New York's 'Z' Train May Be Victim Of Cuts

As New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to raise fares and cut service, the Z train — running from Jamaica, Queens to Wall Street — is in peril.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with Day to Day. When New York City set up its subway system, lines were named in the same order they were created. First the A, then the B, the C. Now, the transit system is facing budget troubles, and they're making cuts. It's last in, first out, and thus the Z train has been sentenced to death. We sent NPR's Robert Smith on a memorial trip.

ROBERT SMITH: Friends, riders, commuters, thank you for joining us here at the Fulton Street station to praise the soon to depart Z train. I know many of you never knew the Z. Heck, even long-time New Yorkers might have trouble finding it on the subway map. But this train has become a symbol. Jean Rushnoff(ph), with the rider's advocacy group, the Straphangers Campaign, would like a few words.

Mr. JEAN RUSHNOFF (Straphangers Campaign): You know, only in New York would a line that moved 50,000 people be largely unknown to the riding public. I mean, if you were in a smaller city like St. Louis or Portland, this would be like a behemoth.

SMITH: But here in New York, it's small fry. So when the MTA went to look for a way to fill a billion dollar hole on the budget, the axe moved to the neck of the Z train. As we're standing on the platform at this mock funeral, I see few commuters stopping to mourn. To find the true friends of the Z, we're going to have to go back to its home, 13 miles away in Jamaica, Queens.

Unidentified Woman: This is a Brooklyn-bound Z...

SMITH: The Z has always been different. It runs express in the morning and the afternoon from the far reaches of Queens down to Wall Street. It runs along with the J train through deep Brooklyn, passing by the housing project where a young rapper, Jay-Z, took the name of the two subway lines. It brings in construction workers building the new office towers at Ground Zero, the secretaries and support workers for financial firms.

Mr. JOE SHORNFELT(ph): Even though it's just the plain old Z, the end of the alphabet, but it's really a vital route for so many people.

SMITH: Joe Shornfelt takes the 45-minute ride every morning to go to Broadway where he works certifying kosher foods. If the Z train disappears, he can take other trains, but his commute will be more than an hour. He says perhaps the MTA was too afraid to cut the trains that served stockbrokers and businessmen in Manhattan.

Mr. SHORNFELT: There's no organized community that's going to directly impact that they would organize. I think they recognize it. It's an easy target.

Unidentified Man: This is the last stop on this train. Thank you for riding with MTA New York City train.

SMITH: It's hard to get jaded New Yorkers to shed a tear for the Z train, though. Everyone in the New York system will have to pay more money for less service if the MTA plans go into effect. Only an infusion of state money will help, and that's looking unlikely. And so Jim Rushnoff, the rider's advocate, stands alone next to a wreath with the letter Z.

Mr. RUSHNOFF: Yea, though the Z travels through the valley of the shadow of death, it will fear no plan by the MTA, for thou art with the Z, Governor David Paterson. Thou preparist new revenue proposals to stop to the death of the Z. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow the Z all the days of its life, and the Z will dwell in the house of the MTA subway tracks forever.

SMITH: Now you're just hoping lawmakers say, Amen.

Mr. RASHANOFF: You bet. Amen.

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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