New York Subway


Here is one of my favorite places: Coney Island. No, not the amusement park; the New York City Transit Authority shops. This has got to be the largest rapid transit repair facility in the World. This place could build a new subway car in a day from spare parts. Let me know if anything is bigger, but I know it beats Washington DC; Metro North at Harmon, White Plains North, or New Haven; BART; Philadelphia/SEPTA; London Underground; “Shops” (South Shore at Michigan City); Montreal Metro; Toronto; Miami; Boston MTA; Chicago CTA; Nice, France tramway; Japan???; SNCF in France.

The Loss of Rapid Transit on New York’s Second Avenue

The First Avenue Association letterhead from 1940 listed the group’s Directors. Of the thirty-two directors, a few were simply elite professionals — lawyers, judges, business managers — with no obvious vested interest in the demolition of the el. Twelve of the directors, however, clearly held high positions at real estate firms. Seven others held positions at private firms, whose business was not listed, that may also have been involved in real estate. One director, an architect, also would be involved in real estate development. Two directors were bankers, and three, treasurers of major institutions — representing, therefore, large investors.

Realtors, investors, and architects all would profit from the property development that would accompany the transformation of Second Avenue into a higher-class neighborhood. One director, the Chairman of the Board of Bloomingdales, also would benefit from the gentrification of the neighborhood near his expensive East Side department store. The director with the most vested interest in the el demolition, however, was the Secretary-Treasurer of the East Side Omnibus Corp. With the el demolished, and no subway along the route to replace it, many passengers would rely on buses along Second Avenue for transportation — buses that the East Side Omnibus Corp. could operate. There is no other indication that the First Avenue Association was party to an anti-rail transit conspiracy, however. The vast majority of the association’s directors were involved in real estate. They simply hoped to increase in property values along the corridor.

The First Avenue Association agreed that the el was a traffic obstruction. The association did not believe that the el should be replaced with a subway, and then torn down.

Rather, it argued that the el should be torn down immediately, to improve automobile access. The real aim of the association was not to improve accessibility to Second Avenue, but to reduce traffic on First Avenue.

For more information on the loss of rapid transit on New York’s Second Avenue


Winter Weather

Subways in the Winter

Subways are better off in the Winter than trams or trains. Yes, the entrances get clogged like this one at Park Slope. Where the subway goes above ground, there can be problems. Sometimes even a stranded train.



What to do in New York City when you have an hour to kill? Try a subway ride. Dangerous? No, especially in daylight. One caution, keep out of the way during the morning and evening rush hours. Catch it at numerous locations. There are many spots to transfer between the various lines. It only costs a dollar to ride as much as you want.

The New York City Transit System is divided into two divisions: “A” and “B”, with the “B” division having subdivisions “B1” and “B2”. These divisional designations are used by operating personnel but the public has the former designations (IRT, BMT and IND) so firmly entrenched in their minds that nothing will ever change it. The old designations date back to the days of private ownership.

Electrification of trolleys and elevateds helped eliminate pollution and increase speed within the city, but most importantly, it made subways possible. The city paid for construction of the subways and then leased them to private operators. Partially because the nickel subway fare was important to keep politically, the city bought out the private operators in 1940.

The BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) is the worst to ride and the slowest. In Brooklyn it is above ground in many spots. It consists of the Fourth Ave. line in Brooklyn and two routes in Manhattan. The Manhattan lines run up Broadway-7th Avenue to 57th Street and then into Queens.

The IND (formerly the Independent City Owned Rapid Transit Railroad) has two trunk lines in Manhattan. The 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue join at 59th Street to go to Harlem. They split in Harlem with one branch to 207th Street and another to the Bronx via Grand Concourse. From 53rd Street, there is a branch to Jamaica in Queens. Two branches run from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn. It is the fastest and newest of the subway lines.

The IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) goes to the most spots. Its main lines are the Broadway-7th Avenue and the Lexington-4th Avenue. Branches run to Van Cortlandt Park and to Lenox Avenue and on to the Bronx. A branch runs over the former New York, Westchester and Boston to Dyre Avenue. A short extension goes to South Ferry. In the Bronx and to Pelham Bay it is above ground.

Most of my experience is in Manhattan. Based out of Grand Central area, I am reasonably adept at getting where I want to go. One of the traps I have run into is not knowing that “B” and “D” trains through Rockefeller Center shuttle only to 34th Street and require a change to continue downtown. The rebuilding of the “7” line from 42nd Street to Flushing through Grand Central has somewhat cramped my style in being able to reach Rockefeller Center from Grand Central.

The South Street Seaport can be reached directly from Grand Central by boarding a “4” or “5” headed downtown to Fulton Street. The “5” is better because it is an express and only stops twice, while the “4” makes up to nine stops. If the weather is pleasant, exit up to the street level and head east on Fulton Street. Since the station is a major interchange with both the BMT and IND, you can walk through the interconnecting tunnels and get a lot closer to the seaport if it is cold or rainy. Returning home, you could vary your route by any number of combinations. One possibility is to take a “2” or “3” uptown to Times Square and then the “S” back to Grand Central. For real variety, take the “A” uptown to Columbus Circle, change to a “1”, “2” or “3” back downtown to Times Square, then the “S” over to GCT.

Greenwich Village is served by two stations: an express stop at West 4th/Washington Square and a local at Christopher Street/ Sheridan Square. West 4th is a connector between the 8th Avenue (IND) line and the 6th Avenue line. Catch the local at 6th Avenue/42nd Street and the express at Times Square or Penn Station.

Grand Central to Penn Station is only a short ride with one change. Start by taking the “S” (shuttle) train from GCT to Times Square. Leaving your train in Times Square, follow the signs to the “1”, “2” or “3” train. Penn Station is the first stop headed downtown. Penn Station can also be reached on the IND line.

Bloomingdale’s Department Store and Central Park can be easily reached from Grand Central by heading uptown on a “4”, “5” or “6” train. Central Park is also served by “N” and “R” trains which run between Queens and Times Square. The big subway station at Columbus Circle (the other side of Central Park) is served by “1”, “B”, “D” and “E” trains, as well as the “A”, “C” & “K” trains. The “A” train, as well as the “D”, hug Central Park on the west side and provide stops at such tourist places as the Museum of Natural History.

Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty are at the end of the “1” line. Take the “S” from Grand Central to Times Square then catch the “1”. Since this is a local, you may want to take a “2” or “3” express to Chambers Street and then change to a “1”. The Statue ticket booth and the ferry are right outside the South Ferry station. Sometimes on a long train, you may have to move forward a few cars at Rector Street because South Ferry is an old and small station. To ride effectively (and not get lost), you need a good subway map. They are free and at many places. The easiest is the information booth in Grand Central Terminal.

Since 1904, underground travel has been available to New Yorkers and to the many tourists to the city. Initially, locals ran at 15 MPH and expresses at 25 MPH. Some days the system is lucky to proceed at that pace. This was faster than surface lines and the many elevateds in place at that time. Over 400 000 passengers rode subways before the end of its first year. Now, at least that many jump over the turnstiles each year.

The equipment in service is of a wide variety. The “B” Division (IND and BMT) has new Class R68 cars built by a Westinghouse joint venture. This division also has 678 Class R46 cars built between 1975 and 1978. These cars replaced pre-1940 cars. The “A” Division (IRT) has 325 Class R62 cars built by Kawasaki. Another 825 cars are by Bombardier of Canada. In addition, many older cars have been superbly rebuilt. This includes some Class R17 cars built in 1955-56 by St. Louis. Pullman Standard has been a large provider of cars in the past. Most of the other equipment is in sad shape – high mileage and graffiti marred.
Every rider must conclude – it is an EXPERIENCE !


November 3, 1969 – This is the last day of operation of pre-WWII cars on the IRT #8 3rd Avenue El in The Bronx. The last train made one trip in the AM rush. (N)
Steinway Motor Car 5641 (ACF-1925)
World’s Fair-Steinway Motor Car 5670 (St Louis-1938)
Low-Voltage Trailer Car 5353 (Pullman-1922)
Steinway Motor Car 5636 (ACF-1925)
World’s Fair-Steinway Motor Car 5676 (St Louis-1938)



Extension of the Number 7 Flushing Line



I’m trying to find out what happened to the SUBWAY STRAP?

If I search, all I can find is some opportunist who invented some contraption that you can buy from him that sort of does the same thing …. but it is germ free!

When did Subway Straps disappear???? Who made this decision?????

Are we sure this opportunist mentioned above didn’t previously work in Procurement for NYCTA, change specs for contracts, then retire to form a great new business for himself?

I’m sure that germs wasn’t the reason. New Yorkers are smart enough to wash their own hands.

Without the strap, if the subway car dumps air and goes into emergency, it’s your arm and shoulder against a stainless steel bar (really, who do you think would win?). (Maybe newer cars don’t go into emergency?) The strap (either leather or plastic) was flexible and let your arm/shoulder win!

The Interborough elevated rolling stock used leather straps for the benefit of the straphangers. I believe the original Interborough subway stock also used straps. Someone claimed that the inventor of the retractable (spring-loaded) handle for standees got a royalty on each of those devices installed on the Interborough and other systems. I think that the cars up through the R-42 had spring-loaded grabbers. Two problems may have caused their demise: 1) when the spring broke, the handle could swing loose and clobber a passenger, bringing a claim; 2) the patent may have expired and there was no reason for an insider to keep ordering them. Even some streetcars in the U.S. had spring-loaded grab handles. When the MTA rehabbed many subway cars, they returned to service with bars, no handles.

See a Boston subway car and an ad for Transtrap



The best thing about the newspaper
NEW YORK NEWSDAY is columnist Jim Dwyer who is some sort of a subway expert. He recently had come into possession of a 1940 timetable for the Independent Subway System (IND). At random he looked at the Sunday morning schedule for the Queens Brooklyn local now known as the “G” train. There was a train every six minutes from 7 a.m. to 10 in the morning. The frequency then went to every five minutes for the rest of the day.

The “G” runs from the IND routes in downtown Brooklyn to Long Island City in Queens via subway where it connects to other IND routes. At Queens Plaza it joins trackage of the IND Jamaica line and runs to Forest Hills.

1940 was a landmark year as it marked the consolidation of what had been three divergent systems (IRT, BMT and IND) into a unified system. Also, construction of the subway was essentially completed by 1940. 25,885 individuals worked for the three systems before the city took over.

Although the tracks and tunnels were complete in 1940, the bureaucracy was not. The unifying headquarters of the three systems was called the Board of Transportation. By 1953, it became the Transit Authority and had 35,606 employees. In all fairness, some of this increase was because the Transit Workers Union had won a 40-hour week. In that year a new building at 370 Jay Street was opened. It was designed for 1,500 employees. It now holds 3,000. A new building in Brooklyn called Livingston Plaza will hold 2,500 more people now scattered in rental property. Ironically, nobody in either of these two buildings moves a train, drives a bus or sells a token.

As the last fifty years went by, conditions changed. The six-day week disappeared and for a variety of reasons ridership declined. Train service was reduced.

In 1968 another transit bureaucracy was formed – the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). It was formed to: take power away from Robert Moses (now dead); build 21 new subway lines (also dead); fill out papers for grants from Washington (also dead); take money from motorists and give to subway riders (mission accomplished); and coordinate regional transit (???). It didn’t even replace the Transit Authority. The bottom line is we are not sure what it does.

The MTA started with no office space and no employees. By 1970 it had 83 employees and went to 295 by 1982. Now it has 465 people who fill a 20-story building and overflow to another building purchased in 1990. I wonder if we would miss it if it was wiped out?

In 1990, TA employees have swollen to 38,178 but the “G” train only runs at 15 minute intervals on Sunday mornings. Bottom line looks like half the subway we had fifty years ago run by half again as many people.

The biggest controversy now underway is the subway’s nocturnal habits. The Transit Authority has proposed closing the system between 1 and 5 a.m. Many feel this is a way of spooking riders into accepting another fare increase. TA President Alan Keipper wants to run the system “like a railroad” – with very infrequent trains on fixed schedules. Others counter that the way to save is running shorter trains with only one employee.

The down side of killing red-eye service are the 39,000 people who ride trains at those hours. Few have cars. Substituting buses would raise employee-to-passenger ratios, burn more fuel and lengthen rides.

The logistical problems with closing the subways would be immense. Power couldn’t be cut because work trains need to run. Many stations have no street gates. Kids could hide in the system at night and vandalize trains parked there because of full yards.

Increasing the current 20-minute wait during the wee hours of the morning would pose problems because of the 30 major transfer points. A long trip could take hours.

Getting back to the MTA, its real estate ventures are now big time. A 22-story office tower to be built by private interests has been proposed directly over the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal (New York’s symbol of historic preservation). The original concept of an office tower in this spot came in 1910 from Warren & Wetmore who designed the terminal. Similar plans have shown up over the years and a 22-year battle over “air rights” continues in the Grand Central area. “Air rights” is the concept that enough short buildings and open spaces must exist to compensate for the tall buildings in a particular section of the city.

Rather than the “modern”, but ugly, 55 story and 59 story skyscrapers proposed in the 1960’s by Penn-Central, the proposed design is consistent with the exterior facade of the terminal. The proposed building has an enormous mansard roof and monumental columns just like the terminal below. It is set back enough so as to not overwhelm the terminal. Ironically, the terminal is built with strong enough supports and foundations to accommodate exactly this building.

The MTA wants to have clear title to the terminal before it completes its $400 million master renovation plan. Therefore, it is eager to see the property shed of some value, to help reduce the eventual purchase price or condemnation award. By purchasing property in the area, it can use the associated air rights to help a developer help the MTA.





A postcard view from the Brooklyn Bridge Tower when the Myrtle Avenue El Line ran over the bridge to Manhattan. Skyline of Lower Manhattan, showing the Woolworth Building Left) and Municipal Building right.



Subway Boring Machine


Hidden deep under New York City, a “secret” subway stop is drawing visitors.

The Big Apple’s City Hall station, a beautiful structure that opened in 1904, but has been out of use for decades, can be seen by riders … if they know how to make the journey. If you want to check out this long-forgotten station, one of the “most gorgeous gems in the world of mass transit,” you’ll have to take the 6 train and then stay on board. The 6 train used to make all passengers leave the train at the Brooklyn Bridge stop, but no longer. If you have a little extra time, you can stay on the train and view the City Hall station as the train makes its turnaround. So why was the station closed so many years ago? The station’s curved tracks played a part in its closure. When subway cars moved their doors to the center, it “created an dangerous gap between the exit point on the train and the platform.” There were plans to make the stop into a transit museum, but security concerns, especially following the events of 9/11/01, put the plan in limbo. Now, though, folks who take a little extra time amid New York’s hustle and bustle can spy the station with their own eyes.





Path of the Second Avenue Subway from Google Earth©




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