Wednesday, June 13, 2012
#270 Foster Ave. Overpass over the BMT Brighton Line
Foster Ave. Overpass over the BMT Brighton Line
June 13, 2012, Rob Hickman, Keith Nelson
View on Unicycle NYC Bridge Tour Map at: unibridgetour.net
Ride Time: 1:13:35
Distance: 4.78 miles
BMT Brighton Line
The Brighton Line opened from the Willink entrance of Prospect Park (modern intersection of Flatbush and Ocean Avenues and Empire Boulevard, now the Prospect Park station on both the renamed Brighton and the Franklin Ave. Shuttle lines) to Brighton Beach (modern Coney Island Avenue at the shoreline) on July 2, 1878 and the full original line on August 18. It was an excursion railroad — the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island Railway — to bring beachgoers from downtown Brooklyn (via a connection with the Long Island Rail Road) to the seashore at Coney Island on the Atlantic Ocean, at a location named Brighton Beach at the same time the railroad arrived. It has been known since its opening as the Brighton Beach Line but is now described as the Brighton Line in MTA literature and in public usage.
After losing its connection with the Long Island Rail Road in 1883, the railroad fell on hard times, reorganizing as the Brooklyn and Brighton Beach Railroad. Seeking a new route for its excursion business and its local trade in communities along the way, it formed an agreement with the Kings County Elevated Railway to connect to its Fulton Street Line, which gave access to the new Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan passengers. This was accomplished in 1896.
A series of mergers and leases put the Brighton Beach Line in the hands of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT), a holding company which eventually controlled most of the rapid transit, streetcar and bus lines in Brooklyn and part of Queens. The line was electrified with trolley wire and, for a time, trolleys from several surface routes and elevated trains operated together on the line. The BRT was reorganized as the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT) in 1923. In 1940, the BMT was purchased by the City of New York, and operation passed to the city's Board of Transportation, which already operated the city-built Independent Subway System (IND).
The original line was a two-tracked high-speed surface steam railroad operating from Bedford Station, at Atlantic Avenue near Franklin Avenue in the City of Brooklyn, at which point it made a physical connection to the Long Island Rail Road's Atlantic Branch. From Bedford the line ran on a surface private right-of-way several blocks south to Park Place, which it crossed at grade, and then in an open cut with street overpasses through what is now Crown Heights and Flatbush, as far as Church Lane (now Church Avenue) in the Town and Village of Flatbush. From that point the line continued on the surface to a point at current Beverley Road between Marlborough Road (East 15th Street) and East 16th Street, curving southeast and running on the surface between the lines of the latter streets through the Towns of Flatbush and Gravesend to Sheepshead Bay, then turning southerly to reach the beach at Brighton Beach on Coney Island in the Town of Gravesend.
Between 1903 and 1908 the Brooklyn Grade Crossing Elimination Commission (BGCEC) oversaw the elimination of all grade crossings on the line. A short piece of two-tracked elevated railroad was built from the ramp connecting to the Fulton Street Elevated as far as Park Place, where the original 1878 open cut began. From the end of that original cut south of Church Avenue, the line was wholly rebuilt as a four-track railroad with express and local stations to a point south of Neptune Avenue at the border of Coney Island, continuing along its original right-of-way to Brighton Beach station. The portion from Church Avenue to Avenue H was placed in a depressed open cut, while the portion from Avenue H to south of Sheepshead Bay was raised onto an earthen embankment, primarily with earth excavated from the open-cut portion and from the Bay Ridge Improvement of the Long Island Rail Road.
The above work by the BGCEC left the line between Park Place and Church Avenue in substantially its original condition from steam railroad days. Between 1918 and 1920, however, further work rebuilt the portion between Prospect Park and Church Avenue as a four-track line. At the same time, the remaining portion of the line south of Neptune Avenue was replaced with a four-track elevated structure, including a four- to six-track elevated line extension, connecting the Brighton Line to the new Coney Island terminal at Surf and Stillwell Avenues. This same work rerouted mainline Brighton Beach trains from the Fulton Street elevated line via a new deep tunnel under Flatbush Avenue to connect to the BMT Fourth Avenue Line at DeKalb Avenue station, where trains could access the new BMT Broadway subway. This work was done as a part of the Dual Contracts.
Upon the opening of service by the new subways to midtown Manhattan on August 1, 1920, the original portion of the line between the Fulton Street Elevated and the link to the new subway at Prospect Park became a secondary line, known as Brighton–Franklin, and now known as the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. At times through services (including expresses) operated on mainline Brighton tracks to Coney Island. Some special weekend trains even operated beyond Coney Island back to Manhattan via the BMT Sea Beach Line express tracks and the BMT Fourth Avenue Subway. This service was variously known as Franklin–Nassau and as the Coney Island Express, but its popular name was the "Sunny Sunday Summer Special," because it was only supposed to operate as needed on the hottest beach-going days. Through services gradually diminished on the Brighton–Franklin, and after 1963 it became a pure shuttle, operating between Franklin Avenue station at Fulton Street and Prospect Park station, where it connects with mainline Brighton Beach trains. During the era of route contraction from 1940 to about 1975 the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, as it is now known, seemed a prime candidate for abandonment; its physical structure had been allowed to deteriorate and its service steadily curtailed. The New York City fiscal crisis of the '70s and the recession in 1990 contributed to plans to discontinue the line. Consistent community pressure prevented the line's abandonment and eventually led to its rehabilitation and reconstruction, closing the line in 1998 and reopening it in 1999.
Today's line shows a mix of its various re-buildings. The 1920 subway portion from the DeKalb Avenue connection to the Fourth Avenue subway is a typical New York City subway tunnel of the Dual Contracts era.
Prospect Park to Church Avenue:
Though this part of the route is on the alignment of the 1878 open cut, it was rebuilt in 1918 to 1920 to a four track line with an express station at Prospect Park, a local station at Parkside Avenue (replacing the original station at Woodruff Avenue) and another express station at Church Avenue. The construction features of the portion of the line resemble those of the BMT Sea Beach Line, which reopened as an open-cut line in 1915. Both lines feature slightly sloped and capped reinforced concrete walls and subway-like tunnels underneath cross-streets. From this point, the Brighton Line is a four-track line for the remainder of its route. Currently, the B and Q trains come off Flatbush Avenue to join the line at Prospect Park; the B uses the central tracks to run to Brighton Beach station, serving express stations, while the Q provides local service on the outer tracks to the end of the line at Coney Island–Stillwell Avenue Terminal.
Church Avenue to Avenue H:
This part of the line is a result of the BGCEC rebuilding program of 1903–1907. Just south of the tunnel which carries the line under Church Avenue, the construction of the cut wall visibly changes. The subway-like street crossings of the former section give way to steel trestles for the streets, giving the line a more open appearance. Cottage-style station houses are suspended over the line at local stations at Beverley and Cortelyou Roads, and at the express station at Newkirk Plaza. Past Newkirk Plaza the line continues in an open cut, then begins to rise to street level at the north end of Avenue H station.
Avenue H to Sheepshead Bay:
The station house at Avenue H is unique. Placed at the east side of the tracks, it is a wooden structure built in 1905 and originally used a real estate office. The building was threatened with demolition as part of an upgrading of stations along the line, but the community intervened and, on June 29, 2004, the station house was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The line now runs on an earthen embankment with local stations at Avenue H, Avenue J and Avenue M, an express station at Kings Highway, local stops at Avenue U and (Gravesend) Neck Road, and an express station called Sheepshead Bay at Sheepshead Bay Road (former Shore Road). All of the station houses for these stops are located beneath the tracks at street level.
Sheepshead Bay to Brighton Beach:
The line continues south on the 1907 embankment to a bridge over Neptune Avenue. At this point the BGCEC roadbed ends, and the line used to descend to the surface on two single track concrete and steel ramps to operate on the surface to Brighton Beach. As part of the 1918–1920 Dual Contracts work, all four tracks now continue on a steel elevated structure to the junction of Coney Island and Brighton Beach Avenues, where the line turns west onto Brighton Beach Avenue and enters the Brighton Beach station.
Brighton Beach to Coney Island:
On May 30, 1919, Brighton Beach Line service was extended west to the area once known as West Brighton, now the heart of what is left of the entertainment area of Coney Island, where it occupied part of New West End Terminal, better known as the Stillwell Avenue Terminal, the structure which serves as a union terminal for the four subway lines that run to Coney Island.
On September 8, 2002 Brighton passenger service was suspended west of Brighton Beach due to the complete rebuilding of the Coney Island – Stillwell Avenue terminal station, which had deteriorated due to the effects of salt water corrosion and deferred maintenance. On May 23, 2004, one week short of the 85th anniversary of the Brighton Beach Line's original entry into Stillwell Avenue terminal, service resumed between Brighton Beach and the terminal. Travelling west from Brighton Beach station, the line operates on an unusual six track elevated structure over Brighton Beach Avenue, the former right-of-way of the Sea View Railway which originally provided service west of Brighton Beach. Only the outer two tracks are currently used for revenue service Q trains, the inner four are yard tracks. Two of the yard tracks end before Ocean Parkway station, after which the four remaining tracks merge into two to climb up and over two more tracks of the IND Culver Line (F train), which enter from the north. Both lines then share West Eighth Street – New York Aquarium station, a double-level steel structure with two tracks on each level. The Brighton trains occupy the upper level and the Culver Line trains the lower. Both lines then enter the new 8-track Stillwell Avenue terminal where the Brighton trains occupy tracks 3 and 4.
1 (BMT) and Q (NYCS)
Since 1920, the primary service on the line has been through to Manhattan rather than over the tracks now used by the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. Local service has run all the time, while express service has generally been provided during weekday rush hours and later middays. Until the 1960s, all service on the line north of Prospect Park was labeled 1. Standard local service ran through the Montague Street Tunnel and along the BMT Broadway Line local tracks; service instead crossed the Manhattan Bridge north tracks and ran express under Broadway during theatre hours (7:30 pm to midnight). Over the years, the local bridge service was expanded, and the local tunnel service ended up only from 6 am to 7 pm. Express service over the bridge to the Broadway express tracks, initially during rush hours, was also expanded to 6 am to 7 pm. The three patterns were assigned latter designations in the early 1960s: Q express via bridge, QT local via tunnel, and QB local via bridge.
The Chrystie Street Connection opened in late 1967, and almost all Brighton Line trains were removed from Broadway. The Q and QB were both combined with the D on the IND Sixth Avenue Line, running express during the day and local at other times. The daytime QT local was combined with the J and JJ to form the QJ, running through the tunnel to the BMT Nassau Street Line. The only Brighton-Broadway service was a new QB, running in the peak direction at rush hours on the local Brighton and express Broadway tracks. (Note that the old QB had run at non-peak times; this new QB had the same name and almost the same route but was a different service.)
The QJ's Brighton section was replaced with an extension of the M in 1973, but no other major changes were made until 1986, when reconstruction of the Manhattan Bridge subway tracks began. Though the same general service patterns remained on the Brighton Line, all trains were sent over the bridge and onto the Broadway or Sixth Avenue Line, depending on which set of tracks was open. From 1986 to 1988, the south side (Broadway) was in service, and the D continued to serve the line at all times, while the M was rerouted away from the Brighton Line, replaced by a greatly increased daytime Q service that absorbed the old QB as part of a 1986 elimination of double letters. For two years, the D and Q provided skip-stop service on the four-track portion of the Brighton Line during the day, Monday to Friday.
Bridge trains ran over the north side (Sixth Avenue) from 1988 to 2001; at this time, the skip-stop pattern was eliminated, and the D became a full-time local service, while the Q ran express during the day. The 2001 shifting of trains back to the south side (Broadway) led to the D only running north of Midtown Manhattan; the Brighton express portion of the D became the diamond Q. When both sides of the bridge were finally reopened in 2004, the diamond Q became an extension of the B rather than the D; the B had already run only during the day, and allowed the Q to remain a full-time local service. This Brighton-Broadway combination was made permanent, rather than a return to the pre-1986 patterns where most Brighton Line trains ran along Nassau Street or Sixth Avenue, because Brighton Line residents preferred Broadway service, and West End Line residents wanted full-time access to Grand Street on the Sixth Avenue Line.
Brighton Line Station Reconstruction Project:
On December 8, 2008, the first phase of the Brighton Line Station Reconstruction Project began. The Coney Island-bound platforms of Avenue U and Neck Road were closed for rebuilding and all southbound trains ran on the express track from Kings Highway to Sheepshead Bay. On September 14, 2009, the second phase of the project involving all stations between Kings Highway and Newkirk Plaza began, requiring all trains to run local until Fall 2011. Over the next two weeks, temporary platforms were placed on the Manhattan-bound express track at Kings Highway and Avenue J for southbound service. On September 28, the southbound platforms of Avenue H, Avenue J, Avenue M, and Kings Highway began rebuilding. South of Cortelyou Road, a single crossover connected the southbound local track with the express one and all southbound trains skipped Avenue H and Avenue M.
On January 18, 2010, Coney Island-bound service was restored at Avenue U and Neck Road. The Manhattan-bound platforms were closed for rebuilding until October 25 and all northbound trains operated on the express track from Sheepshead Bay to Kings Highway. On September 13, Coney Island-bound service to Avenue H and Avenue M was restored and the two southbound tracks south of Cortelyou Road were separated. Over the next two weeks, the temporary platforms at Avenue J and Kings Highway were moved to the southbound express track and the two northbound tracks were connected to each other north of Newkirk Plaza. On September 27, the Manhattan-bound platforms of those three stations as well as Avenues H and M, which are now being bypassed, began rehabilitation and all northbound service is on the express track until Cortelyou Road. The platforms of all stations reopened on September 12, 2011 and B express service was restored on October 3. However, rehabiliation work that did not affect service continued until the end of the year.