On June 13, 1915, the first test train on the IRT Flushing Line ran between Grand Central and Vernon Boulevard–Jackson Avenue, followed by the start of revenue service on June 22. Over the next thirteen years, the line was extended piece by piece between Times Square and Flushing–Main Street, after the former opened on March 14, 1927. Express service started in 1917. The service on the Flushing Line east of Queensboro Plaza was shared by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation from 1912 to 1949; BMT trains were designated 9, while IRT services were designated 7 on maps only. The 7 designation was assigned to trains since the introduction of the front rollsigns on the R12 in 1948.
On November 12, 1947, four additional trains were placed in service on the 7 to accommodate passengers using new parking facilities adjacent to the Willetts Point Boulevard station. On July 14, 1948, 31 additional cars were placed into service on the 7, increasing the number of cars per train from eight to nine.
On March 12, 1953, two nine-car super expresses began operating from Flushing–Main Street to Times Square in the AM rush hour. The super expresses stopped at Main Street, and Willets Point before skipping all stops to Queensboro Plaza, skipping the Woodside and Junction Boulevard express stops. The running time was cut down to 23 minutes from 25 minutes.
Holiday and Saturday express service was discontinued on March 20, 1954. At some point afterwards, weekday midday express service was discontinued, but was restored on November 29, 1971, before being discontinued again by August 29, 1975.
From May 13, 1985, to August 21, 1989, the IRT Flushing Line was overhauled for improvements, including the installation of new track, repair of station structures and to improve line infrastructure. The major element was the replacement of rails on the Queens Boulevard viaduct. This was necessitated because the subway was allowed to deteriorate during the 1970s and 80s to the point that there were widespread "Code Red" defects on the Flushing Line, and there were some pillars holding elevated structures that were so shaky that trains wouldn't run if the wind exceeded 65mph. <7> express service was suspended for the duration of the project; however, extra 7 service was provided for Mets games and Flushing Meadows Park events. Upon the completion of the project, <7> express service was restored, but express trains bypassed 61st Street–Woodside because the Transit Authority was concerned about passengers transferring between local and express trains at that station. The stop was added a few months later after pressure from community opposition.
In the mid-1990s, the MTA discovered that the Queens Boulevard viaduct structure was unstable, as rocks that were used to support the tracks as ballast became loose due to poor drainage, which, in turn, affected the integrity of the concrete structure overall. <7> express service was suspended again between 61st Street–Woodside and Queensboro Plaza; temporary platforms were installed to access the express track in the four intermediate stations. The work began in April 1993. When the viaduct reconstruction finished on March 31, 1997, full <7> express service was reinstated. Throughout this entire period, ridership grew steadily. In 1999, <7> express service was expanded from rush hours only to weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. However, this expansion was cut back in 2009 due to frequent midday construction.
Work has been underway since 2008 to convert the 7 service to accommodate CBTC. Expected to cost $585.9 million, CBTC will allow two additional trains per hour as well as two additional trains for the 7 Subway Extension, providing a 7% increase in capacity. (At the former southern terminal, Times Square, service on the 7 was limited to 27 trains per hour (tph) as a result of the bumper blocks there. The current southern terminal at 34th Street–Hudson Yards has tail tracks to store rush-hour trains and can increase the service frequency to 29 tph.) New cars on order for the A Division (the R188 contract) are compatible with CBTC. Installation of CBTC and delivery of the trains will both be completed in 2016.
The 7 Subway Extension, which travels west and south to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, near the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Hudson Yards, was delayed five times. The 34th Street–Hudson Yards station, originally scheduled to open in December 2013, began serving passengers on September 13, 2015. However, the overall station construction project would not be completed until sometime in 2016.
On November 16, 2010, New York City officials announced they are considering a further extension of the service across the Hudson River to the Secaucus Junction train station in New Jersey. As of October 26, 2011 tentative support for the extension has been given by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as well as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in comments to the press. However, in April 2013, then MTA chairman Joseph Lhota announced that the 7 train would not be extended to New Jersey due to the high costs of the project, which included constructing a subway yard and a subway tunnel in New Jersey. Instead, Lhota put his support behind Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel project which entails a new tunnel to Manhattan for Amtrak and NJ Transit trains.
The 7 operates with 11-car sets; the number of cars in a single 7 train set is more than in any other New York City Subway service. These trains, however, are not the longest in the system, since a train of 11 "A" Division cars is only 565 feet (172 m) long, while a standard B Division train, which consists of ten 60-foot cars or eight 75-foot cars, is 600 feet (180 m) long.
The Steinway Low-V was built between 1915 and 1925 specifically for use in the Steinway Tunnel. They had special gear ratios to climb the steep grades (4.5%) in the Steinway Tunnel, something standard Interborough equipment could not do.
In 1938, an order of all-new World's Fair cars was placed with the St. Louis Car Company. These cars broke from IRT "tradition" in that they did not have vestibules at each car end. In addition, because the IRT was bankrupt at the time, the cars were built as single ended cars, with train controls for the motorman on one side and door controls for the conductor on the other. These cars spent their last days on the elevated IRT Third Avenue Line in the Bronx.
In 1964, the picture window R33/36 World's Fair (WF) cars replaced the older R12s, R14s, R15s, and some R17s in time for the 1964 New York World's Fair.
Early in 1965, the New York City Transit Authority placed a strip map indicated all the stations and transfer points for the line in each of the line's 430 cars, helping World's Fair visitors. This innovation was not used for other services and as they shared rolling stock with each other, it was possible for cars to have the wrong strip maps.
The 7 was the last service to run using "Redbird" cars, and the 7's fleet consisted entirely of R33/36 WF Redbird train cars until December 2001. In 2001, with the arrival of the R142/R142A cars, the Transit Authority announced the retirement of all Redbird cars. From January 2002 to November 2003, the Bombardier-built R62A cars, which used to operate on the 3 and 6, gradually replaced all of the R33/36 WF cars on the 7. On November 3, 2003, the last Redbird train made its final trip on this route, making all stops between Times Square and the then-named Willets Point–Shea Stadium. Several Redbird cars running on this service were decorated with Mets logos and colors during the 2000 Subway Series against the New York Yankees, as the Flushing Line runs adjacent to Citi Field and the former location of Shea Stadium. Some R33/R36 WFs remain in Corona Yard and are used primarily for work service.
Since 2008, all R62As on the 7, which were transferred by 2003, have been upgraded with LED lighted signs to distinguish between express and local trains. These signs are located on the rollsigns that are found on the side of each car. The local is a green circle around the 7 bullet while the express is a red diamond. Previously, the rollsigns showed either a 7 (within a circle) or a <7> (within a diamond) with the word "Express" underneath it.
The R62As are being replaced by R188s through 2016 in preparation for the automation equipment for the Flushing Line. The displaced R62As are currently running on the 6, which has given much of its R142A stock for conversion into R188 stock. The first train of R188 cars began operating in passenger service on November 9, 2013. By 2016, most of the communications-based train control (CBTC)-equipped R188 trainsets were on the 7. In addition to providing six extra 11-car trains for the 7 Subway Extension, the R188s will allow twenty R62A expansion cars to be freed up for the rest of the IRT A Division services.
The 7 is nicknamed the "International Express" in part because it travels through several different ethnic neighborhoods populated by immigrants, especially along Roosevelt Avenue, and in part because it was the principal subway route to the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. This name is not official, nor is the title used in day-to-day operations.
The following table shows the line used by the 7 and <7>, with shaded boxes indicating the route at the specified times:
In addition to regular local and rush-hour express services, "Super Express" service to Manhattan is also provided after New York Mets games weeknights and weekends at Citi Field, as well as after US Open tennis games: starting at Mets–Willets Point and operating express to Manhattan, also bypassing Junction Boulevard, Hunters Point Avenue and Vernon Boulevard–Jackson Avenue.
For a more detailed station listing, see IRT Flushing Line.The 2000 documentary film The #7 Train: An Immigrant Journey is based on the ethnic diversity of the people that ride the 7 train every day.
The 7 Line Army is a group of New York Mets fans whose name is derived from the 7 route.
Dani's House Of Pizza has a template of the Mets-Willets Point (IRT Flushing Line) station sign.