Regional Rail for New York: The Lines

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A little over a year ago, I mapped out a couple of scenarios for a New York regional rail system. This one, “Scenario B“, was developed from the first with some input and critique from Pedestrian Observations‘ Alon Levy. Like any good regional rail system patterned after Germany’s S-Bahnen and Paris’ RER, Scenario B is designed around a core concept of through-running — that is, any given service originates in one suburb and runs through the core to some other suburb. I have also attempted to balance passenger loads on either side of a given line, although in Scenario B this is based more on my intuition from when it was made. I have in mind, however, a “Scenario C” modification that better balances the system based on ridership information I came across much more recently.

Usually, when I develop regional rail systems, I pair individual lines. This is because such one-on-one pairings allow for a high degree of finesse: when designing an S-Bahn-type network, the holy grail is to perfectly balance routes with similar ridership and opposing direction, routes that are sort of inverse vectors to one another.

However, New York has a lot of active and inactive commuter rail alignments. A quick count of NJ Transit, MNRR, LIRR, and and SLE services suggests there are ~28 distinct services and ~31 distinct lines (MNRR’s New Haven Line incorporates extensive branching). And commuter rail maps dating to the 1950s suggest there may have been twice as many services run by some nine or ten different railroads. As a simplification measure, therefore, my New York Regional Rail system utilizes trunks and branches.

Trunks and Branches

Because there are so many individual routes in the New York region, a useful simplifying measure is to consolidate several commuter routes into a smaller handful of trunklines, with each individual trunk connecting to another one through the urban core. Each of these mini-networks then becomes one side of a regional rail “line” — it is no exaggeration to suggest that a single New York regional rail line corresponds to entire potential commuter rail networks elsewhere in the country! Breaking out and individually mapping every service in Scenario B would yield a map that would make Vignelli proud. Such a map would show every line and frequency pairing implicit in Scenario B’s six Lines, and it may be useful to break that down and analyze it, line by line.

For now, however, let us take a look at the system’s six Lines.

Line 1 (red)

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Scenario B’s Line 1 pairs together the Northeast Corridor and Greenpoint-Ronkonkoma trunks, creating an end-to-end corridor that runs from Trenton to Greenpoint via Penn Station. Its major components include:

  • The Northeast Corridor, from Trenton to Penn Station;
  • The Princeton Branch, serviced by  a dinky timed to make transfers;
  • A Sandy Hook branch via Perth Amboy;
  • A South Plainfield Branch via the Lehigh Valley line;
  • A West Side Branch, running from Yonkers to Penn Station;
  • A new LIRR Main Line, utilizing the current Main Line with a bypass through Levittown along the Central Branch;
  • The Port Washington Branch;
  • The Far Rockaway Branch; and
  • The Hempstead Branch

It would cross the Hudson via the Gateway Tunnels and North River Tubes, and the East via the East River Tubes. The primary (all-day) service patterns would be

  • Trenton, NJ – Greenpoint, NY — hourly
  • Trenton, NJ – Ronkonkoma, NY — hourly
  • Sandy Hook, NJ – Far Rockaway, NY — hourly
  • South Plainfield, NJ – Hempstead, NY — hourly
  • Yonkers, NY – Port Jefferson, NY — half-hourly
  • Princeton, NJ – Princeton Jct., NJ — timed transfer dinky

where shuttles help fill service gaps.

Line 2 (blue)

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Line 2 pairs together the Old Lackawanna and New Haven trunk networks. Like Line 1, it’s built to be heavy-duty with a high traffic volume; it’s also the line with the greatest east-west extent. The network so created is vast, and includes

  • The Morrisville Line, from Washington to Newark (where it connects with the NEC) via Summit;
  • The Gladstone Branch;
  • The Lackawanna Cutoff, connected with
  • The Montclair-Boonton Line, from Denville to Newark via its eponymous boroughs;
  • The Greenwood Lake Branch;
  • The Northeast Corridor, from Kearny Jct. to New Rochelle via the Hell Gate;
  • The New Haven Line from New Rochelle to New Haven;
  • The Danbury Branch to New Milford;
  • The Waterbury Branch to Hartford via Waterbury and Bristol;
  • a Hartford branch via the old New Haven route; and
  • The Shore Line east to New London

This route would interline with Line 1 between Kearny Jct. and Sunnyside Yards, with Penn Station as its core station. Its major service pattern is

  • Washington, NJ – Summit – Waterbury – Hartford, CT — hourly
  • East Stroudsburg, PA – Montclair – New Haven – Hartford, CT — hourly
  • Gladstone, NJ – New Milford, CT — hourly
  • Greenwood Lake, NJ – New London, CT — hourly

Taken together, this yields a 15-minute service pattern from Newark Broad Street to Norwalk, CT.

Line 3 (brown)

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The most river-oriented of the lines, Line 3 links together the Hudson, Raritan, and Lehigh valleys, via the Raritan Valley and Hudson River trunklines. It doesn’t have quite the traffic volume of Lines 1, 2, or 4, but it isn’t sparsely-utilized, either. It uses

  • the former Lehigh Valley mainline from Allentown to Phillipsburg;
  • the former CNJ mainline from Phillipsburg to Roselle Park;
  • the former Reading line from Bound Brook to West Trenton;
  • the former PRR and LV Flemington branches joined end-to-end;
  • Staten Island’s North Shore Line;
  • The Hudson Line;
  • the Putnam Line, extended to Newtown, CT, via Danbury;
  • the old NH Beacon Branch, with a new connection to the Hudson Line; and
  • the new Lower Core linking Grand Central with Staten Island

This route interlines with Line 4 between Yankee Stadium and Downtown Brooklyn, Line 5 between Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn, and Line 6 between Lower Manhattan and Staten Island. Its principal services include

  • Allentown, PA – Poughkeepsie, NY — hourly
  • Lambertville, NJ – Hopewell Jct., NY — hourly
  • West Trenton, NJ – Newtown, CT — hourly
  • Branchburg, NJ – Hawthorne, NY — hourly

Line 4 (green)

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Composed of the Harlem and Montauk trunks, Line 4 is the only one of the six major trunklines to cross the Hudson at all. Line Lines 1 and 2, it is one of the three more heavily-used routes. It can be nicknamed the “Mountain and Sea Line” because its extremities have it extending from the Taconic Mountains down Long Island’s south coast. It is composed of

  • The Harlem Line;
  • the Vassar branch to Poughkeepsie;
  • the New Canaan branch via the Mt. Vernon route;
  • The Atlantic Branch;
  • The Montauk Branch;
  • The West Hempstead Branch;
  • The Long Beach Branch; and
  • The Lower Core linking Grand Central and Atlantic terminals

This line interlines with Line 3 from Yankee Stadium to Downtown Brooklyn, with Line 5 from Lower Manhattan to Jamaica, and with Line 6 from Lower Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn. Its core services are

  • Amenia, NY – Shirley, NY — hourly
  • Upper Poughkeepsie, NY – Long Beach, NY — hourly
  • New Canaan, CT – West Hempstead, NY — hourly
  • New Canaan, CT – Babylon, NY — hourly

Line 5 (black)

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This line is the shortest in appearance of the entire network, being composed of the Erie and Stony Brook trunks. It also services some of the less populous parts of the region: the Lower Catskills and Long Island’s North Shore. Parts of it include

  • the former Erie main line, now the Port Jervis and Main lines;
  • the Bergen County Line;
  • the Pascack Valley Line;
  • the Atlantic Branch;
  • the LIRR main line from Floral Park to Farmingdale;
  • the Oyster Bay Branch;
  • the Port Jefferson Branch, extended to Wading River;
  • the Central Branch from Bethpage Jct. to Babylon;
  • a new tunnel under the East River at Fulton Street;
  • a new tunnel under the Hudson River; and
  • the Bergen Arches

Line 5 is also the most heavily interlined of the entire network, interlining with every line except for Line 2. It interlines with Line 1 from Jamaica to Floral Park, Line 3 from Lower Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn, Line 4 from Lower Manhattan to Jamaica, and Line 6 from the Bergen Arches to Downtown Brooklyn. Its core services are:

  • Port Jervis, NY – Paterson, NJ – Wading River, NY — hourly
  • Suffern, NY – Garfield, NJ – Babylon, NY — hourly
  • Mt. Ivy, NY – Oyster Bay, NY — hourly
  • Paterson, NJ – Huntington, NY — hourly

Line 6 (orange)

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The last line of the network, Line 6, is unique in that it crosses the Hudson twice. Comprised of the West Shore and North Jersey Coast trunks, it also has a greater north-south extent than any other line, being almost completely north-south in orientation. Major routes include

  • The West Shore Line from Kingston to Sparkill;
  • The Northern Branch;
  • The New York, Susquehanna, & Western mainline to Sparta;
  • The North Jersey Coast Line from Perth Amboy south;
  • The former Camden & Amboy mainline to Burlington;
  • The former Central of New Jersey branch to Freehold;
  • The former Pennsylvania Railroad route between Freehold and Farmingdale, NJ;
  • The former Central of New Jersey’s Southern Division between Farmingdale and Lakehurst;
  • The former CNJ Toms River branch;
  • The Bergen Arches and a new tunnel under Jersey City and the Hudson to Fulton Street;
  • A new Fulton Street tunnel under the East River;
  • A new rail line along 3rd Avenue in Brooklyn;
  • Staten Island’s North Shore Line;
  • The Chemical Coast Line between Perth Amboy and Carteret; and
  • A new Arthur Kill bridge at Pralls Island

Line 6 interlines with Line 3 in the Lower Manhattan Trunk between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. In addition, it interlines with Line 4 from Lower Manhattan to Old Place on Staten Island and Line 5 from the Bergen Arches to downtown Brooklyn. Its principal services include

  • Kingston, NY – Burlington, NJ — hourly
  • Sparta, NJ – Toms River, NJ — hourly
  • Nyack, NY – Bay Head, NJ — hourly
  • Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY – Long Branch, NJ — hourly

Final Words

This post is an overview of the basic lines and services in the Scenario B system. In future posts, I intend to talk about the way I have constructed my trunk network, particular elements of the investment program, and why the Staten Island Railroad isn’t included in this network.

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