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In Central Brooklyn, a dreaded subway bottleneck grinds trains to a halt

by Staff

This column originally appeared in On The Way, a weekly newsletter covering everything you need to know about NYC-area transportation. Sign up to get the full version in your inbox every Thursday.

A subway bottleneck in Brooklyn has for decades caused headaches for hundreds of thousands of commuters on the city’s busiest subway lines.

Trains on the 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines all intersect in Crown Heights beneath Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Avenue. There, trains on the 2 and 5 lines turn south to run beneath the avenue, while trains on the 3 and 4 lines continue east beneath the parkway. When a train makes a turn, others must stop for a minute or two until the track signal ahead turns from red to green.

This is the Nostrand Junction. A delicate dance happens there hundreds of times per day – and it’s an inconvenience familiar to all who pass through.

Waiting at the junction is as frustrating an experience for subway operators as it is for riders, said Eric Loegel, who works for Transport Workers Union Local 100 and operated trains through the junction for more than five years.

“I could be on a number 3 train, and I pull into Franklin Avenue and I’m sitting there. But when the leaving signal at the station is clear — meaning I can proceed — I can’t see around the curve,” said Loegel. “I’ll roll out, and then I’ll see that the signal at the junction is red. We stop and we wait for a number 5 train that is arriving on the express track to cut in front of us.”

A solution to the daily dilemma is in sight, but the MTA has for years put off plans to make the fix. The agency in 1993 studied building a “flyover,” which would reconstruct the junction by building a new set of tracks underneath the turn to avoid the criss-cross. But records show the agency’s engineers found the concept infeasible. 

MTA spokesperson Michael Cortez said the agency is once again looking into relieving the bottleneck junction. The agency’s 20-year needs assessment released in October lays out the need to add new crossover tracks on lines in the area, as well as extend storage tracks to allow for more trains to run on the 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines. 

The project’s price tag, according to the MTA’s assessment, would be $410 million if work started in 2027. Cortez notes the work “is not currently funded and “will be considered as a part of future capital programs.”

So for the foreseeable future, commuters on central Brooklyn’s numbered lines will continue to sit — and wait — below Nostrand Avenue. 

Curious Commuter

Question:

Why are there unused tracks that abruptly end above Myrtle Avenue?
– Kristen from Bushwick

Answer:

Those tracks above Myrtle Avenue are the remnants of an old el. The above-ground train line first opened in the late 1880s. For a time, it even ran over the Brooklyn Bridge (elevated trains stopped running on the crossing in the 1940s). It offered a connection across Myrtle Avenue as far west as downtown Brooklyn until 1969, when its tracks east of Broadway were torn down and service there discontinued.  

The M train still runs on a stretch of the old Myrtle el from the line’s terminus in Ridgewood to the Myrtle-Broadway station, where it joins tracks shared by the J train that head over the Williamsburg Bridge.

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