Rail enthusiasts flock to Astoria for W train’s return

Among the sleepy Monday morning straphangers shuffling along the Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard station platform were commuters gripping point-and-shoot cameras as they peered down the tracks for signs of the W train’s return.

Many from that dedicated subset of riders, known as “rail fans,” skipped out on sleep to catch the W’s first run out of Queens, a 6:52 a.m. departure, since 2010, when MTA cut the line during sweeping budget cuts.

“I’m still up since yesterday,” said Anthony Maimone, 25, a Bronx janitorial worker fresh from his night shift. Maimone filmed his entire ride from Astoria to Whitehall Street, looking for older equipment, to post photos and videos to his YouTube account. His videos have racked up thousands of views.

Maimone met with Brian Camacho, another fan, downtown and reveled in the nostalgia.

“It’s a blast from the past,” said Camacho, 28, a Lower East Side resident who woke up extra early to schlep out to Queens to document the W train redux.

The line turned out to be a vestige of the aughts in more ways than one. The W trains rolling Monday morning featured pre-2010 announcements and stop information, including transfers to the M train in Canal Street and to the now defunct V line at 34th Street-Herald Square. SBS routes are also missing from the interior stop display signs.

“I’m going to have to go back and review my tape,” Maimone said when he heard the news.

Camacho estimated that enthusiasts would be buzzing around the W all day Monday, but only the more dedicated fans were out early enough to catch the first train.

“It’s too early for most of them,” he said.

W trains will run locally from Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard in Queens to Whitehall Street in downtown Manhattan between about 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. The W replaces Queens service from the Q train, which now runs from Coney Island to 57th Street-Seventh Avenue.

The service switch is needed to accommodate the imminent opening of the first phase of the Second Avenue subway line, expected to come by the end of the year. When the line does open, Q trains will be routed up Second Avenue to its new 96th Street station.

The relaunch of the W will cost the MTA $13.7 million annually. It also means Astoria will be served by about 20 fewer trains per day during off-peak hours. But since the W line is significantly shorter than the Q, the MTA doesn’t expect a decrease in service.

“At end of the day, there’ll be better service due to the fact that trains will be coming from Whitehall Street and not Brooklyn, where Q trains could experience service interruptions,” said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

The reduction raised concerns from Andrew Albert, an MTA board member, but he ultimately believed that the Broadway configuration, with R and W running locally and Q and N express, “makes the most sense.”

“It may very well be more reliable, but Astoria is growing so fast,” Albert said. “I hope the MTA keeps an eye on loads to see if more trains are needed.”

Camacho rode the last Q to Astoria Friday evening and said the conductor noted the significance of the journey.

“He said, ‘Ladies and gentleman, you are all making history. You’re on the last Q train to Queens,’” Camacho said.

W excitement didn’t sweep over all New Yorkers. Astoria native John Briscione, 56, shrugged off the Q’s final farewell over the weekend.

“You might miss an ex-girlfriend,” he said, “but you don’t miss a train.”


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