125th Street (Second Avenue Subway)

Second Avenue Subway

The Second Avenue Subway (SAS) is a rapid transit subway line currently under construction underneath Second Avenue in the borough of Manhattan as part of the New York City Subway system. A dream for more than three quarters of a century, the Second Avenue Subway tunnelling contract was awarded to the consortium of Schiavone/Shea/Skanska by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on March 20, 2007. This followed preliminary engineering and a final tunnel design completed by joint venture between DMJM Harris and Arup. This contract, and the full funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration expected to follow within weeks to months, for Phase I of the project, which is an extension of the Q (Broadway Express) subway line to Second Avenue and 96th Street. A ceremonial ground-breaking for the Second Avenue Subway was held on April 12, 2007 and the contractor prepared the initial construction site at 96th Street on April 23, 2007. A Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) is on order and was expected to arrive six to eight months after construction began; meanwhile, utility relocation is in progress.

As a consequence of the many "false starts", the SAS is often cited as an egregious example of bureaucratic red tape and governmental ineptitude. However, the reasons for its delay are numerous and complex. The line is sometimes referred to as "The Line That Time Forgot".


Originally proposed in 1929 as part of a massive expansion of the Independent Subway System (IND), work on the line never commenced, as the Great Depression crushed the economy of the state and country. Need for the Second Avenue Subway line has grown, especially in recent years, as the East Side of Manhattan has experienced significant residential development. Currently, the lone rapid transit option on the Upper East Side is the four-track IRT Lexington Avenue Line, the most crowded in the country. Its average of 1.3 million daily riders on this single line exceeds the daily traffic load of the entire Washington Metro system, and exceeds the combined daily ridership of the rail transit systems of San Francisco, Chicago and Boston (FEIS, p. 1–5 and 1-6). Local bus routes are just as crowded during various times of the day. The SAS would add another two tracks to fill the gap that has existed since the elevated IRT Second Avenue Line was demolished in 1940-42 and IRT Third Avenue Line was removed in 1955-56.

The city started planning, in 1945, again to build the new subway and bought a prototype train (the R11) in 1949 for use on the new line. New York voters approved bond acts for its construction in 1951 and in 1967. Money from the 1951 bond measure was diverted to buy new cars, lengthen platforms and maintain other parts of the aging New York City subway system. The proceeds of the 1967 bond act were partly used to begin tunneling under Second Avenue. Digging began in 1972; however, a few years later, the city became insolvent. "It's the most famous thing that's never been built in New York City, so everyone is skeptical and rightly so," said Gene Russianoff, an advocate for subway riders since 1981. "It's much-promised and never delivered."

On November 8, 2005, voters in New York State passed the Transportation Bond Act, which will, among other projects, partially fund construction of the line. Its passage had been seen as critical to its construction. After warning that failure to pass the act would doom the project, MTA chairman Peter S. Kalikow stated that "Now it's up to us to complete the job" given its approval by a 55-45% margin.

In August 2006, the MTA revealed that all future subway stations, including ones built for the Second Avenue subway, the No. 7 line extension, and the new South Ferry station will be outfitted with special air-cooling systems to reduce the temperature along platforms.

In November 2007, Mary Peters, the United States Secretary of Transportation announced that the Second Avenue Subway would receive $1.3 billion in federal funding for the project's first phase, to be doled out over a seven-year period.


The need for a subway line under Manhattan's Second Avenue was realized shortly after the First World War. In 1919, New York's Public Service Commission launched a study at the behest of engineer Daniel L. Turner to determine what improvements were needed in the city's public transport system. The Second Avenue Elevated operated above Second Avenue north of the Queensboro Bridge until 1940 and south to downtown until 1942, and the Third Avenue Elevated operated a block to the west until 1955.

Turner's final paper, titled Proposed Comprehensive Rapid Transit System, was a massive plan calling for new routes under almost every north-south Manhattan avenue, extensions to lines in Brooklyn and Queens, and several crossings of The Narrows to Staten Island. Massively scaled-down versions of some of Turner's plans were found in proposals for the new city-owned Independent Subway System (IND). Among the plans was a massive trunk line under Second Avenue consisting of at least six tracks and numerous branches throughout Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

In 1929, the Board of Transportation of the City of New York tentatively approved the expansion, which included a Second Avenue Line with a projected construction cost of $98,900,000, not counting land acquisition. From north to south, the 1929 plan included four tracks from the Harlem River (where it would continue north as a Bronx trunk line with several branches) to 125th Street, six tracks from 125th Street to a link with the IND Sixth Avenue Line at 61st Street, four tracks from 61st Street to Chambers Street, and two tracks from Chambers Street to Pine Street.

Due to the Great Depression, the soaring costs of the expansion became unmanageable. Construction on the first phase of the IND was already behind schedule, and the city and state were no longer able to provide funding. A scaled down proposal including a turnoff at 34th Street and a connection crosstown was postponed in 1931.

Further revision of the plan and more studies followed. By 1939, construction had been postponed indefinitely, and Second Avenue was relegated to "proposed" status. The 1939 plan for subway expansion took the line not only into the Bronx (by now as a single line to Throgs Neck) but also south into Brooklyn, connecting to the stub of the IND Fulton Street Line at Court Street.

The United States' entry into World War II in 1941 halted all but the most urgent public works projects, delaying the Second Avenue Line once again.


Finally, in 1945, plans for the Second Avenue Subway were again revised. The southern two-track portion was abandoned as a possible future plan for connecting the line to Brooklyn. By 1950, the plans called for a connection from Second Avenue at 76th Street to 34th Avenue in Queens, via a new tunnel under the East River. The city was able to raise money for the construction effort — just barely — but the onset of the Korean War caused soaring prices for construction materials and saw the beginning of massive inflation.

A 1947 plan once again connected the Second Avenue Line to Brooklyn, but via the BMT trackage over the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. A connection would allow trains from these bridges to go onto the IND Sixth Avenue Line rather than the Second Avenue Line. Other connections to the Second Avenue Line were to be provided at 57th Street, via a line connecting to the Sixth Avenue Line; two express tracks would be built along that line north of West Fourth Street. The IRT Pelham Line would be switched to the combined IND/BMT division (this plan also includes other connections, which have been built), and connected to the Second Avenue Line. The Second Avenue Line would end just north of that connection, at 149th Street, with transfers to the IRT White Plains Road Line and the elevated IRT Third Avenue Line, the latter of which would be demolished south of 149th.

In 1949, the New York Board of Transportation accepted delivery of ten new prototype subway cars made of stainless steel from the Budd Company, named by their contract, R11, specifically intended for the Second Avenue Subway. They cost $100,000 each; the train became known as the "million dollar train". The cars featured porthole style round windows and a new public-address system. Reflecting public health concerns of the day, especially regarding polio, the R-11 cars were equipped with electrostatic air filters and ultraviolet lamps in their ventilation systems to kill germs.

A 1954 plan added another feeder, an East River tunnel at 76th Street, connecting existing Long Island Rail Road trackage (which would be converted for subway use) to the Second Avenue Line towards downtown. This plan has been revitalized as part of the 2005 Transportation Bond Act, which would connect the LIRR trackage to Grand Central Terminal via the 63rd Street Tunnel as part of the East Side Access project.

The southernmost part of the 1947 plan, connecting the two BMT bridges to the IND Sixth Avenue Line, was built in the 1960s and opened in 1967 as the Chrystie Street Connection. Other parts of that plan were carried out, including the connection at 57th Street (moved to 63rd Street) and the abandonment of the IRT Third Avenue Line south of 149th Street, but the rest of the Second Avenue Line was not built. Plans now call for an additional two tracks in the Chrystie Street area for the Second Avenue mainline; current plans have the new tracks under the old ones, while older plans had one track on each side of the Chrystie Street Connection.

1970s: Completed segments

In 1964, Congress passed the Urban Mass Transportation Act, promising federal money to fund mass transit projects in America's cities via the Urban Mass Transportation Administration. In 1967, voters approved a massive $2.5 billion Transportation Bond Issue, which provided over $600 million for New York City projects. The Second Avenue project was given top priority, and would stretch from 34th Street to The Bronx. The City secured a UMTA grant for initial construction, and a groundbreaking ceremony was held on October 27, 1972. Construction began shortly thereafter at 2nd Avenue and 113th Street.

However, the city soon experienced its most dire fiscal crisis yet. The stagnant economy of 1975, combined with the massive outflow of city residents to the suburbs, led to a fiscal disaster for the city. Construction of the subway was halted, with only three sections of tunnel having been completed, in addition to the Chrystie Street Connection. These sections are between Pell and Canal Street, 99th and 105th, and 110th and 120th Streets. The two northern sections between 99th and 105th, and 110th and 120th Streets, will be used in Phase 2 of the current SAS plan (96th to 125th). The section from Pell to Canal will not be used under the current preferred alternative, which will bring the line a few blocks away from this section. Construction was also begun between 2nd and 9th Streets, though the extent is unknown; some rumors say that only utilities were relocated, while others say that it was excavated but filled back in.

1990s and Beyond

With the city's economic and budgetary recovery in the 1990s, efforts revived to complete construction of the SAS. Rising ridership on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line, the only subway trunk line east of Central Park in Manhattan, demonstrated the need for the Second Avenue Line as capacity and safety concerns rose. The MTA's final environmental impact statement was approved in April 2004; the latest proposal is for a two-track line from 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Harlem, down Second Avenue to Hanover Square in the Financial District. The new subway line will actually carry two services. The full length Second Avenue line, extending from Harlem to the financial district, probably will be given the letter designation. However, it is the other service, a proposed extension of the Q train, which will begin carrying passengers first.

The MTA proposes to build the Second Avenue Subway in four segments with connections to other subway lines. The first segment (phase 1) is a proposed extension of the Q train, BMT Broadway Line across 63rd Street and north along Second Avenue to the Upper East Side at 96th Street. The other three segments, in the order that they are proposed to be built, are an extension of the Q train to 125th Street from 96th Street (phase 2), 63rd Street to Houston Street (phase 3, introduction of the T line) and Houston Street to Hanover Square, Manhattan (phase 4, full length T line service).

New York voters passed a transportation bond issue in November 2005, hence state funding is now in place for phase 1; the first construction contract of the current plan finally signed, the MTA is expected to receive a full funding agreement from the Federal Government to complete phase 1. The general consensus is that phase 2 will also be built, especially since it will take advantage of 15 blocks of subway tunnels that were built in the 1970s north of 99th Street that have been maintained by the MTA.

The lower Manhattan segments are less certain, but population pressures might force them to be built as well, especially if phases 1 and 2 are built without too many problems. The East Side Access project, which will bring thousands of Long Island Rail Road commuters into Grand Central Terminal by 2013, will increase the ridership on the overburdened Lexington Avenue Line and is certain to further the lower portion of the Second Avenue Line project (phases 3 and 4) for East Side subway service.

The subway will be built with deep bore tunneling methods, avoiding the cumbersome utility relocation and cut-and-cover methods of past generations that made subway building disruptive for traffic, pedestrians and store owners. Only the stations will use cut-and-cover construction. Efforts are underway to minimize the impacts of this construction.

Construction began with utility relocation; MTA anticipated completing this step in six to eight months, but it is not quite yet finished 14 months after commencement. For boring, a trench will be dug from 96th to 93rd St; the tunnel boring machine will be placed in the ground at 92nd Street and will bore southbound, connecting shafts at 86th St and 72nd St, which to be sunk as starting points for subway stations. Tunnelling is expected to take about a year. As of June 2008, substantial portions of the utility relocation work between 91 St and 96 St were accomplished. MTA provides a construction progress webpage at http://www.mta.info/capconstr/sas/construction.htm.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced on December 18, 2006 they would allow the MTA to commit up to $693 million in funds to begin construction of the Second Avenue Subway Line and that the federal share of such costs would be reimbursed with FTA transit funds, subject to appropriations and final labor certification.

In late January 2007, New York media reported, with some inaccuracies, that a $333 million contract would be awarded within weeks to three American firms to build Phase One. The actual price was $337 million; the TBM will begin at 92nd St, not 96th St as reported. The station site at 96th St will see cut and cover construction.

Groundbreaking for the 2nd Avenue subway construction project was on April 12, 2007, in a tunnel segment built in the 1970s at 99th Street. The MTA reported that the 1970s 2nd Avenue subway tunnel (which will be part of Phase I and Phase II) is in pristine condition.

In June 2008, MTA, facing huge increases in the costs of construction materials and diesel fuel (used to power construction equipment) affecting the prices of contracts not yet signed, announced that certain features of the Second Avenue Subway would be simplified to save money. One set of changes, which significantly reduces the footprint of the subway in the vicinity of 72nd Street is the alteration of the 72nd Street Station from a three-track, two-platform design to a two-track, single island platform design, paired with the elimination of the third track and simplification of the planned interlocking merging the BMT Broadway Line's Second Av extension and the planned T subway, extending south of 63rd Street along Second Avenue. Supplemtal environmental impact studies covering station configuration options for the proposed 72nd Street and 86th Street stations are underway.

The MTA is investigating the feasibility of making the Second Avenue line the first line in New York City (excluding the non-MTA JFK Airtrain) to feature Platform screen doors. This will prevent track fires and accidents. However, since the rolling stock is not fit to use ATO, they are still designing a system so that human driven trains will align with the doors when stopping at a station.

Planned construction methods

Streets Construction method Streets Construction method Streets Construction method Streets Construction method Streets Construction method
120–125 Cut and Cover 98–106 Existing 71–73 Mined with Cut and Cover 34–41 Tunnel Boring Machine 13–15 Cut and Cover
117–120 Existing 95–98 Cut and Cover 58–71 Tunnel Boring Machine 32–34 Cut and Cover
114–117 Cut and Cover 87–95 Tunnel Boring Machine 56–58 Cut and Cover 24–34 Tunnel Boring Machine
109–114 Existing 84–87 Mined with Cut and Cover 43–56 Tunnel Boring Machine 22–24 Mined with Cut and Cover
106–109 Cut and Cover 73–84 Tunnel Boring Machine 41–43 Mined with Cut and Cover 15–22 Tunnel Boring Machine

Planned SAS route/stations

The plans for the Second Avenue Subway involve digging 8.5 miles of new track from 125th Street in Harlem south to Hanover Square in the Financial District. Initially, during Phase I, the line will begin at the intersection of Second Avenue and 96th Street, running south to join the BMT Broadway Line via the existing BMT 63rd Street Line. Phase I stations will be located at 96th Street, 86th Street and 72nd Street. It is anticipated that the service will be extended from its current terminus at 57th Street–Seventh Avenue to 96th Street, and then in Phase II to 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. After Phase III, the new service will operate from 125th Street to Houston Street. After Phase IV the service will run the full length of the line, from 125th Street to Hanover Square.

The new stations of the completed Second Avenue Line are proposed as follows:

Station Phase Possible transfers & notes
Northern terminal station for (Phase 2) and (Phase 3) services
125th Street 2 (IRT Lexington Avenue Line)
connection to Harlem–125th Street (Metro–North Railroad)
at Lexington Avenue and 125th Street
116th Street 2
106th Street 2
96th Street 1 Northern terminal station for in Phase 1
86th Street 1
72nd Street 1
splits to BMT Broadway Line via BMT 63rd Street Line (Phase 1); continues down Second Avenue (Phase 3)
55th Street 3 (IND Queens Boulevard Line)
(IRT Lexington Avenue Line)
42nd Street 3 (IRT Flushing Line)
(IRT 42nd Street Shuttle)
(IRT Lexington Avenue Line)
connection to Grand Central Terminal (Metro–North Railroad)
34th Street 3
23rd Street 3
14th Street 3 (BMT Canarsie Line) at Third Avenue station
Houston Street 3 (IND Sixth Avenue Line) at Lower East Side–Second Avenue station
Grand Street 4 (IND Sixth Avenue Line) below existing Grand Street station
Chatham Square 4 at Worth Street
Seaport 4 at Fulton Street
Hanover Square 4 at Old Slip

The above stations will serve the Second Avenue main service, terminating at 125th Street and at Hanover Square. In addition to the main service, tentatively dubbed the , and colored light blue, a connection is planned to the BMT Broadway Line, utilizing an existing connection via the BMT 63rd Street Line, as part of phase 1. It is likely that the service will be extended northward from 57th Street–Seventh Avenue, curving east under Central Park on the unused portion of the BMT 63rd Street Line. The train would stop at Lexington Avenue–63rd Street with a cross-platform transfer to the IND 63rd Street Line before merging with the Second Avenue Line at 64th Street. Thus, residents of Spanish Harlem and the Upper East Side will have direct mass transit service down Second Avenue to the Financial District as well as direct service down Broadway to the Financial District and across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn.

An additional two-track connection is planned between the line towards Lower Manhattan (around 62nd Street) and the IND 63rd Street Line towards Queens; current plans don't call for it to be used by regular service. Provisions are also being made for an extension north under Second Avenue past 125th Street to the Bronx, and an extension south to Brooklyn. No track connection will be provided to the Chrystie Street Connection.

Just north of Broome Street, the subway will pass under a short unused highway tunnel, the only part of the Lower Manhattan Expressway to be built.

Construction status

With funding now in place, ground-breaking for the first phase of the subway was held on April 12, 2007.

Expected construction dates:

  • 2007-2015: Phase 1 (96th St. to 63rd St.) State Funding In-Place, Federal Funding Approved. A $333 million contract was awarded on March 22, 2007 to three American firms to build the first portion of Phase 1. Construction work began on 2nd Avenue between 91st and 96th Streets on April 23, 2007 (though the ceremonial groundbreaking was held on April 12, 2007). In its 2008 capital improvement budget proposal, the MTA pushed back completion of Phase I from 2014 to 2015.
  • 2014-2017: Phase 2 (125th St. to 96th St.) Engineering ongoing. No funding commitments. As of February 25, 2008, the MTA's unapproved capital improvement budget proposal sought to fund commencement of Phase II.
  • 2015-2018: Phase 3 (63rd St. to Houston St.) Engineering ongoing. No funding commitments.
  • 2017-2020: Phase 4 (Houston St. to Hanover Sqr.) Engineering ongoing. No funding commitments.

See also



MTA Second Avenue Subway Project Resources

External links


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