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With a Summer of Painful Shutdowns Looming, Can the G Train Get Back to Forest Hills?

What it will take for the the MTA's most-neglected line to finally return to glory.

2:31 PM EST on January 30, 2024

(EmperorOfNYC)

Earlier this month, the MTA announced that the G train, the sole subway line connecting western Brooklyn and Queens without a half-hour sojourn through Manhattan, would have to be shut down in segments for several weeks this summer, leaving neighborhoods like Greenpoint and parts of Williamsburg completely cut off from the subway. Business owners groaned, politicians opined about transit equity, and the MTA replied that this was all in everyone's best interest. The agency explained that the maintenance work was being done to avoid months of painful night and weekend shutdowns, and all in an effort to get the G train operating with a 21st-century signal system, which would lead to better service and fewer breakdowns than the current century-old "block" signal technology. 

Now, some local electeds are wondering if a concession can be gained from the MTA for these weeks of disruptions—and they're asking for the G train to be returned to its former glory. They want to see it lengthened from its current four cars (the shortest non-shuttle line in the system), and have its route extended from Kensington in Brooklyn back to Forest Hills in Queens, where it ran up until 2010, before both its route and length were cut back by budget cuts. 

"The G train has seen a lot of trimming to its service over the last twenty years, and that hasn't really matched the shifts we've been seeing when it comes to where people live and how people work out of the pandemic," said Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, who represents Greenpoint. 

Gallagher, along with Queens State Senator Kristin Gonzalez, sent a letter to the MTA last week, urging them to restore the train to its previous route, and to lengthen the G's train cars to the more typical eight or ten cars. Since 2010, the letter points out, the population along the G train's route has exploded, with Greenpoint and Williamsburg growing by 18 percent between 2010 and 2020 and Long Island City growing by almost 200 percent during the same time period. 

"We all miss the service that went through to Forest Hills, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be thinking bigger than just signals," Gallagher said. "Because it wasn't that long ago that they were talking about getting rid of the G train entirely." Gallagher thinks that the MTA is using faulty logic in arguing that the G's current ridership levels don't justify longer trains. "People don't ride it because it just doesn't go that far, and even right now, it's still crowded with just those four cars," she said.

In response to the letter, an MTA spokesperson told Hell Gate in a statement that the agency is "committed to delivering a world-class subway system for G train customers, including through upgrades to install modern, more reliable signals," but didn't commit to any actual service changes, saying it "appreciates the perspectives of local leaders in Brooklyn and Queens on ways to improve the transit experience.”

While the MTA might be shrugging off any service improvements following this summer's repair-related shutdown for the G train, it's not unprecedented for service to be extended following one. In fact, it's happened before, and on the subway line in question. While the MTA repaired the Culver Viaduct over the Gowanus Canal in the early 2010s, the G was extended to Church Avenue to help train traffic flow more smoothly through the bypassed stations. In 2012, when repairs were completed, this extension remained in place, and it still remains today.

There are some big roadblocks in the way of the MTA extending a full-service, 24-hour G train back to Forest Hills, explained transit researcher and graphic designer Andrew Lynch, who blogs about transit at his blog, vanshnookenraggen. Namely, money and the M train.

Lynch explained that G train service to Forest Hills was cut to just nights and weekends in 2001, when the V train (now known as the M train, and henceforth referred to solely as the M) first appeared on the crowded Queens Boulevard line (currently the E, F, M, and R trains). When the M train, which only runs into Queens during weekdays, began operating in 2001, the G train stopped running into Queens and terminated at Long Island City. Why? Because there just isn't enough space at the Forest Hills Station for the E, F, M, R, and G, with both the M and R ending their lines at Forest Hills. 

"The reason that the G train can't go any further is there are physical limitations on these tracks," Lynch explained. "At Forest Hills, all the local trains terminate on one single track, whereas in most other terminal stations, you've got two, sometimes three tracks, and there are procedures that are required for the train operators to undertake when the train is terminating."

From 2001 to 2010, the G train only ran nights and weekends from Brooklyn to Forest Hills. But after the budget cuts in 2010, that night and weekend service in Queens was removed, and it was decided that the G train would end at Long Island City. 

But Lynch sees no infrastructure-related barriers in the way for the G train to return to running on nights and weekends, especially now that installation of upgraded signal technology on the Queens Boulevard line has mostly wrapped up. "It just comes down to money," he said. 

Lynch also believes that even full-time service could ultimately be restored, if there's a will to build capacity, either through the Queenslink project (which would send the M train to the Rockaways along a currently abandoned rail line, freeing space at the Forest Hills terminal), or by building another terminal and more stations in Queens. The MTA could also just expand the Forest Hills terminal—especially now that the MTA can run trains more efficiently with new signals. And all, or any, of that will take more money. 

"We've got all this fancy new stuff, like [signals]" Lynch explained. "But we can't do anything with it unless you really make larger investments to make this actually all work for commuters."

For commuters from Brooklyn who attend evening and weekend events in Queens, like Mets games, the Queens Night Market, or concerts at Forest Hills Stadium, a one-seat ride into central Queens would save considerable time.

"Nights and weekends would be huge. That's when a lot of people are trying to get home from work, when you're trying to go see your friends, who are also not living in Manhattan," said Gallagher. "Who lives in Manhattan anymore anyway?"

(Photo credit: EmperorOfNYC)

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