History of the New York City Subway

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Main article: New York City Subway
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,[3] and placed under control of the state-level Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968.[4]

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.[5][6]

Expansions of the New York City Subway include the 7 Subway Extension to open in late 2014,[7][8][9][10][11] and the Second Avenue Subway, the first phase of which is slated to open on December 30, 2016.[12][13]


Steam railways[edit]

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

Even though there was an earlier, underground railroad called the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel since 1844, it had no underground subway stops.[14][15][16]

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.[17] Built in only 58 days,[18] 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.[19] 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.[20][21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24]

Beginnings and rapid expansion[edit]

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.[25][26]

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 later confirmed in the Dual Contracts.[27]


Starting in 1899, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT; 1896–1923) and Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT; 1923–1940) operated rapid transit lines in New York City — at first only elevated railways and later also subways. On January 30, 1899, the Brooklyn Union Elevated Railroad was incorporated; it acquired the property of the bankrupt Brooklyn Elevated Railroad on February 17. The BRT gained control a month later, on March 25,[28] and leased the elevated company to the Brooklyn Heights Railroad, until then solely a street railway company, on April 1. The other elevated company in Brooklyn, the Kings County Elevated Railway, was sold under foreclosure to the BRT on July 6, 1899,[29] The New York Consolidated Railroad and New York Municipal Railway were merged in June 1923, the same month that the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company was reorganized as the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation, to form the New York Rapid Transit Corporation.[30]


A contract, later known as Contract 1, was executed on February 21, 1900 between the commission and the Rapid Transit Construction Company, organized by John B. McDonald and funded by August Belmont, for the construction of the subway and a 50-year operating lease from the opening of the line. Ground was broken at City Hall on March 24. A plan for an extension from City Hall to the Long Island Rail Road's Flatbush Avenue terminal station (now known as Atlantic Terminal) in Brooklyn was adopted on January 24, 1901, and Contract 2, giving a lease of only 35 years, was executed between the commission and the Rapid Transit Construction Company on September 11, with construction beginning at State Street in Manhattan on November 8, 1902. Belmont incorporated the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) in April 1902 as the operating company for both contracts; the IRT leased the Manhattan Railway, operator of the four elevated railway lines in Manhattan and the Bronx, on April 1, 1903. Operation of the subway began on October 27, 1904, with the opening of all stations from City Hall to 145th Street on the West Side Branch.[31] The original system as included in Contract 1 was completed on January 14, 1907, when trains started running across the Harlem Ship Canal on the Broadway Bridge to 225th Street,[32] and the Contract 2 portion was opened to Atlantic Avenue on May 1, 1908.[33] An extension of Contract 1 north to 242nd Street at Van Cortlandt Park was approved in 1906[34] and opened on August 1, 1908.[35] (The original plan had been to turn east on 230th Street to just west of Bailey Avenue, at the New York Central Railroad's Kings Bridge station.[36])


Further information: Railway electrification system

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..[37] To this day, the New York City Transit Authority converts alternating current to 600V DC third rail to power the trains, as do most earlier and later local transit railways around the world. (The A Division uses 625V DC third rail.[38])

The Dual Contracts[edit]

Main article: Dual Contracts
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,[27] 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. Under the terms of Contracts 3 and 4, the city would build new subway and elevated lines, and rehabilitate and expand certain existing elevated lines, and lease them to the private companies for operation. The cost would be borne more-or-less equally by the City and the companies. The City's contribution was in cash raised by bond offerings, while the companies' contributions were variously by supplying cash, facilities and equipment to run the lines.[27]

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.[39]

The original IND system, consisting of the Eighth Avenue mainline and the 6th Avenue, Concourse, Culver, and Queens Boulevard branch lines, was entirely underground in the four boroughs that it served, with the exception of the Smith–Ninth Streets and Fourth Avenue stations on the Culver Viaduct over the Gowanus Canal in Gowanus, Brooklyn.[39]

1939 expansion plans


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.[40]

On January 1, 1936, a second trunk line—the Sixth Avenue Line—opened from West Fourth Street (where it splits from the Eighth Avenue Line) to East Broadway.[41][42][43] During construction, streetcar service along Sixth Avenue was terminated. The city could either restore it upon the completion of construction or abandon it immediately; as the city wanted to tear down the IRT Sixth Avenue Line right away and save on the costs of shoring it up while construction proceeded underneath it, the IRT Sixth Avenue Line was purchased for $12.5 million and terminated by the city on December 5, 1938, with the steel from the el sold to Japan.

On July 1, 1937, a third trunk line,the Crosstown Line opened from Nassau Avenue to Bergen Street.[39] Two years later, on December 15, 1940, local service was begun along the entire IND Sixth Avenue line, including its core part through Midtown Manhattan.[39]

Meanwhile, on the East Side, the need for the IND Second Avenue Line had been evident since 1919, when the New York Public Service Commission launched a study at the behest of engineer Daniel L. Turner to determine what improvements were needed in the city's public transport system. Due to the Great Depression, the soaring costs of the expansion became unmanageable, so it was not built along with the other three IND trunk lines. Construction on the first phase of the IND was already behind schedule, and the city and state were no longer able to provide funding. A scaled-down proposal including a turnoff at 34th Street and a connection crosstown was postponed in 1931.[39] Further revision of the plan and more studies followed. By 1939, construction had been postponed indefinitely, and Second Avenue was relegated to "proposed" status. The 1939 plan for subway expansion took the line not only into the Bronx (by now as a single line to Throggs Neck) but also south into Brooklyn, connecting to the stub of the IND Fulton Street Line at Court Street. Construction of the line resumed in 1972 and ended in 1976, then it was restarted in 2007/[39]

Expansion plans[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.[44][45]

On August 28, 1922, Mayor John Francis Hylan revealed his own plans for the subway system, which was relatively small at the time. His plan included taking over nearly 100 miles of existing lines and building over 100 miles of new lines. Construction of all these new lines would be completed by December 31, 1925, and passengers would be able to ride between the ends of New York City on one fare. The lines were designed to compete with the IRT and BMT.[46][47]

In 1926, a loop subway service was planned to be built to New Jersey.[48]

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 70% 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 MTA Capital Construction-funded 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 four MTA Capital Construction stations cost US$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.[3] 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.[3]

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[49] and most of the IRT Second Avenue Line in Manhattan,[50] and the BMT Fifth and Third Avenue Lines and most of the BMT Fulton Street Line[51][52][53] 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.[54] There is also a more physical but less obvious difference: A Division cars are narrower than those of B Division by 18 inches (46 cm)[55] and shorter by 9 feet (2.7 m) to 24 feet (7.3 m).[55][56]

The original IRT subway lines (i.e. those built before the Dual Contracts) 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 did not permit cars 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 IRT system, were built to wider dimensions, and so are of a profile that could support the use of IND/BMT sized equipment. In other words, B Division equipment could operate on much of A Division if station platforms were trimmed and trackside furniture moved, thus letting A Division service carry more passengers. However, there is virtually no chance of this happening because the older, narrower portions of A Division 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 B Division lines. This was done with the BMT Astoria Line in Queens[57] (which had formerly been dual-operated with normal IRT trains and special narrow BMT shuttles),[27] and has been proposed for a connection of the Second Avenue Subway to the IRT Pelham Line in the East Bronx.[58]

Because the A Division lines are of lower capacity for a given capital investment, all new extensions and lines built between World War II and 2007[59][60][61] have been for the B Division. A Division cars can travel on B Division 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)[50] and the surviving BMT elevated services over the Brooklyn Bridge (1944).[62]

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

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.[63] While the latter 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.[64]


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. 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.[65]

Soon after, the city entered a fiscal crisis. Construction (and even maintenance of existing lines) was deferred, and graffiti and crime were at all-time highs. Meanwhile, trains always broke down and were poorly maintained and often late, while ridership declined by the millions each year. 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.[66]

Program for Action[edit]

In the mid-1960s, US$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[58] 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:[67]

  • Phase I was to cost $1.6 billion and be completed over the span of a decade.[58]
  • Phase II came after Phase I and cost $1.3 billion. Phase II was mostly extensions of existing lines and Phase I-built lines.[58]


A summary of the new subway lines and new subway related expenditures proposed in phase I of the 1968 "Program for Action" follows:[58]

Phase II of the 1968 "Program for Action" contained the following plans:[58]

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.[58]


As of 1973, the single-track Queens Super Express Bypass for the IND Queens Boulevard Line was now two tracks. The line would diverge from the 63rd Street Line in Sunnyside Yard and run via the LIRR Main Line, and rejoin the IND Queens Boulevard Line in Forest Hills. The BMT Jamaica Line would be razed from 121st Street to 168th Street, and the Jamaica Line would run into the lower level of the Archer Avenue Line and terminate at Jamaica Center – Parsons/Archer (though tunneling would extend to Merrick Boulevard). There was never a plan to connect the upper IND level and the lower BMT level of the Archer Avenue subway.[58]

In 1973, the northeast Queens line to Kissena Boulevard was approaching final engineering. The southeast Queens line connecting to the Jamaica Avenue line was close to having a final design approved. Design was coming along on the extension of the IRT Nostrand Avenue Line to Avenue W, and the new line leaving the IRT Eastern Parkway Line at Utica Avenue, running along Utica Avenue to Avenue U. People mover studies for 48th Street and lower Manhattan were underway. Plans to extend the Second Avenue subway into the Pelham Line were changed to extend it to Co-op City via the New Haven Railroad right of way.[58]

Later that year, the Long Island Expressway extension was canceled. As late as November 1974, the MTA still felt that many of the subway projects that were underway or planned would get done. First, the Archer Avenue Line to Springfield Boulevard would be done in 1981. The 63rd Street Line, as well as the Second Avenue Subway from 34th Street to 125th Street with an interchange with the 63rd Street Line, would be done in 1982. Next, the Queens Super Express Bypass from Sunnyside Yard to Forest Hills would be done in 1983. Afterward, the extension of the Second Avenue Subway into the Bronx to Co-op City, as well as the BMT Jamaica Line's connection with the Archer Avenue Line would be done in 1983. Then, the Second Avenue Subway from 34th Street to Whitehall Street would be done in 1988. Finally, the Utica Avenue Line, the IRT Nostrand Avenue Line, the Long Island Expressway Subway and East Side Access would all finish in 1993.[58]

Most of the extensions also received the thumbs-down within four years, due to the 1975–76 fiscal crisis that affected the city; the "40 miles of new subway" advertised was whittled down to just 15 miles of new trackage, and all but three of the lines were cancelled. 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; both lines were scaled-down versions of their original plans.[58] However, the Second Avenue Subway, whose construction stopped in 1976 and did not resume until 2007, will not be open until December 2016 at the earliest.[68][69]

IND 63rd Street Line[edit]

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:[70]

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 in 1995 and completed in 2001, though the option was then modified and also included 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.

None of these options came to pass, and the 63rd Street Line was opened in 1989 after more than a decade of delays, its terminal station at 21st Street rendering the once-grandiosely-planned line a "useless subway to nowhere".[71]

Deferred maintenance[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.[58]

A typical graffiti-tagged car in 1979


A graffitied car on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (1973)

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 was stopped. In September 1974, exterior washing with an acid solution started, but the solution was found to have caused more harm than good.[58]

An extensive car-washing program in the late 1980s ensured the elimination of graffiti throughout the system's rolling stock. On May 12, 1989, the rolling stock was made 100% graffiti-free, with the washing of the last train in the subway system that still had graffiti.[72]

Ridership and headways[edit]

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. Ridership kept dropping rapidly; it dropped by 25 million passengers between June 30, 1976 and June 30, 1977, and within a span of eight years, 327 million passengers stopped using the subway. Some estimated that if this rate of decline were to continue, there would be no passengers on the system by 2002.[58]

As a result of declining ridership, the number of subway cars used during the morning rush hours dropped from 5,557 in 1974 to about 4,900 in 1978. Headways were increased, too, so people were waiting longer periods of time for shorter trains that were intensely crowded. 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.[58]


The BMT Sea Beach Line. Note the single express track; the other express track was removed in the 1980s due to deferred maintenance.

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 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.[58]

In December 1978 a New York Daily News article highlighted the worst part of the subway. The worst subway station overall, in terms of crime and its condition, was Grand Central – 42nd Street, while the worst elevated station was Metropolitan Avenue in Queens. The subway cars in the worst condition were the R10s. The subway line with the worst signals was the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line, so the signals were upgraded in the 1980s. 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.[66]

Even with the addition of $800 million of state funds promised in 1978, less than half of the $600 million authorized in the 1967 bond issue for major construction had been spent. The MTA made improvements being made were being done to tunnels, tracks, switches and signals. It had to do this with a smaller amount of funding than available in the past due to the fiscal crisis, and keep the subway operating 24 hours a day. However, it had a major public relations problem. As people didn't see any improvements, they assumed that crime was out of control, and for a while it was, but this assumption was maintained even during periods of reduced crime. In an attempt to alleviate the crime situation and extend the service life of rolling stock, half-length trains began running during off-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.[58]

Due to deferred maintenance, the condition of the subway system reached dangerous conditions in the early 1980s; new construction was, by then, considered ludicrous. Even as the only new construction was going on in the 63rd Street Line, Manhattan residents at the vicinity of York Avenue and East 63rd Street protested over the MTA's intention to build a ventilation shaft for the line. 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. Reroutes from both bridges were necessitated, While the Manhattan Bridge, between 1986 and 2004, had two of its four tracks closed at a time for construction, the Williamsburg Bridge needed a shutdown from April to June 1988 for emergency structural repairs to be made.[58] In 1981, operation on the New York City Subway was so bad that:[73][74]

  • 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.
  • In January 1981, none of the 2,637 A Division cars had ever had an overhaul.
  • Infrastructure was not routinely inspected and few repairs were made until a failure occurred. Most rolling stock had gone unmaintained and unrepaired 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 rolling stock fleets that broke down the most: 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.[58]

Federal funding for the repair of the BMT Jamaica Line was deferred throughout the 1980s due to the extremely bad state of the Williamsburg Bridge. On the bridge, pigeon droppings corroded the bridge's steel, broken cable strands suspending the bridge numbered over 200, and concrete in the bridge became to come off and leave large holes.[58]

The R46s, the newest cars in the system in 1976, broke down the most due to their cracked trucks.


By 1977, service had become poor and crime had gone 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. Crime was at its peak during this time. There were 11 "crimes against the infrastructure" in open cut areas of the subway in 1977. On October 5, 1977, someone threw a paving block from an overpass on the BMT Brighton Line, injuring a motorman and nearly blinding him. Another incident on May 11, 1979 on the BMT Canarsie Line occurred when a 16-year-old boy threw a 16-pound rock near the Wilson Avenue station, critically injuring the motorman. There were other rampant crimes, too. In the first two weeks of December 1977, "Operation Subway Sweep" resulted in the arrest of over 200 robbery suspects. Passengers were afraid of crime, fed up with long waits for short trains (train lengths were cut during off hours as a cost saving measure), upset over malfunctioning equipment, noise and the condition of stations. The subway also had problems with dark subway cars. In the late 1970s, it was common to have a train with 14 of its cars completely unlighted.[58]

On July 13, 1977, a blackout cut off electricity to most of the city and to Westchester. Because the IRT and BMT had their own power plants, many IRT and BMT trains were able to make their way to the nearest station to discharge passengers, but the IND got their power directly from Con Edison, so they were out of luck. There was rampant looting in parts of the Bronx and Brooklyn and to this day, parts of the affected neighborhoods never completely recovered from the looting.[58]

Due to a sudden uptick of violent crimes on the subway in the last week of 1978, police statistics about crime in the subway were being questioned. In 1979, six murders on the subway occurred in the first two months of the year, compared to nine during the entire previous year. The IRT Lexington Avenue Line was known to frequent muggers, so in February 1979, a group headed by Curtis Sliwa, began unarmed patrols of the 4 train during the night time, in an effort to discourage crime. They were known as the Guardian Angels, and would eventually expand their operations into other parts of the five boroughs. By March 6, 1979, Mayor Ed Koch asked the city's top law enforcement officials to devise a plan to counteract rising subway violence and to stop insisting that the subways were safer than the streets. Two weeks after Koch's request, top TA cops were publicly requesting Transit Police Chief Sanford Garelik's resignation because they claimed that he lost control of the fight against subway crime. Finally, on September 11, 1979, Garelik was fired, and replaced with Deputy Chief of Personnel James B. Meehan, reporting directly to City Police Commissioner Robert McGuire. Garelik continued in his role of chief of security for the MTA.[58]

By September 1979, around 250 felonies per week (or about 13,000 that year) were being recorded on the subway, making the crime rate the most of any other mass transit network anywhere in the world. Some police officers alleged that they were not asked to prosecute less-serious "quality of life" crimes, and that they should only be on the lookout for high-profile crimes. Additionally, MTA police radios and New York City Police Department radios transmitted at different frequencies, so they could not coordinate with each other. Subway patrols were also adherent to tight schedules, and felons quickly knew when and where police would make patrols. Public morale of the MTA police was low at the time. By October 1979, additional decoy and undercover units were deployed in the subway.[58]

By February 13, 1980, the Guardian Angels grew to include 220 subway and bus patrollers trying to deter crime.[75] During a City Council meeting where members of safety and transportation committees met jointly to discuss transit crime, the founder of the Guardian Angels, Curtis Sliwa, night manager of a McDonalds on East Fordham Road in the Bronx, appeared to be more in tune with the level of crime than Transit Police Chief James Meehan. While Meehan testified that he could provide sufficient protection to straphangers with the 2,300 members of his police force, Sliwa was advocating additional policemen to patrol the subways. While the City Council received Mr. Sliwa's remarks very favorably, statistics would seem to backup Mr. Meehan's comments. In a one-year period between March 1979 and March 1980, felonies per day dropped from 261 to 154.58 While these figures were still at very unacceptable levels, at least the trend was in the right direction. Yet The New York Times reported that between the summer of 1979 and 1980, crime on the subway rose 70%.[76]

On the IRT Pelham Line in 1980, a sharp rise in window-smashing on subway cars caused $2 million in damages; it spread to other lines during the course of the year. When the broken windows were discovered in trains that were still in service, they needed to be taken out of service, causing additional delays; in August 1980 alone, 775 vandalism-related delays were reported.[77] Crime was such a problem that senior City Hall and transit officials considered raising the subway fare from 60 to 65 cents to fund additional transit police officers.

On January 20, 1982, MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch spoke during a breakfast meeting of the Association for a Better New York, a business group. He told the group that he would not let his teenage sons ride the subway at night, and that even he, as the subway chairman, was nervous riding the trains.[78] This anxiety translated into lost revenue, and this startling revelation by the head of the MTA prompted the organization to study how this drop in ridership could be turned around. October 1982 saw a record low ridership, mostly due to fears about transit crime, poor subway performance and some economic factors, ridership on the subway. The ridership was at levels last seen in 1917, before the IND even existed.[79]

To counteract a 60% jump in crime in 1982, a plan to have uniformed police officers ride the subway between 8pm and 4am was instituted. By 1985, the crime and vandalism epidemic had not subsided at all. TA shop employees on the late shift were often used to replace broken glass in subway car windows. Between January 27 and February 2, 1985, 1,129 pieces of glass were replaced on subway cars on the 1, 6, CC, E, and K trains.[80] In May 1984, even the Nostalgia Train IND cars were hit by vandals.

Meanwhile, enterprising criminals would steal bus transfers from bus drivers and sell the transfers on the street for 50 cents. The criminals would concentrate on areas where free bus to subway or subway to bus transfers were available, such as Third Avenue – 149th Street in the Bronx.[81] Mayor Koch even proposed to put a subway court in the Times Square subway station to speed up arraignments, as there were so many subway-related crimes by then. In June 1985, Operation High Visibility began, where at least one transit policeman rode every train between 8pm and 6am in an attempt to restore public confidence in the transit system.[82]

Within less than ten years, over 300,000,000 people annually stopped riding the subway, mainly because of fears of crime. In July 1985, the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City published a study showing this trend, fearing the frequent robberies and generally bad circumstances.[83] To counter these developments, policy that was rooted in the late 1980s and early 1990s was implemented.[84][85] In line with this Fixing Broken Windows philosophy, the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) began a five-year program to eradicate graffiti from subway trains in 1984.[86]

Effects of the Program for Action[edit]

The IRT Third Avenue Line in the Bronx was a casualty of the Program for Action.

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 11, 1977 and the early 1980s, replaced by the BMT Archer Avenue Line in 1988.[58]

Debris falling from and on the tracks[edit]

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 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.

On October 27, 1976, loose chunks of concrete were falling from a retaining wall on the southbound side of the BMT Brighton Line just south of the Beverley Road station. After many temporary reroutes and usage of the Manhattan-bound express track in both directions, the southbound track alignment had to be changed; all trains had to use a single track and a shuttle had to be created between Beverley Road and Prospect Park. Starting November 1, 1976 and continuing until February 25, 1977, hundreds of trains were cancelled and/or rerouted due to the construction.[58]

Rehabilitation and rising trend[edit]

Ridership during 1979, which increased 4% over 1978 levels, was attributed to an improving economy.[87]

A multi-part Daily News series on the subway in 1979 advertised "a whole new subway"; numerous improvements and rehabilitations were performed as a result:

  • Installation of air conditioning in all IRT cars by 1990
  • Improvements to all 460 stations between 1979 and 1984, at a cost of $304 million; ultimately, 84 were.
  • Installation of closed-circuit television in stations to improve passenger safety (though there would be no cameras in subway cars until the R179 subway car in 2014).
  • Completion of the 63rd Street Line bypass to Forest Hills – 71st Avenue, which was ultimately not completed, was projected to be finished by 1990.

Over six years, $1.7 billion would be provided by the state and the Port Authority under the Urban Mass Transit Act.[87]

Phyllis Cerf Wagner, the aesthetics chairman at the time, additionally announced "Operation Facelift", a program calling for new paint, better lighting, increased platform seating, and faster window and door replacements. She planned the removal underground concession stands, persuaded the MTA to cease painting rolling stock silver with a blue stripe, and envisioned an underground mall modeled after Underground Atlanta, that would stretch from Herald Square to 47th–50th Streets – Rockefeller Center stations (connecting with the existing Rockefeller Center concourse) and Grand Central – 42nd Street. The underground mall was not completed, but the majority of the aforementioned improvements were eventually carried out.[87]

During the mid-1980s, reconstruction began. Stations were refurbished and rolling stock was repaired and replaced. Poor maintenance trends began to reverse by 1986. There were three in-service derailments in 1985, compared with 15 in 1984 and 21 in 1983. The number of "red tag" areas — areas of track necessitating immediate repairs, meaning trains needed to slow to 10 mph — dropped from over 500 to two in 1986.[88] As an example, the BMT Brighton Line's tracks between Sheepshead Bay and Prospect Park were replaced in 1986 — the first time this had been 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 ripping up of tracks, removal of the ballast trackbed, and finally replacement of the track.[89] The 325 R62 cars, in service for a year on the 4, were proving 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 increased to 10,000 miles by September 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.[87]

The MTA implemented Capital Plans to repair the existing system. Scheduled Maintenance Services were formed to replace components before they failed. Subway cars in classes R26 to R46 went through general overhaul programs to fix and rehabilitate 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, however, was worse in 1989 than it was in 1980, and necessitated a complete renovation by 1998, because the MTA planned to abandon the line by the end of the century.[87]

Projects during this time[edit]

Smith–Ninth Streets, which received new escalators

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

Halfway through Phase I of the 1968 Program for Action, a status report was issued. It stated: "Almost all of the projects are well ahead of the goal recommended five years ago. Despite technical setbacks, legal roadblocks, administrative frustrations and limited funding, progress has been substantial." Other improvements, not stated in the report, were also being done. As of 1973, progress had been made on several projects, the first six of which were Program for Action projects:

  • The 63rd Street Tunnel was completed and outfitting for the new lines that were to run through it was to begin in early 1974.
  • Three new subway lines were under construction (63rd Street, Second Avenue, and Archer Avenue Lines).
  • Eight new subway lines were under design.
  • Two underground crosstown people-movers were being studied.
  • Rolling stock ordered during these years had a common front end, with a silver finish with a blue stripe along the side:
    • 800 new R40 and R42 subway cars were placed into service. In 1968, 27% of the fleet was considered to be beyond retirement age (which was said to be 30 years if a subway car is properly maintained); in 1973, this was halved to about 14%. In 1968, there were 6,975 subway cars in the fleet, of which 1,883 were beyond their useful lives; by 1973, there were 6,826 cars in the fleet, of which 956 were beyond their useful lives.
    • The first 8-car train of R44s was placed into revenue service on December 16, 1971 on a one-month trial. The first train of R44s in "permanent" revenue service left 179th Street - Jamaica on the F train on April 19, 1972. By 1973, 300 R44s were placed in service and 745 R46 subway cars were ordered from Pullman Standard (and this would increase slightly to 754 cars). The first four R46 cars would be delivered on March 27, 1975, and would be tested on the express tracks of the Sea Beach Line. The first R46 train went into revenue service on July 14, 1975.
  • Bowling Green modernization and expansion. This project started on July 19, 1972 to relieve overcrowding as a result of new office development in the area.
  • 49th Street modernization, to be completed in 1974.
  • 50th Street station design, to be completed in late 1973.
  • 50 BMT stations had their platforms extended (or were currently being extended) to accommodate 600-foot trains.
  • 200 new token booths were deployed with another 300 planned.
  • 980 new on-train radios were installed aboard subway cars that did not previously have them.
  • Projects to figure out how to air condition IRT cars were started. Two IRT cars completed a two-year air conditioning test on September 5, 1973, and the first two 10-car IRT trains retrofitted with air conditioning entered service on June 24, 1975.

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.[39]

A grant consisting of $27 million in federal funds in October 1978 enabled the following improvements:[39]

Transit improvements planned for 1979 included:[39]

Marcy Avenue

In May 1979, $19.9 million in federal funds was requested for the following transit improvements:[39]

  • 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 saved from being closed.[39] This discontinuation was revisited again in 1998, but again residents elected to keep it open.[90]

In 1977, the Linden Shops opened in Brooklyn, enabling the MTA to build track panels indoors throughout the year, among other objects.[39]

On January 16, 1978, the MTA opened three transfer stations:[39]

In April 1981, the following projects were considered by the MTA:[91]

In 1981, the MTA began installing welded rails on a few underground portions of the system.[39]

On March 25, 1986, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) proposed the following changes:[92]

The RPA also recommended the following prioritized expenditures looking forward to the year 2000:[92]

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

By August 1989, the MTA was considering these projects:[93]

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:[94]

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.[72]

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.[95]

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.[96]

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.[97] Other candidates for this order included Bombardier and the Budd Company.[97] 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 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 20, 1986, after passing a successful 30-day test. 200 option-1 cars were later delivered for a total of 425 cars. 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 18, 1988 on the IND Concourse Line.

The R10, R14, R16, R17, R21, and R22 car classes all were retired with the deliveries of the R62/As and R68/As.

Revitalization and recent history[edit]

September 11, 2001[edit]

Cortlandt Street was heavily damaged in the September 11 attacks and needed to be demolished.

The September 11 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.[98] 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.[5]

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.[5][6]

After September 11, 2001[edit]

The old South Ferry loop station, which closed between March 16, 2009 and April 4, 2013
7 Subway Extension construction in June 2011
Hurricane Sandy caused serious damage to the IND Rockaway Line and isolated one part of the line from the rest of the system, requiring the NYCTA to truck in 20 subway cars to the line to provide some interim service in the Rockaways. This shows one of the cars being loaded onto a flatbed to be carried to the Rockaways.

Generally, ridership kept rising as the subway system improved in its maintenance, cleanliness, frequency, and on-time ratio; ridership started to increase as graffiti and crime rates dropped heavily after 1989. From 1995 to 2005, ridership on city buses and subways grew by 36%, compared with a population gain in the city of 7%.[99] With dramatic increases in fuel prices in 2008, as well as increased tourism and residential growth, ridership on buses and subways grew 3.1% up to about 2.37 billion trips a year compared to 2007. This is the highest ridership since 1965.[100] By 2013, ridership had reached 1.7 billion riders per year (despite closures related to Hurricane Sandy), a level not seen since 1949.[101]

The IND 63rd Street Line's connection to the IND Queens Boulevard Line opening on December 16, 2001.[102]

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 tunnelling contract was awarded to the consortium of Schiavone/Shea/Skanska (S3) by the MTA on March 20, 2007.[103] This followed preliminary engineering and a final tunnel design completed by a joint venture between AECOM and Arup.[104][105] 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.[103][106]

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.[59][60] The project, which was the first one funded by the city in over sixty years,[107] is intended to aid redevelopment of Hell's Kitchen around the West Side Yard of the Long Island Rail Road.[108]

On March 16, 2009, the new South Ferry – Whitehall Street station opened to replace the obsolete South Ferry loop station.[109]

On September 20, 2011, the Tunnel Boring Machine project of the Second Avenue Subway reached the BMT 63rd Street Line.[110] The first segment, between 63rd Street and 96th Street, is scheduled to be completed in 2016.[111] 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.[112]

On October 29, 2012, a full closure of the subway was ordered before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. All services on the subway, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North were gradually shut down that day at 7:00 P.M., to protect passengers, employees and equipment from the coming storm. The storm caused serious damage to the system, especially the IND Rockaway Line, which had many sections between Howard Beach – JFK Airport and Hammels Wye on the Rockaway Peninsula heavily damaged, leaving it essentially isolated from the rest of the system. This required the NYCTA to truck in 20 R32 subway cars to the line to provide some interim service (temporarily designated the H). The line reopened on May 30, 2013, with a new retaining wall along the line to prevent against future storm surges. Also, several of the system's tunnels under the East River were flooded by the storm surge.[113] South Ferry suffered serious water damage and did not reopen until April 4, 2013 by restoring service to the older loop-configured station that had been replaced in 2009; the stub-end terminal tracks remain out of service pending extensive repairs and the new island-platformed station is not expected to open until June 2016.[114][115]

On December 20, 2013, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a ceremonial ride on a train to the new 34th Street terminal of the IRT Flushing Line, celebrating a part of his legacy as Mayor, during a press tour of the uncompleted station. It is expected to open in 2014.[116][117][118][119]

Throughout the subway's history[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.
The Malbone Street Wreck killed 97 people.

Construction methods[edit]

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.[120]

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 use tunnel boring machines to build the subway tunnels to minimize disruption at street level, but also to avoid already existing utilities. Examples of such projects include the extension of the IRT Flushing Line[61][121][122][123] and the IND Second Avenue Line.[124][125][126][127]


Train accidents[edit]

At least 56 train accidents have been recorded since 1918, when a train bound for South Ferry smashed into two trains halted near Jackson Avenue on the IRT White Plains Road Line in the Bronx.[128]

Only accidents that caused injuries, deaths, or significant damage are listed.

  • May 2, 2014: A Manhattan-bound F train with 1,000 people on board derailed near 65th Street, injuring at least 19 people.[129]
  • June 21, 2000: A southbound B train derailed just after leaving the DeKalb Avenue station in Brooklyn, injuring more than 80 people. Officials said the third car jumped off the track, pulling the second car along.[129]
  • April 12, 2000: A northbound 5 train derailed near 68th Street, injuring nine people.[129]
  • November 20, 1997: A Forest Hills-bound R train rear-ends a G train in a tunnel near the Steinway Street station in Astoria. There were no serious injuries were reported among the approximately 40 victims, who mainly suffered minor head and neck injuries. All of the injured were treated and released. The cars, which were estimated traveling at about 10 miles per hour at the time of the collision, suffered only limited damage.[130]
  • July 14, 1997: The last car of a southbound 2 train derailed near Franklin Avenue, injuring four people.[129]
  • July 3, 1997: A Queens-bound A train derailed in Harlem, near the 135th Street station, injuring 15 people.[129]
  • August 22, 1995: 18 people were injured when a 6 train bypassed a red signal and struck another train stopped at Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall station.[130]
  • June 5, 1995: A Manhattan-bound J train crashed into a stopped Manhattan-bound M train on the Williamsburg Bridge. The motorman of the J train was killed and approximately 50 passengers were injured. Investigations concluded that the J train ran a red signal at high speed, and spacing of signals and poor performance of train and track brakes contributed to the crash. [131]
  • February 9, 1995: An M train carrying no passengers smashes into a Manhattan-bound B train near the Ninth Avenue station. The motorman and six people aboard the B train suffered minor injuries. The motorman of the M train was blamed for the crash.[130]
  • December 21, 1994: Edward Leary explodes homemade bomb that sent a fireball whooshing through a subway car, injuring himself and 47 others. The crude bomb went off while the subway train was parked in a station.
  • August 15, 1994: Eleven people are injured when the last car of a southbound B train derails near Ninth Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and slams into a tunnel wall.[129][130]
  • October 7, 1993: Manhattan bound L train collided with another L train in the Graham Avenue station; 45 are injured.[130]
  • August 28, 1991: In a derailment at Union Square, 5 people were killed and more than 200 were injured when a southbound 4 train came off the tracks. The motorman was drunk at the time of the crash and was later convicted of manslaughter.[129][130]
  • December 28, 1990: An electrical fire in tunnel near Clark Street kills two and injures 188.[130]
  • July 26, 1990: Thirty-six people are injured when a B train rear-ended an M train in Borough Park.[130]
  • July 3, 1981: A motorman died after he had a heart attack on an empty train at Jamaica – 179th Street; the first car was badly damaged and had to be scrapped.[129][130]
  • October 25, 1973: A fire in two train cars at Longwood Avenue causes these cars to be scrapped; the following train ended up rear-ending the disabled train.[129][130]
  • August 28, 1973: A 20-foot-long chunk of a concrete ceiling duct in the Steinway Tunnel collides with a Queens-bound 7; one person in the first car was killed and 18 were injured.[129][130]
  • August 1, 1970: A tunnel fire near Bowling Green kills one and injures 50.[130]
  • May 20, 1970: An empty Brooklyn-bound GG train running on the southbound local track crashed into another GG train west of Roosevelt Avenue that was crossing from the southbound express track to the southbound local track. Two passengers were killed and 77 were injured.[130]
  • March 27, 1970: A 6 train hit a bumper block at the Pelham Bay Park station, injuring 7.[129][130]
  • December 29, 1969: A southbound train derails near East 180th Street in the Bronx, injuring 48.[130]
  • May 4, 1965: A work crane fell from the IRT New Lots Line on the center track east of Utica Avenue, killing one.[130]
  • November 28, 1962: A railroad crane toppled off from the IND Culver Line onto a street in Coney Island, killing three.[130]
  • September 26, 1957: A motorman was killed and three passengers were killed at an accident at 231st Street.[130]
  • August 27, 1938: A collision at an 116th Street IRT station (the exact station is unknown) kills 2 and injures 51.[130]
  • August 24, 1928: Derailment in Times Square on a southbound IRT express train on the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line kills 16[132] and injures 100.[130]
  • August 6, 1927: Two bombs explode at 28th Street (BMT Broadway Line) and 28th Street (IRT Lexington Avenue Line).[130]
  • November 1, 1918: A dispatcher, filling in for striking motormen, loses control while entering the tunnel at Malbone Street; 97 are killed and 200 are injured.[130][133]
  • October 3, 1918: A collision at Jackson Avenue killed two and injured 18 people.[128][130]

Additionally, in an accident recorded before 1918, a derailment happened on the Ninth Avenue Elevated in Manhattan on September 11, 1905, resulting in 13 deaths and 48 serious injuries.[134][135]

Other disasters[edit]

Other accidents in the history of the subway do not involve trains;[136][137][138] several people have been fatally electrocuted by the subway's third rails,[139][140] and yet others have been fatally pushed onto the tracks.[141][142]

In 1960, the Sunday Bomber set off a series of bombs in the New York City Subway[143][144][145] and ferries[146] during Sundays and holidays, killing one woman and injuring 51 other commuters.

See also[edit]


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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.
  • Most, Doug, The race underground : Boston, New York, and the incredible rivalry that built America’s first subway, First edition, New York : St. Martin’s Press, February 2014. ISBN 9780312591328

External links[edit]