The following services use the 63rd Street Lines:
The IND line begins as a continuation of the IND Sixth Avenue Line at 57th Street station. It runs under Sixth Avenue and Central Park, turning east under 63rd Street and running through the 63rd Street Tunnel under the East River, with a station on Roosevelt Island and at 21st Street under 41st Avenue in Queens. At its eastern end, the line merges with the IND Queens Boulevard Line under Northern Boulevard, west of 36th Street station. This line is coded as new chaining route "T" (T1, southbound and T2, northbound). Beneath the subway tunnel is a second level, currently unused; it is reserved for the Long Island Rail Road's new East Side Access service to Grand Central Terminal, which is expected to commence operations by 2022.
The BMT line begins as a continuation of the express tracks of the BMT Broadway Line at 57th Street-Seventh Avenue station, running under Seventh Avenue, Central Park and 63rd Street before turning north onto Second Avenue and merging with the IND Second Avenue Line. The tracks on this line are coded as BMT chaining, tracks G3 and G4 to distinguish them from the pre-existing G1 and G2 tracks associated with the 60th Street Tunnel and Astoria Line.
Just west of Lexington Avenue-63rd Street station, two diamond crossover tracks allow trains to switch between the two lines. This connection, not used in passenger service, allows trains to run from the Broadway Line to the Queens Boulevard Line and from the Sixth Avenue Line to the Second Avenue Line, or from the Queens Boulevard Line to the Second Avenue Line by reversing direction.
The first segments of the two lines opened on October 29, 1989; the IND line opened between 57th Street and 21st Street–Queensbridge, and the BMT line opened between 57th Street-Seventh Avenue and Lexington Avenue-63rd Street. The BMT 63rd Street Line was not used for passenger service. The IND Line was usually served by B and Q trains; during this time, Q trains ran on the IND Sixth Avenue Line due to reconstruction of the Manhattan Bridge. Q trains served the IND Line weekdays until 9:30 PM, while B trains typically served the line late evenings, and weekends; F trains served the line during late nights until 1997. The JFK Express also served the IND Line very briefly, as the service was discontinued on April 15, 1990. From April to November 1995, as part of the Manhattan Bridge reconstruction, the bridge's north side (Sixth Avenue) tracks closed during middays and weekends; the Q ran on the BMT Broadway Line during these times, using the BMT 63rd Street Line and switching to the IND 63rd Street Line to Queens west of Lexington Avenue station.
In May 1997, 63rd Street Shuttle service via the IND Sixth Avenue Line replaced F service during late nights. Between February 22, 1998 and May 22, 1999, service between the Sixth Avenue Line and the 63rd Street Line was suspended because of construction on the IND Line. B and Q trains were cut back to 57th Street, and the late night shuttle suspended. During this time, a different shuttle provided full-time service between 21st Street - Queensbridge and the BMT Broadway Line; like in 1995, this shuttle switched between the IND and BMT Lines west of Lexington Avenue station. On May 22, 1999, the B and Q returned to 21st Street - Queensbridge.
On July 22, 2001, the north side (Sixth Avenue Line) tracks of the Manhattan Bridge closed; B and Q service on the IND line was replaced with a full-time shuttle via the Sixth Avenue Line. On December 16, 2001, the 63rd Street Connector to the IND Queens Boulevard Line officially opened, and the F was rerouted to serve the IND Line at all times, replacing the shuttle and assuming its current service pattern.
On January 1, 2017, the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway opened, extending the Q, (now running via the BMT Broadway Line) and some rush-hour N short turn trips, along the BMT 63rd Street Line, turning north to connect to the IND Second Avenue Line to 96th Street.
Before the Second Avenue Subway opened in 2017, the BMT line was generally not used for passenger service, except for detours due to emergencies or construction on other lines (including the aforementioned periods in 1995 and 1998). Because the line was not used in regular service from 1989 to 2016, it was not shown on the official subway map, except in 1995 and 1998. Prior to 2011, these tracks were often used to store trainsets outside of rush hour.
In February 1963, the Transit Authority proposed a two-track East River subway tunnel under 76th Street with unspecified connections to the rest of the transit network, at a cost of $139 million. In a May 2, 1963 report, the proposed site of the tunnel was switched to 59th Street. On May 24, Mayor Wagner suggested that a tunnel around 61st Street "be built with all deliberate speed." On October 17, 1963, the Board of Estimate approved a new East River tunnel sited at 64th Street, noting that it would cost $30 million and take seven years to build. The 64th Street site was said to be $5.3 million less expensive, "because of easier grades and smaller curves."
The lack of specificity about how the tunnel would be used was criticized at an early date. In December 1964, the Citizens Budget Committee said that the project (now shifted to a 63rd Street site) was "leading nowhere-to-nowhere." The Committee went on to propose three connections that were eventually adopted (to the BMT Broadway Line and IND Sixth Avenue Line, both at 57th Street, to the IND Queens Boulevard Line at Queens Plaza), and one that wasn't (to the IRT Lexington Avenue Line).
The route was changed to 63rd Street because officials of the Rockefeller Institute at 64th Street feared that heavy construction and later train movements so close to the Institute's buildings might have adversely affected delicate instruments at the Institute and change the accuracy of the research being conducted.
The Board of Estimate approved the revised 63rd Street route on January 14, 1965, at a budget of $28.1 million and a four-year timetable, with the connections to the rest of the transit network awaiting a study that was then scheduled for completion in mid-1966. The Times noted that "A variety of possible connections...are under study," including possible new lines under Madison and Second Avenues. The Transit Authority's chairman, Joseph E. O'Grady, said that the tunnel and the subway connections would eventually be completed at about the same time, "since construction of the tunnel takes at least a year longer than the connections." In 1966, Mayor John Lindsay gave his approval for the 63rd Street option, preferring it over the 61st Street option. Lindsay's administration proposed a new station at 63rd Street to connect with the Lexington Avenue/59th Street station via an underground arcade surrounded by retail areas. However, some groups opposed the plan, instead preferring a 61st Street routing for easier interchange with the Lexington Avenue/59th Street station. Other groups supported the 63rd Street proposal, though, saying that such a connection would worsen congestion on the already busy IRT Lexington Avenue Line.
In November 1967, voters approved a $2.5 billion transportation bond issue, and in early 1968, under the Program for Action, officials provided detailed plans for how it would be used. Among many other projects, the proposal included:Three portions of a new 63rd Street–Southeast Queens line. This included a bi-level 63rd Street tunnel for both subway and Long Island Rail Road service; a super-express bypass for the IND Queens Boulevard Line running along the LIRR Main Line between Northern Boulevard and Forest Hills–71st Avenue; and an IND Queens Boulevard branch line running along the LIRR Atlantic Branch right-of-way.
A new Long Island Expressway line for northeastern Queens, running to Queens College and Kissena Boulevard with a later extension to Springfield Boulevard
A new Archer Avenue subway line for eastern Queens, running to 188th Street in Hollis
A Second Avenue Subway line, with multiple connections to the 63rd Street line
This proposal, with some modifications, received approval from the Board of Estimate on September 21, 1968.
Plans for the 63rd Street Line were approved by the New York City Board of Estimate on June 3, 1969. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the line took place on November 24, 1969 at Vernon Boulevard and 21st Street in Queensbridge Park, Long Island City, with tunneling westward in Queens, as well as in both directions under Welfare Island (now called Roosevelt Island). The first of four sections of the tunnel under the East River was lowered into place on August 29, 1971. The double-deck, 3,140-foot (960 m) tunnel under the East River was holed through on October 10, 1972. The East River tunnel was completed in 1973, and outfitting for the new lines that were to run through it was to begin in early 1974. Work on the segment of the line that ran under Central Park was started in 1971 and was completed in 1973. Construction on the section between 5th Avenue and Park Avenue began in August 1974.
On March 20, 1975, New York mayor Abraham Beame announced significant cutbacks to the plan. Construction of the Southeastern Queens extension was "delayed to 1981", and the Long Island Rail Road extension through the lower level of the 63rd Street tunnel was "indefinite[ly] shelved." However, it was still anticipated that the Queens Boulevard super-express and the Archer Avenue Line up to Parsons/Archer would still be completed. (The Second Avenue Subway had been dropped the previous December.) The Queens project, although curtailed, was given priority because it was "more advanced in construction."
By the summer of 1976, the Transit Authority would announce that "it will take an extra five or six years—until 1987 or 1988—to complete the new Manhattan–Queens trunk subway line from Central Park to Jamaica via the new 63rd Street tunnel." The main cause of the delay was the 5.8-mile "super express", although it was expected that the three new Archer Avenue line stations could be ready sooner. As an interim measure, the authority proposed a new station at Northern Boulevard, adjacent to the Queens Plaza, possibly opened by 1983 or 1984.
The Manhattan portion of the line was completed in 1976. The Times noted:
Underneath Central Park lie two eerily quiet sets of tracks. They have advanced equipment – welded tracks, fluorescent lighting and rubber-based pads under the rail – that have not yet been installed on most of the system's 230 operating miles.
These tunnels were finished in 1976. This year, the contractor will tear down his two-story office in Central Park, remove the fence near Fifth Avenue and restore foliage and the bird house he damaged, at a cost of $300,000.
By 1981, five years after completion of the tunnel, the Transit Authority expects to put it to use; its brand new quiet tracks will be used as a storage yard for out-of-service trains.
The Zoo York Wall was a graffiti wall within the line's length through Central Park, where subway writers and other street artists "made their marks" in the early 1970s. It was a temporary wall, erected in 1971 by the New York City Transit Authority to block unauthorized entry into the site of the 63rd Street Line running underneath the Central Park Zoo. Its name originates from the 63rd Street Tunnel (which it was supposed to guard), then called the "Zoo York Tunnel". During the tunnel's construction (1971–1973), the tunnel provided a subterranean gathering place for very early subway artists who hung around together in Central Park, and was named Zoo York by ALI, founder of the SOUL ARTISTS graffiti crew. The name came about because it was in a zoo in New York, hence "Zoo York".
Armored with polished aluminium in the futile hope of resisting spray-paint and permanent marker ink, the wall did little to dissuade teenage graffiti writers from climbing over and descending into the tunnel during its construction. Graffiti artists also marked their territory by "tagging" the wall which had been put up around the construction site. Upon completion of the subway project in 1973, the "Zoo York Wall" was torn down.
The name came about because the Central Park Zoo at that time was a classical 19th-century menagerie, populated by wild animals displayed in open-air cages, who paced the bars back and forth neurotically—always hoping for an escape, yet paradoxically blind to the world beyond their cramped quarters. ALI noted that by contrast, here were these feral teenagers, himself included, living in a free society, who sought nothing more wholeheartedly than to crowd together in a deep, dark hole in the ground. Marvelling at their perverse urban psychologies, ALI decided that all city people were insane for seeking imprisonment in tiny apartments, offices, subway cars and the like, and declared that New York City itself was "not New, but a Zoo!" He named the tunnel itself "Zoo York".
In May 1978, the Times noted, "What started out a few years ago as 40 miles of new subway routes to serve the long-suffering residents of Queens has been whittled down to 15 miles, is years behind schedule, and will cost more than twice as much as originally estimated....The line costs $100,000 a foot, will be very short and will serve only a modest number of riders." The article now noted that the Queens super-express had been deferred "to 1988 at the earliest", and the only sections in progress were the 63rd Street Line to Northern Boulevard, and "a small piece along Archer Avenue." The 63rd Street Line's opening date was projected for 1985. The plan depended on the idea that Queens Boulevard riders would be willing to exit the subway at Queens Plaza and walk a city block to a new station at Northern Boulevard to continue their trip. The transit authority projected that this transfer would draw 11,000 passengers a day.
By October 1980, officials considered stopping both projects and spending the money on maintaining the existing system. By then, the Archer Avenue project was projected for completion in 1984, and the 63rd Street line in 1985. The Times noted that the lower level of the 63rd Street tunnel was still under construction, even though "officials knew that the tunnel would never be used." Richard Ravitch, the MTA chairman, said that to stop the work was impossible or so costly as to make it impractical subsequent to the construction of the subway portion." It "had to be finished – largely for structural reasons – to support the subway tunnel above." It was described as a "tunnel to nowhere."
In the spring of 1983, the MTA took a fresh look at the tunnel, considering every possibility between leaving it as-is (with its terminus in Long Island City), to the original 1960s plan, the cost of which was now estimated at $1 billion. Without some kind of connection to the rest of the Queens subway network, the line was expected to attract just 220 passengers per hour during the morning rush.
The plan eventually adopted was the least expensive (other than doing nothing) – to connect the tunnel to the tracks of the IND Queens Boulevard Line, at a cost of $222 million, and a timetable of at least eight years. It was estimated that the project would attract 16,500 passengers per hour. The MTA board approved this plan on December 14, 1984. The section of the line up to Long Island City was projected to open by the end of 1985.
By June 1985, the project was delayed again:
The 63d Street subway tunnel, which has been under construction for 14 years and was scheduled to open later this year, has serious flaws and will not open on time, transit officials said yesterday.
Some parts of the tunnel, which links Manhattan and Queens, are flooded with six feet of water, officials said. In other areas, girders are rusting and electrical equipment has corroded.
The officials would not predict publicly when the $600 million structure might be opened or how much the repairs would cost.
Two contractors were hired to assess the structural integrity of the tunnel, and the delay was estimated at two years. In August 1985, the federal government—at the instigation of Senator Alphonse D'Amato—suspended funding on both the 63rd Street and Archer Avenue projects—over "concerns with the construction management practices." The two projects had cost $1 billion between them, of which the federal government had provided $530 million for 63rd Street and $295 million for Archer Avenue.
By the end of 1985, the 63rd Street Line's eastern Queens extension was no longer being planned. At 21st Street–Queensbridge, usage estimates for that station in 1984 were 220 passengers per hour. The MTA was studying four options for making this line more useful:
- The Queens Express Bypass: extending the line along the LIRR Main Line to Forest Hills–71st Avenue. It would be completed in 1998 and cost $931 million. This was the original plan for this line proposed in the 1968 Program for Action. This was also the only option that the MTA felt that would add passenger and train capacity to the E and F express services. At a proposed station at Northern Boulevard, a transfer concourse to Queens Plaza would have allowed transfers between local, express, and bypass trains.
- Feeding the line into the IND Queens Boulevard Line's local tracks under Northern Boulevard. This alternative would be completed the earliest, by 1993, ran the shortest distance (1,500 feet between 29th Street and Northern Boulevard), and was the cheapest, at a cost of $222 million. However, some pointed out that the E and F services in Queens, the most crowded in the system, would not see any added capacity from such a connection, while the 63rd Street line would run at only 1⁄3 of its total capacity, in addition to reducing the viability of future extensions to the line. It would also require the G service to terminate at Court Square instead of operating local on the Queens Boulevard Line. An option similar to this was ultimately chosen, and the F was rerouted through the line to reduce congestion, with G service eliminated north of Court Square (see below).
- Extending the line through the Sunnyside Yard and onto the LIRR Montauk Branch, running directly to the lower level of the Archer Avenue Line in Jamaica. The Montauk Branch in Queens is currently used for freight service, last seeing passenger service in 1998, and would have been rebuilt and electrified. The Montauk line would merge with the BMT Jamaica elevated at Lefferts Boulevard just west of 121st Street, using the BMT approach to the Archer Avenue subway. The Jamaica El would be truncated to Crescent Street in Brooklyn and replaced by bus service. New stations would be built at Thomson Avenue within the Sunnyside Yard, and at Fresh Pond Road (the site of the former Fresh Pond station) and Woodhaven Boulevard (at the former Ridgewood station site) along the Montauk Branch. The now-closed Richmond Hill station on the Montauk Branch would be renovated and lengthened for subway service. The LIRR would have exclusive use of the tracks during overnight hours for freight service. This $594 million option would be open by 1997, but people living around the Montauk Branch opposed the proposal due to fears of increased traffic and danger from the Montauk Branch's multiple grade crossings, though plans called for new overpasses and access roads to eliminate these crossings.
- Extending the line to a new subway/LIRR terminal at Thomson Avenue within the Sunnyside Yard, with a walking transfer to the Queens Plaza station, and a transfer to a new LIRR route that would go to Rosedale and Queens Village via the Montauk Branch. The LIRR would be rebuilt, grade-separated, and electrified. The Richmond Hill station would be renovated for additional LIRR service, while the Hollis and Queens Village stations would be converted from side platform stations to island platform configurations. This $488 million option, to be completed by 1995, was also opposed by people living along the Montauk Branch.
By 1987, the MTA's contractors had concluded that the tunnel was structurally sound, although federal funding had not yet been released. On February 6, 1987, the MTA approved a new plan to have the tunnel open by October 1989. The agency also proposed a $550 million, 1,500-foot connector to both the express and local tracks of the IND Queens Boulevard Line. Under the plan, the Queens Boulevard Line would be "reverse-signaled", which would accommodate Manhattan-bound trains on three out of the line's four tracks in the morning rush, and the opposite for the evening rush. This part of the plan was not projected to begin before the 1990s.
In June 1987, the federal government completed its own review of the project. "A little light appeared at the end of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's 63rd Street "tunnel to nowhere" last week", the Times reported, as the government's own inspector found the tunnel sound, and released the final installment of $60 million for both the 63rd Street and Archer Avenue projects.
The first train to use the extension was the "rail polisher train", a non-revenue move that occurred on August 1, 1989.
A month shy of twenty years after construction began, both lines went into service on October 29, 1989, after an expenditure of $898 million, with new stations at Lexington Avenue, Roosevelt Island, and 21st Street at 41st Avenue in Queens. The IND line was served by Q trains on weekdays and B trains on weekends. The 1,500-foot connector to the Queens Boulevard Line had not yet started construction. The BMT line was not in use at that time. It was built for future service options, including a connection to the Second Avenue Subway for service from the Upper East Side to Lower Manhattan.
From May to November 1995, the north side of the Manhattan Bridge was closed for reconstruction during middays and weekends and the Q train was routed via Broadway at this time. It used the BMT 63rd Street Line to connect to the IND 63rd Street Line and serve Lexington Avenue, Roosevelt Island, and 21st Street–Queensbridge stations. During reconstruction on the IND side of the line from February 1998 to May 1999, 63rd Street Shuttle trains operated via this line between 21st Street–Queensbridge and 57th Street–Seventh Avenue, later running further to 34th Street–Herald Square. The 1998–1999 reconstructions were to replace the tracks, which had become deteriorated after eight years of use due to a flaw in the railway ties; namely, an "innovative" design of "shallow epoxy-and-sand pads" had weakened the base of the rails.
Planning for the connection to the IND Queens Boulevard Line began in December 1990, with the final design contract awarded in December 1992. Construction began on September 22, 1994. The remaining section from 21st Street to the Queens Boulevard Line cost $645 million. In December 2000, the 63rd Street Connector was opened for construction reroutes. The Connector came into regular use on December 16, 2001 with the rerouting of F service at all times to 63rd Street. The construction project also extended the lower level LIRR tunnel and involved a number of other elements, including the integration of ventilation plants, lowering a sewer siphon 50 feet, rehabilitation of elements of the existing line, mitigating ground water, diverting trains which continued to run through the project area and widening of the entry point to the Queens Boulevard Line to six tracks. This new tunnel connection allowed rerouting the Queens Boulevard Line F trains via the 63rd Street Tunnel, which increased capacity on the heavily-travelled Queens Boulevard Line. It also allowed a new local service, the V train, to run along the Sixth Avenue and Queens Boulevard lines; this service has since been discontinued and replaced with an extension of the M train.
The 63rd Street Lines were envisioned to connect the Second Avenue Subway to the BMT Broadway Line, the IND Sixth Avenue Line, and Queens. The BMT 63rd Street Line would directly connect the upper Second Avenue Line to the Broadway Line. Construction on the IND Second Avenue Line began in 1972, but was halted in 1975 due to the city's severe fiscal crisis. As a result, the BMT 63rd Street Line was not finished and instead ended abruptly at Lexington Avenue-63rd Street station. In 2007, construction on the Second Avenue line recommenced and in 2011, construction started at Lexington Avenue-63rd Street to expand and renovate the station, and to complete the connection to the Second Avenue Line. This renovation removed the walls on the platforms and opened new entrances on the Third Avenue side of the station. The tunnel boring machine being used to create the tunnels for the first phase of Second Avenue Line broke through the wall into the lower level of the BMT 63rd Street Line on September 22, 2011.
On January 1, 2017, the first phase of the Second Avenue Line opened, extending the Q and N services under Central Park and eastward to the stop at Lexington Avenue–63rd Street before turning north at Second Avenue to merge with the Second Avenue Line. This created direct service between the Upper East Side and the existing BMT Broadway Line. The double-decked Lexington Avenue–63rd Street station provides cross-platform interchange between the two 63rd Street lines. Northbound trains use the lower level; southbound trains use the upper level.
The third phase of Second Avenue Line construction, not currently funded, is proposed to include a separate connection between the IND 63rd Street Line and the Second Avenue Line, turning southwest from 63rd Street onto Second Avenue. This connection would allow trains coming from the IND Queens Boulevard Line to run on the Second Avenue Line to Midtown Manhattan and Lower Manhattan. However, the MTA currently has no plans to run passenger trains through this connection and it would be used only for movements by non-passenger trains, although passenger service could be possible if subway capacity in Queens is increased to accommodate extra service.