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New Yorkers get new subway stations - a century late

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New Yorkers who ride one of the world's busiest subway systems have been waiting for this moment for close to a century: three new stations will open in eastern Manhattan on January 1.

[NEW YORK] New Yorkers who ride one of the world's busiest subway systems have been waiting for this moment for close to a century: three new stations will open in eastern Manhattan on January 1.

The Second Avenue subway is the largest expansion of the city's metro in 50 years and will link the tony Upper East Side neighborhood with Brooklyn's beachfront Coney Island.

"That claustrophobia that descended upon on you when you walked into a subway station is gone," New York governor Andrew Cuomo said.

"It is worth seeing just for the art," he added, alluding to works by four contemporary artists that will decorate the stations.

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One of them, painter and photographer Chuck Close, has created for the 86th St station 12 giant mosaic portraits of people such as the composer Philip Glass and the late rock legend Lou Reed.

Like President-elect Donald Trump, Mr Cuomo is big on upgrading infrastructure and he has worked frantically in recent months to ensure the deadline for the new stations' opening is met.

New Yorkers have been waiting since 1929 for a subway running underneath Second Avenue, a north-south artery along the eastern side of Manhattan.

The new segment will extend the existing Q line with stations on 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets, at a cost of US$4.4 billion.

After the idea was first floated, it was delayed by the Great Depression in the 1930s, then emerged again after World War II.

It even gets mentioned in the hit TV series "Mad Men. A real estate agent tells one of the characters in the show that her apartment on the Upper East Side will quadruple in value after the new subway line opens.

New Yorkers have been worn down by decades of waiting, so some doubt the stations will open on time.

"I give it a 50/50 chance," said Jane Gaillard, an interior decorator who lives in the Upper East Side.

"I have been living in the neighborhood since 1967 and we have been talking about it since. I won't be on the first trains. I don't feel it's going to work very well in the beginning," Ms Gaillard added.

The largest American city and its 8.5 million people badly need a subway extension.

Ridership has risen steadily in recent years. It is still far from that of big Asian grids in Tokyo, Beijing or Seoul, but the New York subway and its 422 stations open 24 hours a day posted nearly 1.8 billion trips in 2015, more than Paris or London.

The subway opened in 1904 and most of the grid dates back to before 1940. There has been little investment in it other than maintenance, and those outlays of money have not always been a success. The 34th St-Hudson Yards station, which opened in September 2015, quickly sprang a leak that disabled part of it.

By the 1970s, when Seoul was building its own new metro, New York was on the brink of bankruptcy. The subway quickly deteriorated, accumulating wear and tear that the city could not keep up with.

Many lines are overcrowded, beginning with the ones that cross Manhattan and run to the Bronx along Lexington Avenue.

At rush hour, riders often have to let several packed trains rush by before they can fit in one.

The extension has its critics. They say that despite the hefty price tag and the 200,000 riders expected to use the line each day, the improvement will be only tiny.

"I am never going to use it. It's not going to help anybody I know. It's a complete misrepresentation to call it the Second Avenue line," said Valerie Mason, president of the East 72nd street neighborhood association.

Indeed, this project falls well short of the original idea of a full-fledged line running north-south in the east of Manhattan.

The extended line is meant to one day run the length of Manhattan, from the southern tip of the island to Harlem at the top, helping to relieve the burden on other oversaturated lines at a cost of US$6 billion.

But the current project is so far behind schedule that no one dares set a completion date for the second stage.