Brooklyn Boro

OPINION: When the G train was really a Brooklyn-Queens local

November 28, 2018 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In this July 29, 2013, photo, the G train enters the elevated Smith-Ninth Streets station in Brooklyn. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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The G train, which recently gained more prominence in anticipation of next year’s L-train shutdown, is often thought of as the quintessential Brooklyn train.

It unites trendy, avant-garde Brooklyn neighborhoods like Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy with established, brownstone borough neighborhoods like Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. Nineteen of its 21 stops are in Brooklyn, and the other two in Queens.

In a 2016 New York Times article, Williamsburg copywriter Cory Tallman is quoted as saying, “Pride isn’t the best word, but there is something to be said about, `It’s the Brooklyn train.’”

In 2009, The Brooklyn Paper published an article spotlighting the G train as a Brooklyn institution, complete with descriptions of attractions that could be found at each stop on the line.

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But the G wasn’t always synonymous with Brooklyn. From 1937, when the line’s full route was completed and began operation, until the turn of the new century, the G (which was known as the GG until 1985) was truly a “Brooklyn-Queens Crosstown Local” — as it’s still officially known.

Unlike today’s G train, whose northern terminal is Court Square, for most of its life the G connected to the Queens Boulevard line and ran all the way to Forest Hills.

For many years, the G was known mainly as the only full-fledged subway line (other than a shuttle) that didn’t run to Manhattan. It often was derided for poor service, and many transit riders considered it unsafe, especially at night.

Still, the G had its devotees, and the line served several important communities, such as Greenpoint’s waterfront industries, the Pratt Institute and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Some residents of Park Slope and nearby Brooklyn areas looked forward to taking the G to Forest Hills on weekends, where they took advantage of the Queens neighborhood’s ample shopping opportunities.

However, trouble was on the way for the G train’s Queens Boulevard riders in the form of the 63rd Street tunnel. The tunnel, branching off from Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue line, was completed in 1989. For years, trains using the tunnel ended at Queensbridge, the first stop on the Queens side of the East River.

That all changed in 2001, when the long-awaited tunnel connection was made between Queensbridge and the Queens Boulevard line. The G train was cut back to Court House Square, where riders could transfer to the No. 7 train. The new V train, part of whose route was later assumed by the M train, ran from Sixth Avenue through the 63rd Street tunnel directly to Forest Hills.

Ever since the Queens Boulevard line was completed in the late 1930s, it had room for two express trains and two locals. Before the tunnel connection was made, those two local routes were the R and the G. But now the V was being brought into the mix.

As one poster on Reddit said, “There has always been more demand for Manhattan-Queens service rather than Brooklyn-Queens service.” In addition, there reportedly wasn’t enough room for trains from three local routes to turn around at Forest Hills. This being the case, the Queens portion of the G’s route clearly had to go.

However, advocates for the G train didn’t let this development pass quietly. Blogs and websites, such Save the G, formed to campaign to keep the G running to Forest Hills. Soon, the MTA made a compromise: The G would, for the most part, terminate at Court Square, but it would run to Forest Hills on nights and weekends, when the V wasn’t running.  

In addition, a moving walkway, similar to those at airline terminals, was built to connect the G train’s Court Square station, the 7 train’s 45th Road-Court Square station and the Queens Boulevard Lines’ 23rd Street-Ely Avenue station. Beforehand, one newspaper article referred to the underground connection as “a long, poorly lit mugger’s tunnel.”

From almost the beginning, however, the MTA often terminated G trains at Court Square even on nights and weekends — sometimes with little or no advance notice. Finally, in 2010, for budget reasons, the MTA decided to terminate the G at Court Square at all times. To add insult to injury, the moving walkway at Court Square was removed in mid-2018.

During the 2010s, after the G’s final cutback, Greenpoint, Long Island City, Williamsburg and other neighborhoods along the line have seen huge growth in population. This begs the question: Will the G train ever become a true Brooklyn-Queens line again?

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  1. Collin Parsons

    The G will never run full time on Queens Boulevard because there simply isn’t enough track capacity. For people going to Forest Hills, it’s actually better in the current setup because you can transfer to the express E train instead of having to ride a local all the way. I think a better solution would be to expand the Queens Plaza station so that the G could terminate there with better transfers to both local and express service.