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Subway service changes add new line to Queens

The disruption and confusion that vexed tens of thousands of Manhattan and Brooklyn straphangers trying to cope with the greatest subway rerouting in a decade set off barely a ripple in Astoria, the final stop of the new W train.

“Everyone’s grabbing brochures now,” said Ditmars Boulevard station superintendent John Vitale, who said he did not expect the service change to significantly affect anyone’s commute. “Basically, people still are going to get on any train that arrives.”

But not everyone.

Emily Dolan, an Astoria horseback riding teacher who commutes to New Jersey, calmly turned her back on an N train standing in the station on Monday morning in order to rendezvous with the W.

“This is the trial,” she said after the N closed its doors and lumbered out of the station. She was hoping the W train, which pulled in moments later, would overtake and pass the N along the express tracks and chop some time off her commute.

Helen Vardy, 50, a project manager who drives to the Ditmars station from Jackson Heights, said she would have to transfer from the W to an N or an R once she reached Canal Street. She said she still expected to slice 15 minutes off her 40-minute daily trip to work.

Others were less optimistic about the change.

“It can only make it worse, right?” said one Astoria resident. “If it shows up, you’re lucky.”

Although the new W train is designed as a replacement for the B train during the repairs on the Manhattan Bridge — the reason for entire system of subway routings — it follows the same route as the N from Astoria all the way through lower Manhattan, effectively augmenting service for residents of Queens.

The changes, which affected 600,000 subway commuters, were the most far-reaching in more than a decade, according to public transit specialists.

The W runs between Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria and Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn from 6 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. weekdays, stopping at 57th, 49th, 42nd, 34th, 14th an Canal Streets in Manhattan along the way.

The Manhattan Bridge normally carries the B, D and Q lines.

The services changes are technically temporary but are scheduled to run through 2004.

The W provides express service from Astoria into Manhattan from 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekdays from Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria Boulevard and Queensborough Plaza en route to Manhattan. It runs express in the other direction from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. but terminates at 57th Street/7th Avenue in Manhattan after 9:30 p.m. The W provides local service in Queens at all other times.

Gene Russianoff, attorney for the transit watchdog agency Straphangers Campaign, said the changes went off unexpectedly well, although the station at Herald Square 34th Street in Manhattan was a problem with a great deal of confusion among subway riders. It is a transfer point for the B and D lines, two Q lines and the new W.

Some passengers, particularly at Herald Square, said Transit Authority workers had trouble explaining how to get from one point to another under the two routings.

Russianoff said signs in some stations were confusing and announcements on trains inadequate.

“The Transit Authority spent a million dollars on brochures, maps and signs and had nearly 300 people doing their best to try to help. We had a dozen people in 10 stations,” he said.

“New Yorkers did a good job of coping and handling adversity, as they always do.”

Although the changes have caused some annoyance among straphangers in other sections of the city, the effect in Astoria for many seemed a positive one because more trains will be leaving Ditmars station.

“The combination of the W and the N trains does exceed the number of just N trains,” said Transit Authority spokesman Charles Seaton. “I know that we are running slightly fewer N trains, but I really don’t how many.”

Despite the positive benefits of the new W service, a comparison of the train schedule from April 2000 with the new schedule shows a significant drop in the frequency in N train service to accommodate the W. Where nine N trains would depart from the Ditmars Boulevard station between 7 and 8 a.m. under the original schedule, the revised timetable shows only six heading out in that same timespan.

Reach Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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