My last ride on the JFK Express subway in April 1990


Next to the last day of operation of the JFK Express (photo by the author)


My Ride on the Last JFK Express a.k.a “The Train to the Plane”

I had heard that the JFK Express (“The Train to the Plane”) was going out of business. I couldn’t make the last trip, or even the last day, so I settled for the next-to-the-last day for a ride. Entering the IND station on 42nd Street, I noticed the signs had been changed already. Instead of a sign advertising a JFK Express stop, there were elaborate instructions to take a “F” train to Jay Street, transfer to a Rockaway-bound “A” train, get off at Howard Beach where a shuttle bus will go to airport. Unlike my previous trips, no clerk or transit policeman were on board – just two trainmen – a motorman and a conductor. As a matter of fact, no fares were collected! I had visions of a nice souvenir in the form of a next to last day receipt. Ironically, the PA system called attention to “extra fare for this train will be collected”.

Most of the riders were going to Aqueduct – they were reading the “horse” section of the sports page. I tried talking to a few. Most of their comments centered around the high additional cost. Most would miss the train. One gentleman said there should be more not less “special trains”. He suggested Yankee Stadium as a good destination.

At Howard Beach, the train waited several minutes before heading back to Manhattan. I talked for a while with a pretty trainperson named Joanna. She was quite sad at the end of “her” train and quite vocal that it should NOT be ending. While a New Yorker can still find the way to the airport, what about a foreigner or even a Mid-Westerner?

I mentioned I didn’t have a camera pass but would like to take some pictures. Joanna said nobody would mind. The DAILY NEWS had been out there the day before.

The train was made up of 4 class R-44 cars. I boarded the lead car – number 164. Like always, the equipment of the “Train to the Plane” was clean and well- maintained.

As we were getting ready to leave, the motorman opened his cab door and motioned for me to ride with him. His name was Curtis and he was also sad to see JFK service end. While I originally planned to only go to mid-town, I quickly accepted his offer to ride the entire route.

After passing the stop at Aqueduct Racetrack, the line turns sharply to the left and joins the “A” line to Lefferts Boulevard. Continuing straight ahead is the elevated remains of the old Long Island Rail Road. The entire Rockaway Beach line used to belong to the LIRR. When the Transit Authority bought it, they made their connection at this point and abandoned the northern portion. Interestingly enough, this right-of-way would become important if a sometimes-mentioned connection between Kennedy and LaGuardia airports were to be built.

The line went underground between Grant and Euclid. As we passed stations, Curtis would blow the horn to warn those waiting on the station platforms that we were not about to stop. When we did stop, the crew tried to be careful what doors were opened and let everyone know this was NOT an “A” train but still something special.

At Nostrand Avenue, the station is on two levels. Until we reach downtown Brooklyn, most of the trackage consists of two local lines with an express track in the middle. On the way out, we stayed mostly on the local tracks but on the return we hung pretty much to the express track. Towers constantly shift the JFK Express between express and local tracks to clear the many “A” and “C” trains operating as locals.

Curtis usually drives to work from Long Island. He rides in trains all day and needs a break. He has been parking at Howard Beach, but will probably have to drive elsewhere to work now. His wife works in Manhattan and rides the Long Island Rail Road.

Before West 4th Street, we cross over to the local track. This is so we can go up the 6th Avenue line instead of the 8th Avenue line. West 4th is a two level station and is the point where trains can move between these two lines.

Just past West 4th, Curtis showed me where he had once failed to stop in time for a signal. He blamed the brakes, but still had to go through the time off and drug test routine until tests showed it was the brakes. Signals are set so that a train can’t get closer than two blocks from each other (red changes to yellow to green). The timing usually lets trains go about 30 miles per hour. In open spaces, a train can get up to about 60.

The R-44 cars used for the JFK Express might be used as extras or they might go to Staten Island where similar equipment is in service. Although the R-44 class had problems, these cars had always been well-maintained.

Curtis began to talk about some of the gripes of motormen. Some runs have excessive “cab time”. A motorman is sometimes expected to spend eight hours in the cab with no break between runs. Nobody in management quite understands that between “nature calls” and empty stomachs that this is impossible. He says looking at all the pillars in tunnels can have a hypnotic effect after a while. It goes without saying that food or coffee are not supposed to be in the cab. Obviously, both these rules get “bent”. Train crews on the IND and BMT lines put in “bids” for assignments every six months. However, the latest rotation has been postponed. Now that the JFK is dead, he will now be “filling in” on runs anywhere on the system.

49th Street has a box on the wall I had never noticed. It changes the signal between 57th Street and 5th Avenue. Trains on the express and local tracks sometimes make a game of trying to punch the button first. The loser has to wait for the winner to clear the junction. Today was no exception, except we lost. Curtis had beaten the same “B” train motorman once by calling him on the radio, “sounding official”, and telling him not to punch the button.

57th Street used to be the end of the line for the train. There was a bumper at the end of the track and both the old “S” train and the JFK paused here between runs.

The line past 57th Street is brand new. Curtis opened the window to “show off” the sound (or lack of it) from the welded continuous rail. There is a new station at Lexington Avenue then we head into the famous 63th Street tunnel. I’m not sure how many years it took to build, but before service started, the whole tunnel had to have water pumped out of it. In the middle of the tunnel is a station underneath Roosevelt Island. The residents of this island used to have to depend on a tram that kept breaking down to reach the mainland.

Queensbridge-21st Street is the new end of the line for the JFK Express. It looks like it belongs on the Washington METRO – not the New York subway. It is new, bright, modern with high ceilings. Curtis reminded me that it was a whole different world just outside the station doors – one of drug dealers shooting at each other, etc. Like everyone else, Curtis was not sure where the trains would eventually go or come from past this station. The only thing he was sure of that this was not designed as a terminal station and eventually would have through traffic.

Well, that does it for the JFK Express. Kind of ridiculous that it is being discontinued when mass transit to airports is becoming more vital. Oh well, next week I’m scheduled to see the start of something rather than the end – the new Chinese steam engine at Essex.

After saying good bye to Curtis, I hoped aboard a “B” train and headed downtown. I wound up in Brooklyn at the Transit Museum (located at Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street). A couple of hours later I headed back towards Manhattan. Since I wanted to go to the Penn Station/34th Street area, I headed into the Borough Hall station with the intent of catching a “2” or “3” train (7th Avenue IRT line). A big sign at the ticket booth told me to find “2” and “3” service on the “4” track. After a couple of “4” trains went by, there was an announcement to take the “4” to Bowling Green station. At Bowling Green, we were told to board a “5” on the Brooklyn-bound track for “2” and “3” service. The “5” train, which runs on the Lexington Avenue line, proceeded a short distance towards Brooklyn, stopped, started up again and ended up in the South Ferry station on the 7th Avenue line. The motorman made several announcements that the train may look like a “5” train but that it was going to act like a “2” train. It seems the track between Chambers Street and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn was out of service for track repair. Weekend in New York sometimes provide interesting diversions.



The Port Authority of NY & NJ has built the AIR TRAIN at JFK!
You can ride around the airport, go to the Long Island Railroad, or go to the New York City Subway.
Find out more about the AIRTRAIN.


The subway or the Long Island Rail Road and AirTrain JFK are fast, economical ways to Kennedy International Airport.

AirTrain JFK links the Howard Beach A Line and the Sutphin Boulevard E J Z subway stations, and LIRR’s Jamaica Station directly to JFK. It takes about an hour from most parts of the city, and about 15 minutes from LIRR’s Jamaica Station — with no traffic worries ever.

And just like the subway, AirTrain runs 24/7.

AirTrain stations are fully enclosed, heated in winter and air conditioned in summer. They feature wide escalators and glass enclosed elevators. At the airport, convenient moving walkways take you and your luggage to any one of nine connecting airline terminals. All AirTrain trains and stations are ADA compliant, with every station designed to ensure the convenient boarding of riders with mobility challenges. For the hearing impaired, there are visual signs on the train and in the stations. For the visually impaired, there are destination announcements on board the train.

On weekends, you can use CityTicket to save money and speed your trip to or from JFK Airport. Use the $4.00 CityTicket for Long Island Rail Road travel to or from Jamaica Station for travel within New York City for your AirTrain connection.

The Fare

Travel to and from JFK via AirTrain is $5 as you enter or exit the system. Children under 5 ride free. You pay the fare with Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard at either the Sutphin Boulevard or Howard Beach station (unlimited ride cards are not accepted for AirTrain).

Be sure you add additional money to your Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard to cover the cost for the subway and AirTrain.

At the Howard Beach A station

The A train stops at Howard Beach every 5 to 10 minutes during rush hours and every 15 to 20 minutes evenings and weekends. AirTrain JFK stops at Howard Beach every 5 to 10 minutes. Most subway lines connect to the A train. Just be sure you take the A Line marked “Far Rockaway,” NOT “Lefferts Boulevard.” It’s about a 10-minute ride from the Howard Beach station to the airport.

At the Sutphin Boulevard E J Z station in Jamaica

E J Z trains all stop at the Sutphin Boulevard station where you connect to the AirTrain Jamaica Stop. E Z trains run every 5 to 10 minutes during rush hours and 8 to 12 minutes evenings and weekends. AirTrain travels to the airport from Jamaica every 5 to 10 minutes and the trip takes no longer than 10 minutes.

At LIRR Jamaica Station

There is an in-station link to the AirTrain platform — AirTrain travels to the airport from Jamaica every 4 to 10 minutes. The AirTrain ride takes about 10 minutes. The AirTrain JFK is connected to the Railroad’s hub by escalators, elevators, people movers and an overhead mezzanine bridge.

For more AirTrain JFK information, call 877-JFK-AirTrain (535-2478) or log on to

This information is current as of March 2014. Below is for historical purposes only!




The AIR TRAIN after one year

It was a hard ride through opposition, skepticism and a fatal accident, but December 17, 2004 a proposal for a rail link to Kennedy International Airport finally became a reality: A newly built system called the AirTrain went into operation, connecting several New York City subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road with the airport’s terminals.

How is the $1.9 billion link doing after a year? First, some background.

For several decades, city officials and transportation experts cited a need for mass transit connections to Kennedy and La Guardia Airports. But costs and other obstacles thwarted those proposals. Finally, in 1999, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airports, won city approval for a scaled-down plan.

The link would be limited to Kennedy. And instead of the one-seat ride that many officials and experts deemed vital for the system’s success, travelers would transfer from subway trains to the elevated AirTrain at either of two subway stations in Queens.

Critics insisted that few luggage-laden travelers would give up cabs or cars for such a trip. The Port Authority said that many travelers would prefer a cheaper ride (now totaling $7 for the AirTrain and subway) to a cab that could cost more than $40 from Midtown Manhattan – and could take up to two hours in heavy traffic, compared with a rail trip that typically takes closer to an hour.

The average number of people entering or leaving the airport daily on the AirTrain rose from just under 5,000 in January and February to about 8,000 in each of the last five months. This is less than the 11,000 daily average the agency had projected by the end of the first year.

Another benefit of the AirTrain, he said, is that more than 20,000 people a day use it for free rides between terminals and other points within the airport.
Some critics said that as many as half the riders going to and from the airport on the AirTrain would be workers at Kennedy, but surveys indicated that fewer than 10 percent were workers.


Ride to the airport (JFK) from Beacon

The plan is for Metro North, then subway, then Airtrain.
This is how it went down:

I have a 9:30 flight out of Terminal 6.

6:18 — walking down to Beacon Train station to get the 6:33 MNR express. The 6:18 is pulling out on track 2, is overtaken by 5-car Amfleet train rolling at speed, wrong-iron on Track 1.

I have a Metrocard, but I’m not sure if there is at least $7.00 on it for both the subway and the Airtrain, so I buy a Metro Card with my ticket… (+ $20)

6:33 — MNR express train departs promptly.

7:45 — MNR arrives at GCT, 2-early.

I hoof it to 53rdSreet/Lexington Avenue station rather than catching the uptown #6. It would probably take longer and would be much more crowded. When I arrive, I have $4.00 left on Metro Card after going through the turnstile. Good thing I have a new card — this one’s about to expire. I don’t like handling my wallet in the subway to refill a Metro Card, so I’m glad to have avoided it by buying ahead.

7:56 — Queens-bound E train arrives as I descend to the platform.

8:25 — E train arrives at the Sutphin Avenue/JFK station. I ride the escalator to the top.

I did not realize how integrated with the Jamaica station this is — you have to cross the bridge over Jamaica to get to the Airtrain.

8:28 — Airtrain arrives at Station D (Jamaica)

8:32 — Airtrain finally begins to move!

8:38 — We arrive at Station C (Wow, quick ride to the airport!)

8:40 — We arrive at the “split” where the track becomes a loop. The inner loop is used by the inter-terminal train (clockwise), the outer loop is used by both the “Jamaica” and the “Howard Beach” trains.

[Grr…it slows to 15mph at EVERY double-crossover!]

8:45 — Arrive at Terminal 5/6 Station.
The elevator takes you down below. It drops you off in the street — literally. You have to walk around the corner to enter the terminal!

9:02 — Through security checkpoint.

MNRR to 125th St
Walk to Lexington Ave and take the 4 or 5 Southbound to 59th St
Take the Queens bound R train to Queens Plaza
Take the E train to Sutphin Blvd then the Air Train.



When my daughter was leaving for a summer in Germany I drove her to the airport (J.F. Kennedy). What an experience with the traffic!!! When it came time to pick her up from the return flight I decided NO DRIVING! A good alternative popped up in my mind – New York City Transit Authority’s “Train to the Plane”.

I took Metro-North’s New Haven line into New York City, ran a couple of errands, and caught the “Train to the Plane” (also called the “JFK Express” at West 4th/Washington Square. I could have caught it further uptown as it starts at 57th Street and follows the 6th Avenue (IRT) line making the express stops at Rockefeller Center, 42nd Street, and 34th Street. At West 4th it switches to IND trackage. Two more stops in Manhattan are made at Chambers Street (World Trade Center) and Broadway-Nassau (where you can connect with #4 and #5 trains from Grand Central). The JFK Express now burrows under the East River and makes its last pick up at Jay St-Borough Hall in Brooklyn.

We picked about the hottest day of the hottest summer so the wait for the train in West 4th/Washington Square was tough (to put in mildly). (How do the BIG cities air condition their subway stations?) The train runs every twenty minutes and we waited 19 minutes for ours. Once on the train, it was at least 50 degrees cooler than on the platform. I understand that stations are getting hotter as more and more subway cars are air conditioned and give off heat within the stations.

For the technical readers – the equipment was class R46. Part of a 778 car order completed by Pullman Standard between 1975 and 1978. Weighing 89,000 pounds, they are among the biggest cars on the system.

Once through Brooklyn, the conductor collects the premium fare of $5.50 (riders also pay the $1.00 at the turnstile). Thus the round trip is $13.00 or about a third of a taxi fare. Conductors wear maroon jackets as opposed to the usual all-blue of Transit Authority workers. I presume that they are distinctive because there are not conductors on any other trains.

The route through Brooklyn is four track until Rockaway Blvd. where the Lefferts Blvd. line served by “A” trains branches off. It is underground until it goes elevated around the Queens – Brooklyn border (between Grant Ave. and 80th Street). Heading south at Rockaway Blvd., the train makes a stop at Aqueduct Racetrack. It terminates at Howard Beach although “A” “C” and “H” service goes past this point to Rockaway Beach.

We got off the train at Howard Beach and got on one of several busses waiting at the station. The bus travels through the overflow parking lots of the airport and drives right up to the front of your terminal. The bus is equipped with luggage racks even if nobody thought to so equip the train.

After having seen underground train stations in Frankfurt’s airport, my daughter was not impressed. Even Washington’s National Airport has a Metro stop across from the terminal.

So why doesn’t New York’s huge international terminal (or its other two large airports – LaGuardia and Newark) have direct rail connections?

The answer lies with a philosophy of concrete over rail which has been popular with New York’s transit planners for too many years now. The biggest proponent of this philosophy was Robert Moses (Jones Beach, Triboro Bridge, etc, etc).

Wouldn’t it have been much simpler if Kennedy Airport had been designed with an underground rail system connecting the terminals many building and connecting the airport with the existing subway system?

A turnaround in philosophy would require improvements to the existing system such as more than one route to the airport and/or dedicated trackage.

A high speed service would be essential as well as a ban or some plan to discourage automobile traffic. Actually, in 1969-1970, New York City had a proposal which even made it past the Board of Estimate to construct a two-track, high-speed rail route between Manhattan and Kennedy Airport. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority would have operated the line for both passenger and freight service under a 25-year agreement. The route was designed for nonstop service and would have required more than nine miles of new and reconstructed rail through Queens residential areas. The MTA would have used Penn Station as the midtown terminal for the 16 minute run. In a move to meet objections by Queens residents who protested a lack of local stops, the franchise agreement specified two additional tracks along the Rockaway Beach line.

But 1969-1970 was an era of unfinished promises. $151 million was appropriated for the Second Avenue subway between 34th Street and 125th Street. Eventually it was to run from Wall Street to northeast Bronx, connecting with the Dyre Avenue and Pelham Bay lines. Construction was also begun on the double-deck 63rd Street tunnel under the East River for use by both subway and commuter trains. It was to have been finished in seven years. The city stopped construction on the Second Avenue subway in 1975 so funds could be diverted to Queens for the Jamaica subway line extension. The Second Avenue elevated had been dismantled 36 years before with a promise of a new subway. “Temporary” bus service continued.

LaGuardia would be a little tougher to serve as more new right-of-way would be required. No rail really goes near it!

Newark could be served by an extension of PATH.

Even Stewart AFB in Newburgh, New York’s contender for a fourth jet port, could be served by an extension of the West Shore (CONRAIL River Division). This assumes that plans to revive commuter service “someday” come to pass and a Manhattan connection is made via PATH or some other way.


The Aqueduct Special

By Dave Gianna

I remember when the Aqueduct Special would run from Midtown Manhattan to Aqueduct Racetrack.

The train would always call on the lower-level of the 42nd Street station on the 8th Avenue Line, had its own special token booth, turnstiles, and stairway. The tokens were different as well: very large tokens that in the early-80s cost $2.00. (the normal fare then was in the $0.75–0.90–$1.00 range). Equipment at that time was normally R32 or R10 units.

The train departed from the lower level and ran express non-stop to the track along the A train route in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. In those days, the Fulton Street Line in Brooklyn had no express service except for rush hours, so on the weekends the track was virtually clear all the way. The line to the Rockaways is a former LIRR branch line that had a two-track connection to the former BMT Fulton Street El. In 1955, the IND expanded by connecting the Euclid Avenue Terminus of the IND (8th Avenue Subway) to the el (which was really not an “el” anymore as it had been substantially rebuilt). This added three new destinations to the A train — it could continue eastward on the el to Lefferts Blvd, or take the (rebuilt) connection to the former LIRR and operate to Rockaway Park or Far Rockaway. A new station was built east of Euclid Avenue (Grant Avenue) with two tracks on a center platform on the upper level, and a single track on the lower level that connected to the IND yards and tied into the center track on the elevated line.

The Aqueduct Special would roll by all this, and at the connection to the former LIRR, would take the crossovers so that it went “wrong iron” to reach the single Aqueduct platform. There are four tracks here, and the interlocking allows for the subway to expand from two to four tracks and once had the capability for LIRR trains to co-mingle. In practice, this never happened rather the LIRR handed the line over to the subway and abandoned the remaining line that runs north from Aqueduct to a former connection with the LIRR main line in Rego Park, Queens.

I never knew where the Aqueduct Special went to after it discharged passengers at the track. Maybe it went back up the connection to layover on the center track of the el? Perhaps it continued to the yards, ducking under the Grant Avenue station and turning north? Maybe it continued south to the Howard Beach station and layed over there?

Regardless of how it worked, the Aqueduct Special would always be waiting at the same platform at the end of the racing day. There was no special fare. The train made A-train express stops, but really more of an “E-express” run — after 42nd Street, it would cross to the flyover connection and stop on the lower-level of the 50th Street station. Then it would continue to Queens and terminate in Jamaica. It was weird how it worked, but it worked.

Eventually, the Aqueduct Special was replaced by the JFK Express. The two co-mingled for a while, with the JFK Express making all express stops on the 6th Avenue Line, crossing to the 8th Avenue Line at West 4th Street, then making limited stops to JFK and the track (when the horses are running) that included Chambers Street, Fulton Street and Jay Street only). Since the JFK Express ran every 20 minutes throughout the day, and stopped at the track if someone wanted to, there was little reason to have an Aqueduct Special continue.

Eventually, there was little reason to have a JFK Express either, since few people rode it. All it would do was piss off subway riders who waited endlessly for a broken-down, dirty, noisy, hot, graffiti-covered CC train of R-10 cars while the gleaming clean, air conditioned, and EMPTY JFK Express glided smoothly by them. It lost lots of money and the Port Authority would not pick up the bill. Eventually, it was dropped.

The shame of it was that for the $5 or $6 dollars, and a 40-minute ride from midtown, it was a bargain compared with a $20–$30 cab ride (or $50–$300 cabride if you were foreign, but that is another story).



One of my favorite subjects is how you can’t get to New York City airports via rapid transit. Many believe that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey traditionally didn’t want mass transit anywhere near any of their airports. They were concerned with an influx of indigents, and general security problems. They also make a lot of money from parking. They have long worked hard to make sure the transit connections stay as convoluted as possible. Another factor in the lack of same was the Port Authority’s cousin, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) which was run by Robert Moses, another fan of public transit as long as it was a road. His activities led to many things you could only get to in a car…

On the other hand, schemes to extend the subway into the airports just haven’t met the need. The big market to be captured is Manhattan business people and Manhattan residents, and they do not ride the subway, and especially not with baggage. Even people who normally use the subway would not want to deal with baggage. Air travelers will pay several times the subway fare for a more spacious and secure ride to the airport, amply demonstrated by the existing bus and taxi usage from Manhattan. This argues for a separate line, or at least a rather separate train service.

A new service on a reasonable frequency– every 10 minutes perhaps–cannot physically be operated from Penn Station today. If it were operated from Grand Central via 63rdSt tunnel, it would occupy a lot of the added capacity the Long Island Rail Road needs too. Compared to no service at all via 63rd, it helps the LIRR, but really the airport service could use its own East River crossing.

The Port Authority had proposed a line from the 59st/2Av area to La Guardia and then on to Kennedy Airport (JFK). This line was to be completely separate from the existing subway/Long Island Rail Road system and operated for airport passengers only. There was lots of opposition to this plan, some of it NIMBY (especially on the East Side near the proposed Manhattan terminal) but some people pointed out the obvious, that extending existing rail systems to the airports makes more sense than building a new, separate system. But the new Port Authority head George Marlin has cancelled such a plan, and now much smaller-scale services are being spoken of, ones that are less likely to work since they will not provide a one-seat ride from any Manhattan point to the air terminals. A starter from Manhattan just to La Guardia is still a possibility though.

Question: given that you would need a taxi to access the terminal at 2nd/59th (anybody remember the Second Avenue Subway?), and given that the Port Authority is talking about a premium fare on this line, why wouldn’t people stay in the taxi all the way to the airport?

You can get to Kennedy Airport (JFK), by a combination of “A” train to Howard Beach (at JFK perimeter), then a free transfer to the Port Authority shuttle bus. During the week, service is pretty good but weekend schedules on the Far Rockaway branch of the “A” service is only 20 minutes. However, it IS possible to reach JFK by subway (and shuttle bus). For the bargain-hunting traveller, the NYC-JFK fare of $1.25 is a bargain.

La Guardia has 3 buses: Q33 from Roosevelt Ave/Jackson Hts (E,F,G,R,7 trains); Q48 from Main St Flushing and Shea Stadium (#7 train); and M60 serving Harlem via the Triboro Bridge (2,3,4,5,6 trains and Metro North) crossing 125 St to Lenox Ave; also serving the Bronx using the IRT lines to connect.

There are also express bus runs from many points in the city to the airports, but they can really get bogged down in peak traffic. La Guardia is 12 miles from midtown; the shortest run is 25 minutes but can take over an hour.

“The train to the plane” had cars with a pale blue circle within which was an airplane. It ran about every 20 minutes. It stopped a long (avenue) block away from Penn Station, or you had to change trains in downtown. The Train to the Plane’s main problem was that it didn’t go to the plane, i.e. the air terminals. Secondary to that, it had no dedicated boarding areas with accommodations for travellers with bags and such. After a long advertising blitz, the JFK express was discontinued when the patronage didn’t cover the incremental costs (crew). “A” train service was also improved; at the time of the JFK express there was no off-peak express service down Fulton Street, Brooklyn. The expresses now run all day. There is also bus service from subway stations at 179 St, Queens (Q3 bus) – “F” train; Union Turnpike (E,F), 121 Street (J/Z), and Lefferts Blvd (other branch of the A) (Q10 bus); and from New Lots Avenue (#3 train) -(B15 bus). The Q3 also serves the LIRR Locust Manor Station (limited service) and the Q10 serves LIRR Kew Gardens (also limited service). Why can’t they run an express bus down the Van Wyck Expressway to Jamaica, the heart of the Long Island Rail Road and connect with all of Long Island? That would also provide a one-change service from Penn Station and Flatbush Avenue. These buses, unlike the shuttle from Howard Beach, have a separate fare (so it costs $2.50 each way).

The New York City Transit Authority also did not like “The train to the plane”, because it wrecked train movements on the regular subways. The crossover at West 4th St was especially bad: here the local tracks connect, but it ran on the express tracks in 6th Ave and 8th Ave, so each JFK train had to slip between locals on both routes as well as merge into the next express track. There were some problems with the Fulton St (Brooklyn) express track usage also. The MTA made them run it, so to speak, and the NYCTA people were looking for reasons to kill it. Times Square and the Lex line are “IRT” routes and can’t handle the 10 foot cars used on the line to Howard Beach. The JFK Express was the TA’s attempt to compete with the Carey bus in the Manhattan – JFK market. The service lasted about ten years. The Manhattan terminal was at 6th Av./57st. Trains proceeded down the IND 6th Ave. line to W. 4th street, then switched to the 8th Ave line. The train then followed the A route thru lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. At the Howard Beach station, busses with luggage space met the train to expedite passengers to the airline terminals.

Another problem with the JFK Express is that they charged a premium fare for what was basically a subway ride. While the Carey bus can get away with charging a premium because they go straight to the terminal and provide motor coaches with reclining padded seats and plenty of luggage space, the Transit Authority was offering R46 subway cars connecting with a basic transit bus (and carry your own luggage from bus to train and through the turnstile maze on the City end of the journey. Washington, Atlanta, Chicago (both airports), and Cleveland have rapid transit stations connected with airline terminals and they do NOT charge an extra fare. Although few people with lots of luggage take the train to airports, employees and “light” travellers do use these services. When the TA finally and pulled the plug on the “JFK Distress”, the Port Authority extended the Long Term Parking lot shuttle bus to the Howard Beach station where passengers connect to the Far Rockaway A service. Although the A train can be slow (esp. on weekends w/20 minute headway), the service is used by employees and budget-conscious travellers. It is the only way to get from Manhattan to JFK for $1.25. Despite the fact that the TA refuses to promote this connection, a fair amount of people can be seen using the Howard Beach connection during JFK’s peak hours.

Lastly, the bottom line was it didn’t get very many riders. I know that’s the oldest story in the book for abandoning rail service, but this idea either needed capital investment to be a train to the plane, or give up, and they gave up.

Recently, within the last 2-3 years, there have been negotiations that would have provided a transit link to Newark Airport. The recent monorail project was a preemptive strike to stop the installation of other transit modes running up to the terminals. Certainly the Port Authority was interested in a separate transportation line, and their history shows they have no interest in bringing the general transit system into their airports. So the separate nature of the monorail they proposed is not a surprise.

The Port Authority is now proposing to extend the Newark Airport (EWR) monorail, now almost finished, to a new station on the North East Corridor. Passengers would transfer between trains and airport via the monorail, which has stops in all three terminals. The NEC is right next to Newark International. The “logical” thing would be for the state to pay for shifting the tracks (or maybe just 2 of them) over to the airport for a direct connection into the terminal. Transfers are a hassle; that’s why people still take the taxi to the airport. NJTransit should serve the airport via a direct connection. This suggestion is for commuter trains only, not intercity trains. So we end up back at the idea of a transfer station on the NEC, provided it can be made nice like an air terminal– staff to guide people, no stairclimbing, and so on. If the monorail is “fun”, people won’t mind. It is a proven fact that ridership falls away with increasing numbers of transfers. One reason, no doubt, for the direct transfers one finds in many European airports (bus,rail -to- air) and train stations (bus,tram -to- train).

The monorail should have been open a year ago – Chicago built a heavy rail link for all the terminals and parking lots at O’Hare starting later and it’s been running more than a year; EWR built the Monorail stations in the terminals when it was building new terminals in 1970! To bring the NEC into the airport would require moving about 10 miles of track (remember, this is 90MPH between Elizabeth and the ex-Lehigh Valley junction) without cutting speeds. Overhead crossings and crossing US1-9, a NJ Turnpike access road at both ends of the airport, and the need for an alignment that doesn’t interfere with aircraft movements at terminals “A” and “C”, plus the cost of R-O-W acquisition (even airport parking lots and hotels represent expensive real estate). A rough guess? several BILLION bucks. If you can build that ugly monstrosity known as the Meadowlands portion of the NJ Turnpike, you can find a way to build a decent airport connection for NJT trains.

Others don’t agree with this suggestion at all. From the point of view of someone who uses the NEC and NJT trains to get to all sorts of places other than the airport it would seem like a very bad thing to inconvenience the vast majority of NJTransit riders with 10 to 15 minutes added to the (already time consuming) running time, just to get a few people to the airport. The only practical solution is to build a transfer station right on the NEC to the airport monorail with convenient cross platform transfer. This will also reduce the total amount of walking, since the monorail stops are right at each terminal building, something that would be very difficult to arrange with a heavy rail line at the airport.

Newark has the time-honored PATH route to Newark Penn Station and shuttle bus ($4) or the cheaper local bus ($1). Total cost $5 or 2.

The best thing for those in Lackawanna-land (New Jersey) is the airport express bus because, after many years of hollering, it was extended to Newark, Broad Street so one can get a 2 seat ride to the airport! It takes 75 minutes in rush hour and 90 off-peak, because there are no express trains then. The limo companies do it in 35 minutes (70MPH all the way). None of the bus companies in this area that go to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC, or to Newark (and that service is very thin) have EVER thought of taking a few seats from about 10 buses and running a (probably highly profitable) express bus from the Dover area, serving about 4 towns from existing NJT park and ride lots, and then going to the airport. A limo is $30-40, a bus could get $15 (it’s $6.75 to NYC including a share of the tunnel toll) and not need a subsidy (the airport bus is $4, the train to Newark from here is $5.45, $8.55 round trip off peak).

Philadelphia’s airport line provides thru service from some lines, and it’s cheap by many standards. It’s actually expensive, relative to South East Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) prices for the same distance, but unlike NYC, it’s the “only” train to the airport. There’s no subway service. But it’s SLOW (top speed is 50 for 2 miles), and there’s no thru ticketing with AMTRAK, and the NEC trains don’t serve it. Most of the running is in terminal areas. That’s a consequence of having the airport relatively close to center city. The thrust, as it should be, is to get “locals” – people from the Philadelphia metro area, including Wilmington DE and Trenton, NJ, to leave their cars at home (or at a railroad parking lot) and take a train to the airport. Not many people are going to take the train to Newark Airport from Philadelphia, Boston, or Baltimore!

SEPTA makes three stops in the Philadelphia Airport station. Not a major deal. And even with a single station, a healthy dose of moving sidewalks would take care of the rest. These are “never”, as far as I’m concerned, found in sufficient quantity, nor at sufficient speeds. It’s pretty pathetic when you can walk faster than one of these things.

If you are interested in good rail access to airports, go to Europe and visit Frankfurt and Zurich. These airports are served by both suburban trains and intercity trains. (imagine Amtrak NEC trains serving JFK!) Lots of European airports are tied into local rail systems, and it seems that more of them are getting rail links all the time.

Applying the European ideas to the monorail/NEC station idea for Newark, it could be setup to serve both the eastbound and westbound platforms with cross platform transfers, and NJT ticket machines could be installed at the monorail stops at each terminal building at the airport to make things smoother. Indeed this would be very much like the OrlyVal to RER-A Antony station at Orly Airport in Paris, with the difference that the monorail will be free, unlike the charge that you have to pay for riding the OrlyVal.

Even commuters like to get to where they are going as fast as possible. In the best of scenarios, the number of people going to the airport would be a small minority of all those taking NJTransit trains. While it would be inappropriate to increase the commute time of a vast majority of commuters considerably. A service that originates or terminates at an airport is different, it does not inconvenience the everyday commuter. Look at e.g. London-Heathrow (terminus of Piccadilly Line and soon to be terminus of Heathrow Express), Paris-CDG (terminus of RER-A Roissy line), Munich (terminus of S-8), Zurich and Geneva (terminus of SBB-CFF-FFS) etc. etc. They are all terminuses of commuter or intercity lines. The only case where airports are found to be accessible from main line at an intermediate stop are (a) when the airport was built at a railway line (London-Gatwick, although the most heavily used service to Gatwick is a service that terminates at Gatwick – the Gatwick Express from London Victoria), or (b) when a high speed line was diverted to run under the airport thus not increasing the running time of the non-airport passengers (e.g. soon to be Brussels).

A facility to check in the baggage at the train station would make it much more attractive too, but this is unlikely to happen since the airlines might not cooperate. Ideally, a traveler could check baggage in at New York or Newark Penn Station, and check incoming baggage through to those destinations. But I am not holding my breath on that one in this country. Only in Switzerland and Germany. You can buy a plane ticket and check your baggage through to cities that don’t have airports.

Fall of ridership is more severe if the transfer is a pain consisting of things like walking a mile and climbing eight flights of stairs to catch a connection that runs once an hour. Convenient cross platform transfers with frequent service tends to reduce this factor considerably.

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority is currently negotiating with private railroad company to locate a terminal on the airports property.

The ‘Americans With Disabilities Act’ basically prevents anything new being built along this line that would have stairs unless there are elevators also. This also helps families, especially with small children walking or in strollers and helps everyone else by speeding things up – it’s much faster to walk on a ramp than stairs.

The NY Daily News reported that the NYC Transit Authority knew about poorly spaced signals which may have been a cause of the Williamsburg Bridge crash from a safety consultant’s report done in 1992 following the 1991 IRT Union Square crash. Investigators believe that in the Williamsburg bridge crash, the motorman ran a red signal, the emergency brakes engaged but it was too late to stop the train.

The Union Square report indicated that half of the 16 signals on a stretch (no distance given) of the 4,5,6 lines were too close together. Trains traveling at top speed between the signals did not have enough time to stop. The News also says that the signal problems were compounded by brakes which should take 250 feet to stop a train but can take 100 feet more than that to stop.

TA management acknowledged that they did not pass this information to subway motormen so that they might take extra precautions. TA president Alan Kiepper acknowledged that poor signal spacing “could be fairly extensive” among the system’s 11,000 signals built decades ago for lighter, slower trains but insisted that a motorman applying the train’s regular brakes should have no problem stopping. The TA has hired an engineering firm to study the entire signal system.

In a separate article the TA announced plans to implement a “remote control” system on the “L” Canarsie line between Manhattan and Canarsie, Brooklyn. It plans to issue a contract to determine the cost of the project. If it is implemented it would be operational by 2003 and would not require motormen or conductors. The article also stated that an automated system was tried in 1962 on the Times Square-Grand Central shuttle for several months over the protests of transit workers. After a mysterious fire destroyed key train installations it was taken out of service. A transit workers spokesman called the TA’s new proposal ridiculous because, “When you have an old system like ours, it’s difficult to integrate it.” Their feeling is that people will stop riding the subway trains en-masse without conductors, and especially without motormen. They are the only people who can assist people on the train in an emergency and notify authorities. An automated train will not be able to stop as it drags someone down the platform or call police if there is a disturbance on board.

The Williamsburg Bridge crash sounds like the big crash on the Key System’s Oakland Pier back in the 20’s or so. The pier was the most densely signaled piece of track in the world and was equipped with automatic tripper arms. One foggy day a Sacramento Northern interurban train was going out the pier and the motorman couldn’t see the signal. The tripper arm put the brakes into emergency, but the train couldn’t stop before colliding with the Key train ahead of it. The trains telescoped with heavy casualties. The Key System had to lengthen some of the blocks so that this wouldn’t happen again.



The Driver’s waiting for a fare–notice the “availability” of the cab, by the white lite-lit Medallion on the cab roof!
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