it opens later this year, the new four-station route will represent "an unprecedented accomplishment in the MTA's modern existence," the agency boasts.

But what about the W train? Its return could be a boon for the residents of Astoria, Queens, which has seen its population fall by almost 10 percent since the W was taken offline, losing most of the gains it made in the prior decade. But it's doubtful it's return will be greeted with anything more than a shrug from the city's cynical straphangers, many of whom are growing tired of waiting for their delayed and congested commutes to magically improve. Nor will it provide any solace to those L train riders who are already girding themselves for a possible multi-year shutdown of the Canarsie tube under the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The MTA envisions the resurrected W train running west from Astoria under the East River, cutting across Midtown, and then down the same track used by the N and Q trains, before terminating at Whitehall St, located in the southern-most tip of Manhattan. The Q train would be rerouted at 57th St, running north along the newly dug Second Avenue Subway line once the first phase of that project is completed. The W would effectively replace the rerouted Q train.

The W has been referred to as "a real blue collar train" by its conductors, but in 2010 its demise was co-opted by white twenty-somethings who seized the opportunity to turn its final journey into a booze-soaked party. It's unclear whether its return will trigger similar celebrations, but one of the planners of the 2010 "wake" tweeted that he was considering it.

The second phase of the Second Avenue Subway, which would extend the route north into East Harlem, is still in limbo. In 2014, the MTA said it would need $1.5 billion to begin planning and construction, but that it was still at least five years away. The third phase would see the route stretch south to Houston Street, while the fourth would extend it down to the Financial District. It is unclear how much of New York City will still be above sea-level by the time that actually happens.