Starting August 28th, no F Trains will roll through Roosevelt Island. This goes on for at least six months, but there’s much to know plus a few options.
Starting Monday in the last week in August, the MTA’s 63rd Street Tunnel Track Fixation Project finally gets underway. Over months, tracks will be replaced and associated structural needs will get attention.
Trains run on only one of two tracks during six months of rehabilitation. In addition, at times, simultaneous work on both tracks will force closures in both directions, but the MTA says it can’t predict those times, if any, for now.
During the entire Fixation project, a shuttle train runs from 21st Street to 63rd and Lex at 20 minute intervals. But that ends at midnight, resuming at 5:00 a.m., leaving a 5-hour gap in service.
Free shuttle buses compensate, keeping riders from being completely stranded.
However, obvious shortcomings jump right out at you. But it’s the not so obvious ones that raise the greatest concern and are not addressed in the announced plan.
No F Trains During the Track Fixation Project, the Nitty Gritty
Caution: According to the MTA, “This work is scheduled to begin on August 28th and is slated for completion in the first quarter of 2024, subject to change.”
Not only should “subject to change” ring alarms, but the first quarter of 2024 estimate is so fuzzy, chances are it will be much longer.
For perspective, the current elevator/escalator project for the Roosevelt Island subway station was “slated for completion” in the first quarter of this year. That is, six months ago and counting with no end in sight.
OMNY for the Tram? The MTA promised numerous people that was “slated for completion” in the second quarter of 2023. We are now nearly halfway through the third quarter.
And the East Side Access project ran a decade past the original schedule.
Don’t be surprised if they miss the six month target because they almost always do. It’s really only a question of by how much.
Challenges for the Shuttle
No F Trains will rumble down the tunnel and into Roosevelt Island from August 28th until some hazy time in 2024. Instead, Fs will run on the E Line, using the 53rd Street tunnel to reach Manhattan.
A shuttle train will operate between 63rd Street and 21st Street in Queens at 20 minute intervals.
The first issue is the 20 minute intervals. That’s not enough during rush hours. It’s nearly twice as long as trains run now. And of course, they will not always keep that interval.
What happens when someone gets sick in a car? Or when a door gets stuck or someone gets injured by an assault or struck by a train?
Any situations like those bring the single track carrying shuttles to a complete halt. The single track model has no alternatives, but some if not all of them are certain to occur.
And for physically challenged passengers, what happens when the elevator on the active side fails as it surely will?
The Obvious and Unaddressed
While the Manhattan terminus for the shuttle is in a location with options for immediate transfer to Q Trains, the Queens terminus at 21st Street does not.
“For service to and from Queens, free Q95 shuttle buses will run between 21 St-Queensbridge and Queens Plaza,” the MTA says. “Trains are also available at nearby Queensboro Plaza.”
But no schedule is offered, and passengers must exit to street level in all weather conditions, keeping in mind that the Fixation project takes place during most if not all of the winter.
More concerning are the total overnight shutdowns. These go from midnight to 5:00 a.m., and the MTA solves that with free Q94 shuttle buses from Roosevelt Island to Queens Plaza. But no pickup points or schedules exist.
That won’t give anyone warm and fuzzy feelings in the middle of the night.
Roosevelt Island is abundant in transportation options, but with no F Trains running, will they be enough? The answer is “No.”
Most popular, of course, is the Roosevelt Island Tram, but it closes for several hours overnight. That’s minor, though, compared with the hefty load of tourists RIOC encourages.
The strain vastly increases during the holidays, starting on Labor Day. Expect nearly impossible crowding and delays.
The Q102 is a solid, but underused option. The bus travels the length of Main Street at posted intervals and gets you to useful Queens locations quickly. Those include connections to multiple subway lines.
NYC Ferry offers a great option too, but limited landings along Queens and Manhattan routes may not fit well with many commuters.
With No F Trains, RIOC Must Step Up
While RIOC has so far shown no intention of helping out and seems barely aware of the Fixation Project, the state agency must be shaken out of its traditional year-round slumber.
In recent years, the best the sleeping midget among giants could muster during transit emergencies was a slow and extremely limited Tram shuttle. That’s as ineffective as it is cumbersome and unreliable because of conditions on the Queensboro Bridge.
Solutions from RIOC are difficult because mismanagement already has them bleeding red ink in losses with The Tram and Sportspark. But this imperative is close to the heart of why the state agency exists.
They must step up.
Helping Roosevelt Islanders can’t be dismissed, although RIOC has all the creativity and imagination of a parked truck. Governor Kathy Hochul must intrude on the brain trust bunkered in Blackwell House.
And our elected representatives – Senator Liz Krueger, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, City Council Member Julie Menin – must push her to do so.
One easy solution is RIOC setting up shuttle buses of their own, but not the clunky Red Buses that are built for Roosevelt Island, not city traffic.
Various shuttle buses run along Main Street all the time, these days. Most are smaller and more versatile than the Red Buses. Contracting with a company that can move passengers quickly and on a reliable schedule is not difficult.
A 24/7 route with pick up points from The Octagon to 405 Main Street, running to and from Queens Plaza, for example, is the least RIOC can do.
Roosevelt Islanders deserve more than the least but should be prepared for that.
Now’s the time for letting RIOC, Hochul, Krueger, Seawright and Menin know. The alternatives are unacceptable.