History of the New York City Subway

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New York City Subway car at the 23rd Street station
Political cartoon critical of IRT service in 1905. The IRT is labeled as the "Interborough Rattled Transit".

The first underground line of the New York City Subway opened on October 27, 1904, almost 35 years after the opening of the first elevated line in New York City, which became the IRT Ninth Avenue Line. By the time the first subway opened, the lines had been consolidated into two privately owned systems, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT, later Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation, BMT) and the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT). The city was closely involved: all lines built for the IRT and most other lines built or improved for the BRT after 1913 were built by the city and leased to the companies. The first line of the city-owned and operated Independent Subway System (IND) opened in 1932; this system was intended to compete with the private systems and allow some of the elevated railways to be torn down, but kept within the core of the City due to the low amount of startup capital provided to the municipal Board of Transportation, the later MTA, by the state.[1] This required it to be run 'at cost', necessitating fares up to double the five-cent fare popular at the time.[2]

In 1940, the two private systems were bought by the city and some elevated lines closed immediately while others closed soon after. Integration was slow, but several connections were built between the IND and BMT, and now operate as one division called the B Division. Since the IRT tunnel segments are too small and stations too narrow to accommodate B Division cars, and contain curves too sharp for B Division cars, the IRT remains its own division, A Division.

The New York City Transit Authority, a public authority presided by New York City, was created in 1953 to take over subway, bus, and streetcar operations from the city, and placed under control of the state-level Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968.

The September 11 attacks resulted in service disruptions on lines running through Lower Manhattan, particularly the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line, which ran directly underneath the World Trade Center between the Chambers Street and Rector Street stations. Sections of the tunnel, as well as the Cortlandt Street station, which was directly underneath the Twin Towers, were severely damaged by the collapse and had to be rebuilt, requiring suspension of service on that line south of Chambers Street. Ten other nearby stations were closed while dust and debris were cleaned up. By March 2002, seven of those stations had reopened. The rest (except for Cortlandt Street on the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line) reopened on September 15, 2002 along with service south of Chambers Street.[3][4]

Expansions of the New York City Subway include the 7 Subway Extension to open in late 2014, and the Second Avenue Subway, the first phase of which is slated to open in December 2016.


Steam railways[edit]

Charles Harvey demonstrating his elevated railroad design on Greenwich Street in 1867

The beginnings of the Subway came from various excursion railroads to Coney Island and elevated railroads in Manhattan and Brooklyn. At that time, New York County (Manhattan Island and part of the Bronx), Kings County (including the Cities of Brooklyn and Williamsburg), and Queens County were separate municipal entities.

In New York, competing steam-powered elevated railroads were built over major avenues. The first elevated line was constructed in 1867-70 by Charles Harvey and his West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway company along Greenwich Street and Ninth Avenue (although cable cars were the initial mode of transportation on that railway). Later more lines were built on Second, Third and Sixth Avenues. None of these structures remain today, but these lines later shared trackage with subway trains as part of the IRT system.

In Kings County, elevated railroads were also built by several companies, over Lexington, Myrtle, Third and Fifth Avenues, Fulton Street and Broadway. These also later shared trackage with subway trains, and even operated into the subway, as part of the BRT and BMT. Most of these structures have been dismantled, but some remain in original form, mostly rebuilt and upgraded. These lines were linked to Manhattan by various ferries and later the tracks along the Brooklyn Bridge (which originally had their own line, and were later integrated into the BRT/BMT).

Also in Kings County, six steam excursion railroads were built to various beaches in the southern part of the county; all but one (the Manhattan Beach Line) eventually fell under BMT control.

Beach Pneumatic Transit[edit]

Beach Pneumatic Transit

The Beach Pneumatic Transit was the first attempt to build an underground public transit system in New York City. In 1869, Alfred Ely Beach and his Beach Pneumatic Transit Company of New York began constructing a pneumatic subway line beneath Broadway. Funneled through a company he set up, Beach put up $350,000 of his own money to bankroll the project.[5] Built in only 58 days,[6] its single tunnel, 312 feet (95 m) long, 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter, was completed in 1870 and ran under Broadway from Warren Street to Murray Street.[7] It remained little more than a curiosity, running only a single car on its one-block-long track to a dead-end at its terminus. (Passengers would simply ride out and back, to see what the proposed subway might be like.) During its first two weeks of operation, the Beach Pneumatic Transit sold over 11,000 rides with 400,000 rides provided during its first year of operation.[8][9] Although the public showed initial approval, Beach was delayed in getting permission to expand it due to official obstruction for various reasons. By the time he finally gained permission in 1873, public and financial support had waned, and the subway was closed down. The final blow to the project was a stock market crash which caused investors to withdraw support. It is unclear that such a system could have been practical for a large-scale subway network.[10] After the project was shut down, the tunnel entrance was sealed and the station, built in part of the basement of the Rogers Peet Building, was reclaimed for other uses. The entire building was lost to fire in 1898.[11] In 1912, workers excavating for the present-day BMT Broadway Line dug into the old Beach tunnel; today, no part of this line remains as the tunnel was completely within the limits of the present day City Hall Station under Broadway.

The first subways[edit]

In 1898, New York, Kings and Richmond Counties, and parts of Queens and Westchester Counties and their constituent cities, towns, villages and hamlets were consolidated into the City of Greater New York. During this era the expanded City of New York resolved that it wanted the core of future rapid transit to be underground subways, but realized that no private company was willing to put up the enormous capital required to build beneath the streets.[12][13]

1906 IRT map

The City decided to issue rapid transit bonds outside of its regular bonded debt limit and build the subways itself, and contracted with the IRT (which by that time ran the elevated lines in Manhattan) to equip and operate the subways, sharing the profits with the City and guaranteeing a fixed five-cent fare.

At this time, the original subway (Contract 1) was built from City Hall to the Bronx, with the first part opening in October 1904; an extension to Atlantic Avenue at the LIRR Flatbush Terminal (now Atlantic Terminal) in Brooklyn was built soon after as Contract 2.


The subway system began during the War of Currents when Thomas Edison and his opponent, George Westinghouse, struggled over acceptance of direct current or alternating current as the standard way to deliver electricity. Alternating current became the standard for non-railroad purposes, but New York City Subway adopted direct current as more suitable for urban railroad purposes. To this day, the New York City Transit Authority converts alternating current to 600 volts direct current to power the trains, as do most earlier and later local transit railways around the world. The B Division is electrified at 600V third rail, while the A Division is electrified at 625V DC third rail.

In Brooklyn, the various elevated railroads and many of the surface steam railroads, as well as most of the trolley lines, were consolidated under the BRT. Some improvements were made to these lines at company expense during this era.

The Dual Contracts[edit]

1924 BMT map

The BRT, which just barely entered Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge, wanted the opportunity to compete with the IRT, and the IRT wanted to extend its Brooklyn line to compete with the BRT. This led to the City's agreeing to contract for future subways with both the BRT and IRT.

The expansion of rapid transit was greatly facilitated by the signing of the Dual Contracts in 1913. Contract 3 was signed between the IRT and the City; the contract between the BRT and the City was Contract 4. The majority of the present-day subway system was either built or improved under these contracts[citation needed], which not only built new lines but added tracks and connections to existing lines of both companies. The Astoria Line and Flushing Line were built at this time, and were for some time operated by both companies.

The Independent System[edit]

The City, bolstered by political claims that the private companies were reaping profits at taxpayer expense, determined that it would build, equip and operate a new system itself, with private investment and without sharing the profits with private entities. This led to the building of the Independent City-Owned Subway (ICOS), sometimes called the Independent Subway System (ISS), the Independent City-Owned Rapid Transit Railroad, or simply The Eighth Avenue Subway after the location of its premier Manhattan mainline. After the City acquired the BMT and IRT in 1940, the Independent lines were dubbed the IND to follow the three-letter initialisms of the other systems.

As the first line neared completion, New York City offered it for private operation as a formality, knowing that no operator would meet its terms. Thus the city declared that it would operate it itself, formalizing a foregone conclusion. The first line opened without a formal ceremony. The trains began operating their regular schedules ahead of time, and all stations of the Eighth Avenue Line, from 207th Street in Inwood to Hudson Terminal (now World Trade Center), opened simultaneously at one minute after midnight on September 10, 1932.

Expansions, current and proposed[edit]

Since the opening of the original New York City Subway line in 1904, various official and planning agencies have proposed numerous extensions to the subway system. One of the better known proposals was the "Second System," which was part of a plan by the Independent Subway to construct new subway lines in addition and take over existing subway lines and railroad right-of-ways. Though most of the routes proposed over the decades have never seen construction, discussion remains strong to develop some of these lines, to alleviate existing subway capacity constraints and overcrowding, the most notable being the Second Avenue Subway. Plans for new lines date back to the early 1910s.

The most grandiose plan, conceived in 1929, was to be part of the city-operated Independent Subway System (IND). By 1939, with unification planned, all three systems were included. As this grandiose expansion was not built, the subway system is only 34 of what it was planned to be. Magnificently engineered, almost entirely underground, with 670 feet (200 m) platforms and flying junctions throughout, the IND system tripled the City's rapid transit debt, ironically contributing to the demise of plans for an ambitious expansion proposed before the first line of the first system was even opened.

Due to this debt, after the IND Sixth Avenue Line was completed, only 28 new stations were built. Five stations were on the abandoned NYW&B-operated IRT Dyre Avenue Line, fourteen stations were on the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch (now the IND Rockaway Line), six were on the Archer Avenue Lines and 63rd Street Lines (built as part of a 1968 plan), two stations (57th Street and Grand Street) were part of the Chrystie Street Connection, and the Harlem – 148th Street terminal. Four stations (the 34th Street station on the 7 Subway Extension and the three stations on the Second Avenue Subway) are under construction with up to 14 more planned. However, the stations under construction alone cost $6 billion, reflecting the scale of the debt that the IND brought the city into.


In June 1940, the transportation assets of the former BMT and IRT systems were taken over by the City of New York for operation by the City's Board of Transportation, which already operated the IND system. In 1953 the New York City Transit Authority, a state agency incorporated for the benefit of the city, now known to the public as MTA New York City Transit, succeeded the BoT.

A combination of factors had this takeover coincide with the end of the major rapid transit building eras in New York City. The City immediately began to eliminate what it considered redundancy in the system, closing several elevated lines including the IRT Ninth Avenue Line and most of the IRT Second Avenue El in Manhattan, and the BMT Fifth and Third Avenue Lines and most of the BMT Fulton Street Line in Brooklyn.

Despite the unification, a distinction between the three systems survives in the service labels: IRT lines (now referred to as A Division) have numbers and BMT/IND (now collectively B Division) lines use letters. There is also a more physical but less obvious difference: Division A cars are narrower than those of Division B by 18 inches (46 cm) and shorter by 9 feet (2.7 m) to 24 feet (7.3 m).

The original IRT subway lines were built to modified elevated line dimensions. Whereas the IRT els were originally equipped with cars that were 47 feet (14 m) long, the cars designed for the IRT subway measure 51.3 feet (15.6 m) long. Both sets of lines permitted cars not wider than 9 feet (2.7 m). The clearances and curves on these lines are too narrow and too sharp for any IND or BMT equipment. The later extensions of the IRT, constituting the bulk of the system, were built to BMT dimensions, and so are of a profile that could support the use of IND/BMT sized equipment. In other words, Division B equipment could operate on much of Division A if station platforms were trimmed and trackside furniture moved, thus letting Division A lines carry more passengers. However, there is virtually no chance of this happening because the older, narrower portions of Division A are centrally situated, such that it would be impossible to put together coherent through services. The most that can be reasonably hoped for is that some branch lines of Division A might be resized and attached to Division B lines. This was done with the BMT Astoria Line in Queens (which had formerly been dual-operated with normal IRT trains and special narrow BMT shuttles), and has been proposed for a connection of the Second Avenue Subway to the IRT Pelham Line in the East Bronx.

Because the Division A lines are of lower capacity for a given capital investment, all new extensions and lines built since World War II have been for Division B. Division A cars can travel on Division B lines when necessary, but are not used for passenger service on those lines due to the dangerously wide gap between the car and the station platform.

Even during World War II, which gave a reprieve to the closure of most rail transit in the US, some closures continued, including the remainder of the IRT Second Avenue Line in Manhattan (1942) and the surviving BMT elevated services over the Brooklyn Bridge (1944).

The interior of an IRT Third Avenue Line car before the line's demolition in the 1950s.

The originally planned IND system was built to the completion of its original plans after World War II ended, but the system then entered an era of deferred maintenance in which infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate, and closures of elevated lines continued. These closures included the entire IRT Third Avenue Line in Manhattan (1955) and the Bronx (1973), as well as the BMT Lexington Avenue Line (1950), much of the remainder of the BMT Fulton Street Line (1956), the downtown Brooklyn part of the BMT Myrtle Avenue Line (1969) and the BMT Culver Shuttle (1975), all in Brooklyn.

Only two new lines were opened in this era, the IRT Dyre Avenue Line (1941) and the IND Rockaway Line (1956). Both of these lines were rehabilitations of existing railroad rights-of-way rather than new construction. The former line was the City portion of the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway (an electrified commuter line closed in 1937) and the latter a line obtained from the Long Island Rail Road. While the Rockaway Line is a long and substantial line, it consists mostly of a long right-of-way crossing Jamaica Bay with a single station on Broad Channel island and two branches on a peninsula that is only several city blocks wide.


In 1951 a half-billion dollar bond issue was passed to build the Second Avenue Subway, but money from this issue was used for other priorities and the building of short connector lines, namely a ramp extending the IND Culver Line over the ex-BMT Culver Line at Ditmas and McDonald Avenues in Brooklyn (1954), allowing IND subway service to operate to Coney Island for the first time, the 60th Street Tunnel Connection (1955), linking the BMT Broadway Line to the IND Queens Boulevard Line, and the Chrystie Street Connection (1967), linking the BMT line via the Manhattan Bridge to the IND Sixth Avenue Line.

Program for Action[edit]

In the mid-1960s, $600,000,000 was made available to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of New York City for the purposes of Subway expansion. $1,230,000,000[citation needed] was spent to create three tunnels and a half-dozen holes as part of construction on the Second Avenue and 63rd Street Lines. Construction would cease in 1975 on account of the city's severe fiscal crisis; none of the sections were usable by the time federal payments were suspended in 1985. The two-phase "Program for Action" included construction of the following lines:[14]

  • Phase I was to cost $1.6 billion and be completed over the span of a decade.
  • Phase II came after Phase I and cost $1.3 billion. Phase II was mostly extensions of existing lines and Phase I-built lines.

A summary of the new subway lines and new subway related expenditures proposed in phase I of the 1968 "Program for Action" follows:

Phase II of the 1968 "Program for Action" contained the following plans:

Also as part of the Program for Action, existing elevated structures were to be replaced with new subways. The eastern end of the BMT Jamaica Line was to be replaced with the BMT Archer Avenue Line, while the IRT Third Avenue Line was being torn down in favor of a new subway line running parallel to the Metro-North tracks at Park Avenue. In 1972, the Long Island Expressway extension was canceled, and most other extensions also received the thumbs-down within four years. The exceptions were the Second Avenue Subway, 63rd Street Line, and Archer Avenue Line, which continued construction. The Archer Avenue Line was opened in 1988 and the 63rd Street Line was also opened one year later. However, the Second Avenue Subway, whose construction stopped in 1976 and did not resume until 2007, will not be open until 2016.

Graffiti and loss of ridership[edit]

Fast food stands operated in stations until the 1980s

Because the early subway systems competed with each other, they tended to cover the same areas of the city, leading to much overlapping service. The amount of service has actually decreased since the 1940s as many elevated railways were torn down, and finding funding for underground replacements has proven difficult.

A typical graffiti-tagged car in 1979

In 1973, the city's graffiti epidemic surged to levels never seen before; nearly every subway car was tagged with graffiti by the end of the year. The MTA tried rubbing the graffiti off with an acid solution, but maintaining the cars to keep them relatively graffiti-free was costing them around $1.3 million annually. In winter 1973, the car-washing program stopped, despite the fact that the MTA had been trying to clean the rolling stock clean for some time up to then. In September 1974, exterior washing with an acid solution started, but the solution was found to have caused more harm than good.

By June 1975, ridership had fallen to 1918 levels, and ridership was decreasing at an average of 25 million passengers a year. In January 1977, to both save money and increase safety, subway trains were shortened during off hours. By October 1977, a planned Metropolitan Transportation Center at Third Avenue and 48th Street was dropped. LIRR trains using the 63rd Street tunnel would run to Grand Central, whenever that line would be built. $63 million had been spent on Second Avenue Subway construction through December 1978, even though subway construction only consisted of three short segments of tunnel when it was halted in April 1975.

In the late 1970s, hundreds of slow speed orders were found throughout the system due to the risk of derailments. Graffiti covered every single subway car in the system, and the number of available cars for rush hour services continued to drop, from 5,557 in 1976, then to 5,025 in 1977, and finally to 4,900 in May of 1978. Mean Distance Between Failures (MDBF) rates were at all time lows, as the MDBF rate system-wide was 6,000 miles by 1980. Maintenance on rolling stock was so bad than by 1979, two hundred retired R16 cars were put back into service to replace the newest rolling stock in the system, the R46. Most R46s had cracked trucks, and were only allowed to operate during rush hours as they were sent for rehabilitation.

Headways on the A, D, N and RR services were 5 minutes during rush hours (or 12 trains per hour) in 1978; they were 4 minutes (or 15 trains per hour) in 1974. In December 1978, the worst subway station, in terms of crime and its condition, was Grand Central – 42nd Street. The worst elevated station was Metropolitan Avenue in Queens. The subway cars in the worst condition were the R10s. The track in the worst shape was that of the BMT Sea Beach Line, which had more or less the same infrastructure as when it opened in 1915.

Service was poor and crime was up, with newspaper headlines announcing new crime on the subway daily; as a result, Transit Police Chief Sanford Garelick was fired on September 10, 1979. In an attempt to alleviate the crime situation and extend the service life of rolling stock, half-length trains began running during toff-peak hours. Infrastructure was in such poor condition that even the 63rd Street and Archer Avenue subway projects were threatened by 1980. The 63rd Street Line was flooded with water, while the Archer Avenue Line could barely build past Parsons Boulevard.

Ironically, the Program for Action forced the closure of a large number of subway lines. The Bronx remnant of the IRT Third Avenue Line closed in 1973, to be provisionally replaced by a new subway under the Metro-North Railroad tracks on Park Avenue, one block to the west. The E train stopped using the lower level of the 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal station on February 28, 1975. The Culver Shuttle between Ditmas Avenue and Ninth Avenue, having been reduced to a single track for many years and in deteriorating condition, closed permanently on May 11, 1975. On August 27, 1976, GG service was cut back from Church Avenue to Smith–Ninth Streets. The K and EE routes were eliminated. On December 15, 1976, GG service at the other terminal was cut back to Queens Plaza. The BMT Jamaica Line was cut back from 168th Street to 121st Street between September 11th, 1977 and the early 1980s, replaced by the BMT Archer Avenue Line in 1988.

As elevated structures were torn down as part of the "Program for Action", existing elevated structures became more dangerous by the day. One individual walking under the BMT Astoria Line displayed, for the New York Post, a large collection of debris that rained from the line as trains passed by. In January of 1979, another individual was almost killed by falling debris under the IRT Pelham Line between Zerega and Castle Hill Avenues. In September 1979, multiple claims of "stuff falling from the (West End) El" along New Utrecht Avenue led attorneys for a Bensonhurst anti-noise group and state senator Martin Solomon to file suit against the MTA to fix the structure.

Due to deferred maintenance, the condition of the subway system reached dangerous conditions in the early 1980s. Talk of new construction was considered absurd at that point. During the early 1980s, work on the 63rd Street and Archer Avenue lines continued, although the MTA considered stopping work on these projects in October 1980, and spending the money instead on maintaining the existing system. Structural defects were found in elevated structures systemwide and on the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, causing frequent closures or delays on many subway lines during the 1980s. In 1981, operation on the New York City Subway was so bad that:[15][16]

  • In January 1981, there was one Tuesday where 13 of the subway fleet was not in service. In the first two weeks of January, 500 trains were canceled each day.
  • A trip taken in 1910 that took 10 minutes could take 40 minutes long in 1981.
  • There were 30 derailments in 1980 alone.
  • Infrastructure was not routinely inspected and few repairs were made until a failure occurred.
  • In January 1981, none of the 2,637 A Division cars had ever had an overhaul.
  • Subway rolling stock, in general, hadn't received preventative maintenance since 1975. The average MDBF in 1981 was 6,639 miles, down from 13,900 in 1977, and 24,000 in 1970.
  • The R44s and R46s, the newest cars in the system, consisted of 14 of the B Division's 4,178 subway cars. Yet they were the most prone to breakdowns: the R44s because of sophisticated technology installed in anticipation of operating on a fully automated IND Second Avenue Line and the R46s due to their cracked trucks.

By the end of 1985, the 63rd Street Line's eastern Queens extension was no longer being planned. At the then-terminal of the line, 21st Street – Queensbridge, usage estimates for that station in 1984 were 220 passengers per hour. The MTA was studying four options for making this line more useful:[17]

In 1985, extending the 63rd Street Line over the Montauk Branch would have cost $488 million and be completed by 1995, but Queens residents along the proposed route objected to it.
  1. The Queens Express Bypass: extending the line along the LIRR to Forest Hills – 71st Avenue. It would be completed in 1998 and cost $931 million. This was the original plan for this line proposed in the 1968 MTA Program for Action. This was also the only option that the MTA felt that would provide relief to the E and F express services.
  2. Connecting the line to the local tracks of the IND Queens Boulevard Line. It was the cheapest and fastest alternative to complete, as it would be done by 1993 at a cost of $222 million. But critics complained that it would do the least to relieve overcrowding on the E and F services in Queens, the most crowded in the system. The line would leave 23 of the available capacity of the 63rd Street Line unused and probably make any future expansion of this line unlikely. This was the option ultimately chosen and completed in 2001, though there are also connections to the express tracks.
  3. Extending the 63rd Street Line through the Sunnyside Yard and the LIRR Main Line to the Archer Avenue Line. It would cost $594 million and be completed by 1997, but residents along the proposed route objected to this option.
  4. Extending the line to Sunnyside Yard in Queens and allow passengers to connect to a new LIRR service stopping in Rosedale and Queens Village. The route of the new LIRR service would be the Montauk Branch, used mostly for freight service. It would cost $488 million and be completed by 1995, but like the Main Line proposal above, Queens residents along the proposed route objected to it.

Rehabilitation and rising trend[edit]

During the mid-1980s, reconstruction began. Stations were refurbished and rolling stock was repaired and replaced. Trends of poor maintenance began to reverse themselves by 1986. There were three in-service derailments in 1985, compared to 15 in 1984 and 21 in 1983. The number of "red tag" areas — areas of track that needed immediate repairs, where trains needed to slow down to 10 mph — dropped from over 500 to two in 1986.[18] As an example, the BMT Brighton Line's tracks between Sheepshead Bay and Prospect Park were replaced in 1986 — the first time this was done in 20 years. However, when the project was completed, trains were either too high or too far away from many of the platforms. Some areas necessitated the pulling out of tracks, removal of the ballast trackbed, and then the replacement of the track.[19] The 325 R62 cars, in service for a year on the 4, were proving themselves reliable, at an average of 50,000 miles between failures (compared to 9,000 for the other subway car models). The Mean Distance between Failures of many rolling stock classes was improving; it had been as low as 6,000 miles in 1980, and was 10,000 miles by September of 1986. At that time, 670 new cars were accepted, 850 overhauled cars were in service, and 3,000 cars were made graffiti-free. Speedometers were also installed on existing and new rolling stock.[20]

The MTA implemented Capital Plans to repair the current system. Scheduled Maintenance Services were formed to replace components before they failed. Subway cars between the car classes R26 to R46 went through general overhaul programs to fix and overhaul rolling stock. Older equipment (any car classes with contract numbers below R32s on the B Division and R26s on the A Division) were retrofitted with air conditioning. The red tag areas were incrementally repaired and welded rail could be seen on many lines by the end of the 1980s. At the end of the century, the MDBF rates for the entire system were at record highs and steadily increasing.

The Franklin Avenue Shuttle was the only exception to this trend — it was worse in 1989 than it was in 1980, and necessitated a complete renovation by 1998.

Projects during this time[edit]

Smith–Ninth Streets, which got new escalators

Starting in the early 1970s, there were plans for improving the subway system.

In April 1974, the City approved emergency appropriations to fix the following problems:

A $3.5 billion bond issue, declined on November 6, 1973, would have financed the following subway improvements:

Even through the late 1970s, there were improvement plans, many of which were implemented.

An infusion of $27 million in federal funds in October of 1978 enabled the following improvements:

Transit improvements planned for 1979 included:

Marcy Avenue

In May of 1979, $19.9 million in federal funds was requested for the following transit improvements:

  • Rebuilding the Marcy Avenue station
  • Equipping 170 token booths with a direct intercom to MTA headquarters that would also act as a silent alarm
  • Replacement of the wooden platforms at Sutter Avenue station on the BMT Canarsie Line

In 1976, the MTA, as a cost saving measure, looked to discontinue the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, but neighborhood support for it always saved from being closed. One of the reasons for keeping it open, the neighborhood spokesmen would say, was to carry people to Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. In late 1979, however, the hospital itself was in dire financial straits.

In 1977, the Linden Shops opened in Brooklyn, enabling the MTA to prefabricate track panels indoors all year long.

On January 16, 1978, the MTA opened three transfer stations:

In April 1981, the following projects were considered by the MTA:[21]

In 1981, the MTA began installing welded rails on a few underground portions of the system.

On March 25, 1986, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) proposed the following changes:

The RPA also recommended the following prioritized expenditures looking forward to the year 2000:[22]

The Broadway – Lafayette Street station to the northbound IRT Lexington Avenue Line at Bleecker Street

By August 1989, the MTA was considering these projects: [23]

21st Street – Queensbridge, opened in October 1989

In December 1989, three transfers were opened between existing stations, and three brand-new stations were opened. They were:[24]

The new stations were Sutphin Boulevard – Archer Avenue – JFK Airport, Jamaica Center – Parsons/Archer, and Jamaica – Van Wyck. Other service changes were implemented that day. Skip-stop service on the J/Z trains was also started on December 11, 1988. Additionally, IND Fulton Street Line express service was extended from weekdays only to all times except late nights. Discontinuous services on the B, D, and Q trains over the Manhattan Bridge were replaced by continuous services.

On May 12, 1989, the last train with graffiti was taken out of service; the subway has been mostly graffiti-free since this point.

In October 1989, the IND 63rd Street Line was opened. It was nicknamed the "tunnel to nowhere" due to its stub end at 21st Street – Queensbridge, and also due to the fact that the three-station extension lay dormant for over a decade after completion.[25]

Planned rolling stock[edit]

R68A D train at Bay Parkway

In the 1980s, the MTA considered buying 208 63 feet (19 m) subway cars to replace 260 51 feet (16 m) IRT cars, even though these longer cars were never tried anywhere on the IRT. The cars would be purchased using $190 million from the Transportation Bond Act voters approved in November 1979. Advantages of the car were the same as in the R44 and R46 orders—fewer subway cars of longer length can make up a 510-foot train and reducing operating and maintenance costs; however, drawbacks identified for these cars included not lining up with the movable platforms at 14th Street – Union Square, and not fitting tight curves, such as at South Ferry. After paying consultant Louis T. Klauder and Associates $894,312 to evaluate the merits of the 63-foot car, the plans were dropped.[26]

By March 1982, the MTA closed a deal to purchase 325 new IRT subway cars from Kawasaki Heavy Industries of Japan. It would be the first purchase of foreign-made subway cars that ever ran on the New York City Subway system.[27] Other candidates for this order included Bombardier and the Budd Company.[27] The first Capital Program allocated funding for the purchase of 1,150 subway cars, and Kawasaki was not interested in building another 825 IRT cars. Bombardier ended up winning the contract for the R62As.

In October of 1982, a consortium of French engineering companies was selected by the MTA to build 225 subway cars, which became known as the R68s. The consortium was chosen over bids from the Budd Company and the Sumitomo Group. The first regular R68 train went into revenue service in Brighton Beach on June 20th, 1986, after passing a successful 30-day test. The option for 200 additional R68s was given to Kawasaki and the car class became known as the R68A. The first R68A cars were delivered to New York City on April 12, 1988 and transferred to the MTA the following day. The first train of R68As began a 30-day acceptance test on May 18th, 1988 on the IND Concourse Line.

The R10, R16, R17, R21, and R22 car classes all were retired with the deliveries of the R62/As and R68/As.

Reconstruction and incremental advance[edit]

The Archer Avenue Lines were built in the 1980s, putting the east end of the BMT Jamaica Line underground. The 63rd Street Lines were completed in 1989, with the connection to the IND Queens Boulevard Line opening on December 16, 2001.

Around 2002, talk began to circulate about taking up the construction of the Second Avenue Subway. Most New Yorkers regarded these plans with cynicism, since citizens were promised the line since well before the Third Avenue elevated was torn down in 1955. Funds have been set aside and environmental impact reports have been completed. A ceremonial groundbreaking for the subway was held on April 12, 2007 and contractor work to prepare the project's initial construction site at 96th Street and Second Avenue began on April 23, 2007.

In October 2007, the 7 Subway Extension construction contract was awarded, extending the IRT Flushing Line to 34th Street. Groundbreaking began in June 2008 and the tunnels were completed by 2010. The project, scheduled to open in 2014, is 90% complete as of August 2013.

On September 20, 2011, the Tunnel Boring Machine project of the Second Avenue Subway reached the BMT 63rd Street Line. The first segment, between 63rd Street and 96th Street, is scheduled to be completed in 2016. The rest of the line will be built in four phases and run as far north as 125th Street in Harlem and Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan.

After September 11, 2001[edit]

The September 11th attacks resulted in service disruptions on lines running through Lower Manhattan. Tracks and stations under the World Trade Center were shut down within minutes of the first plane crash. All remaining New York City Subway service was suspended from 10:20am to 12:48pm.[28] Immediately after the attacks and more so after the collapses of the Twin Towers, many trains running in Lower Manhattan lost power and had to be evacuated through the tunnels. Some trains had power, but the signals did not, requiring special operating procedures to ensure safety.

The IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line, which ran below the World Trade Center between Chambers Street and Rector Street was the most crippled. Sections of the tunnel as well as Cortlandt Street were badly damaged and had to be rebuilt. Service was immediately suspended south of Chambers Street and then cut back to 14th Street. There was also subsequent flooding on the line south of 34th Street – Penn Station. After the flood was cleaned up, express service was able to resume on September 17 with 1 trains running between Van Cortlandt Park – 242nd Street and 14th Street, making local stops north of and express stops south of 96th Street, while 2 and 3 trains made all stops in Manhattan (but bypassed all stations between Canal Street and Fulton Street until October 1). 1/9 skip-stop service was suspended.

After a few switching delays at 96th Street, service was changed on September 19. The 1 train resumed local service in Manhattan, but was extended to New Lots Avenue in Brooklyn (switching onto the express tracks at Chambers Street) to replace the 3, which now terminated at 14th Street as an express. The 2 train continued to make local stops in Manhattan and service between Chambers Street and South Ferry as well as skip-stop service remained suspended. Normal service on all four trains was restored September 15, 2002, but Cortlandt Street will remain closed while the World Trade Center site is redeveloped.[29]

Service on the BMT Broadway Line was also disrupted because the tracks from the Montague Street Tunnel run adjacent to the World Trade Center and there were concerns that train movements could cause unsafe settling of the debris pile. Cortlandt Street station, which sits under Church Street, sustained significant damage in the collapse of the towers. It was closed until September 15, 2002 for removal of debris, structural repairs, and restoration of the track beds, which had suffered flood damage in the aftermath of the collapse. Starting September 17, 2001, N and R service was suspended and respectively replaced by the M (which was extended to Coney Island – Stillwell Avenue via the BMT Montague Street Tunnel, BMT Fourth Avenue Line, and BMT Sea Beach Line) and the J (also extended via Fourth Avenue to Bay Ridge – 95th Street). In Queens, the Q replaced the R while the W replaced the N. All service on the BMT Broadway Line ran local north of Canal Street except for the <Q>, which ran normally from 57th Street to Brighton Beach via Broadway and Brighton Express. J/Z skip-stop service was suspended at this time. Normal service on all seven trains resumed on October 28.

The only subway line running between Midtown and Lower Manhattan was the IRT Lexington Avenue Line, which was overcrowded before the attacks and at crush density until the BMT Broadway Line reopened. Wall Street was closed until September 21.

The IND Eighth Avenue Line, which has a stub terminal serving the E train under Five World Trade Center was not damaged, but covered in soot. E trains were extended to Euclid Avenue, Brooklyn, replacing the then suspended C train (the A and D trains replaced it as the local north of 59th Street – Columbus Circle on nights and weekends, respectively. The B train, which ran normally from 145th Street or Bedford Park Boulevard to 34th Street – Herald Square via Central Park West Local, also replaced C trains on weekdays). Service was cut back to Canal Street when C service resumed on September 21, but Chambers Street and Broadway – Nassau Street remained closed until October 1. World Trade Center remained closed until January 2002.[30][31]

Construction methods[edit]

For the first IRT subway line, pictured at 59th Street – Columbus Circle, cut-and-cover was used as a form of construction.
Recent projects, like the extension of the IRT Flushing Line (pictured) use tunnel boring machines to build the subway tunnels.

When the IRT subway debuted in 1904, the typical tunnel construction method was cut-and-cover. The street was torn up to dig the tunnel below before being rebuilt from above. This method worked well for digging soft dirt and gravel near the street surface. However, mining shields were required for deeper sections, such as the Harlem and East River tunnels, which used cast-iron tubes, segments between 33rd and 42nd streets under Park Avenue, 116th Street and 120th Street under Broadway, and 145th Street and Dyckman Street (Fort George) under Broadway and Saint Nicholas Avenue as well as the tunnel from 96th Street to Central Park North – 110th Street & Lenox Avenue, all of which used either rock or concrete-lined tunnels.[32]

About 40% of the subway system runs on surface or elevated tracks, including steel or cast iron elevated structures, concrete viaducts, embankments, open cuts and surface routes. All of these construction methods are completely grade-separated from road and pedestrian crossings, and most crossings of two subway tracks are grade-separated with flying junctions. The sole exceptions are the 135th Street junction and the Myrtle Avenue junction, whose tracks both intersect at the same level.

More recent projects, like the extension of the IRT Flushing Line and the IND Second Avenue Line, use tunnel boring machines to build the subway tunnels.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hood, Clifton. 722 Miles. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
  2. ^ Mark S. Feinman. "History of the Independent Subway". nycsubway.org. Retrieved July 7, 2008. 
  3. ^ Kennedy, Randy. "Tunnel Vision; With Station's Reopening, Even Commuters Smile", The New York Times, September 17, 2002. Accessed October 6, 2007.
  4. ^ Brian Abbott. September 11: Three Years Later. Several maps showing changes in lower Manhattan from July 2001 to September 2002.
  5. ^ "Inventor of the Week - Alfred Beach" (MIT)
  6. ^ Beach Pneumatic Transit article on www.nycsubway.org
  7. ^ Brennan, Joseph (2005). "They found the tube in excellent condition". Beach Pneumatic. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  8. ^ "The remarkable pneumatic people mover" on Damn Interesting
  9. ^ "The Secret Subway" (PBS)
  10. ^ "Beach Pneumatic Transit - The Interborough Rapid Transit subway" (plrog.org)
  11. ^ Barry, Keith (2010-02-26). "Feb. 26, 1870: New York City Blows Subway Opportunity". Wired. 
  12. ^ Hood, Clifton. "Professor". 722 Miles. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  13. ^ Hood, Clifton (1995). 722 Miles. The Johns Hopkins University Press; First Edition edition (September 1, 1995). p. 59. ISBN 978-0801852442. 
  14. ^ "1968 NYCTA Expansion Plans (Picture)". Second Avenue Sagas. Retrieved December 2013. 
  15. ^ "Plan to put new cops on train patrol," New York Daily News, January 28th, 1982, page 23.
  16. ^ "Source for all the bullets: Can We Save Our Subways," New York Daily News, January 25th, 1981, page 7.
  17. ^ "63rd Street Subway Tunnel: More Setbacks for a Troubled Project," New York Times, November 1st, 1984, page B1.
  18. ^ "Wheels of Fortune: Case in Point 1 – Looking for Mr. Goodcar," New York Daily News Magazine, March 23rd, 1986, page 26.
  19. ^ "Again, the TA is on the Wong Track," New York Daily News, November 13th, 1986, page 7.
  20. ^ The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, January 1987, page 5.
  21. ^ "TA proposed four route changes," New York Daily News, April 28th, 1981, page 5.
  22. ^ "Making the Right Connections," New York Daily News Magazine, March 23rd, 1986, page 6.
  23. ^ The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, August 1989, page 1.
  24. ^ Lower left front
  25. ^ Andelman, David A. (October 11, 1980). "Tunnel Project, Five Years Old, Won't Be Used". The New York Times. p. 25. Retrieved October 20, 2011. 
  26. ^ "Longer subway cars may be too long," New York Post, January 3rd, 1980, page 8.
  27. ^ a b "MTA Seeking Japanese Cars for IRT System," New York Times, March 9th, 1982, page B1.
  28. ^ U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Special Programs Administration, Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (April 2002). "EFFECTS OF CATASTROPHIC EVENTS ON TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS: NEW YORK CITY- SEPTEMBER 11". Retrieved 2013-11-05. 
  29. ^ Kennedy, Randy. "Tunnel Vision; With Station's Reopening, Even Commuters Smile", The New York Times, September 17, 2002. Accessed October 6, 2007.
  30. ^ Kennedy, Randy. "Tunnel Vision; With Station's Reopening, Even Commuters Smile", The New York Times, September 17, 2002. Accessed October 6, 2007.
  31. ^ Brian Abbott. September 11: Three Years Later. Several maps showing changes in lower Manhattan from July 2001 to September 2002.
  32. ^ "Types and Methods of Construction". IRT: The First Subway. nycsubway.org. Retrieved July 7, 2008. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Cunniff, M. G. (September 1904). "The New York Subway". The World's Work: A History of Our Time VIII: 5347–5364. Retrieved 2009-07-10.  Includes numerous construction photos.
  • Cunningham, Joseph and Leonard de Hart: A History of the New York City Subway System, 1976, 1977, 1993.
  • Rainie, Harrison: Tunnels to Nowhere: Washington Monthly, March 1986.
  • "Subway art." New Masses 26 (February 22, 1938): 21. Photo essay on the effort by the United American Artists and the New York FAP to put art in the subways. B/W illustrations of work by Helen West Heller, Ben Karp, Max Ratskor, Joseph Ringola, and Ruth Cheney.

External links[edit]