A and 1 trains ready to reconnect

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Getting in and out of the Bronx can be complicated enough, especially for anyone who depends on the 1 train. And then to kick off 2019, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority didn’t make it any easier, closing the 1’s connection to the A and C trains at 168th Street, forcing commuters to wait until 59th Street to make the connection, or find a different route altogether.

Despite the inconvenience, the 168th Street station was sorely in need of help, with ancient elevators the only means of connecting the two lines between more than 100 feet of earth.

And now that work is nearing completion with a hope that 1 trains will soon find their way to 168th.

The MTA focused on five “deep” stations to renovate, reaching depths below the city few other stations reach. That includes both the 181st and 191st streets stations along the 1 line, as well as what has been a massive project renovating 168th. Unlike its lower street, the 191st station will remain open during its work, although the MTA plans to close 181st starting in March 2021. The hope, according to New York City Transit president Andy Byford, is that the staggered work schedule will provide far less inconvenience for the 3.6 million riders who depend on the station each year.

The station at 168th, however, services more than double that load at a little more than 8.15 million passengers in 2018, according to MTA data. While that’s significantly behind some larger stations like 34th Street (at 26 million) and 59th Street (at 23 million), it’s more traffic than 50th Street, and even the Lincoln Center stop at 66th.

Elevators are the focus at 168th, which start just below street level near the A and C, but then plunge 102 feet below the century-old station to reach the 1 platform. Some parts of the elevator systems were nearly as old as the station itself, according to the MTA.

But it’s more than age that afflicts elevators at 168th. “Deep” stations are prone to water damage. Because the 1 platform is so far underground — and the work needed was so extensive — the MTA says it would have been impossible to complete work at night and leave the platform running during the day. While there are stairs that connect the A and 1, those stairwells have been closed off for years.

When the station does reopen early next year, the new elevators will open on both sides, making use of rear-feeding passageways at the 1 train level that had been closed off for years. Emergency staircases, lighting and handrails also will be refreshed, while behind the scenes, new backup generators will help keep the elevators running in case of a power outage.

As of October, new motors, air conditioners, and fire alarm systems were in place, making way for new elevator cars equipped with closed-circuit television monitoring. Aesthetics won’t be left behind as workers touch up tile work on the walls and ceiling before the platform reopens.

While it might seem like work is taking a long time, it’s pretty much on schedule, according to MTA spokesman Christopher McKniff, with an opening on track for early winter. The biggest work now is installing elevator cars and testing them to ensure safety and efficiency.

Barbara Reilly hasn’t suffered too much during the platform closure since she hasn’t found herself working in Manhattan as much as she has in the past. When she heads south, the trip from her Spuyten Duyvil home is a little longer, especially as she tries to avoid the 1 train until she can board in Manhattan.

“I take the Bx20 to 207th,” Reilly said. “It would have been faster to take the subway, since I could have just taken the (Bx)10 to the 1 and gotten on there.”

She’s confident the station will open in January, although she admits she’s not sure how long it takes to complete elevator work.

Depending on which direction straphangers are traveling, 168th is either the first stop or the last where riders can switch between the 1 and A without leaving the station. The 1 and A both make stops near each other at 207th Street, but that connection requires a several block journey through Inwood between stations.

The “deep” station work is unrelated to a recent pledge to install elevators at a number of subway stations as a way to make them more accessible. As part of the upcoming capital plan, nearly 50 subway stations will receive elevators, including the West 242nd Street stop on the 1 train. Currently, the only other Bronx stop with an elevator is  West 231st Street.

While skipping 168th may have inconvenienced many looking to connect between the 1 and A trains, for some like Vanessa Hussein, it actually made taking the 1 from West 242nd back into the city a little but faster.

“It doesn’t really affect me,” she said. “I don’t stop there. It does make my commute feel a little faster, though.”

The amount of time saved is practically immeasurable, so it might not save that much time at all, Hussein added. “But it feels like it does.”

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