JFK Express

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This article is about the former New York City Subway service between JFK Airport and Manhattan. For the intra-airport people mover presently operating at JFK, see AirTrain JFK.
JFK Express
JFK symbol
JFK map
Note: Service began at 57th Street prior to 1989
Northern end 21st Street – Queensbridge
Southern end Howard Beach – JFK Airport
Stations 13
Discontinued April 15, 1990; 26 years ago (1990-04-15)

The JFK Express, advertised as The Train to The Plane, was a limited express service of the New York City Subway, connecting Midtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport. It operated between 1978 and 1990. It primarily used R46 subway cars, and operated along the IND Sixth Avenue Line, IND Fulton Street Line, and IND Rockaway Line between 57th Street in Manhattan and Howard Beach – JFK Airport in Queens. Passengers paid extra, premium fares to ride JFK Express trains. Its route bullet was colored turquoise.

Fares and rolling stock[edit]

The premium fare for the JFK Express was collected by train conductors on board, who punched the tickets that passengers had to purchase prior to boarding.[1] In addition to the conductors, there were transit police officers aboard to provide protection for travelers.[2]

The JFK Express used R46s exclusively for most of its existence,[3][4] although near its end R44s were used when the R46s began midlife overhauls.[3] The trains were initially three-cars long or 225 feet (69 m) in length.[2][3][5] They later were four-cars long or 300 feet (91 m) long, half the length of a typical B Division train.[3][6][7][8]

Service history[edit]

In June 1978, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced plans for an "experimental" subway-bus service between Manhattan and JFK Airport.[9] The JFK Express began operation on September 23, 1978.[2][5][6] The MTA created several 30-second long television commercials advertising it as "the train to the plane" to promote the new service.[6][10] Train ran daily from 5:00 AM to 1:00 AM on 20 minute headways.[5] The route began at 57th Street and ran express on the IND Sixth Avenue Line to West Fourth Street – Washington Square, where it switched to the IND Eighth Avenue Line and ran express to Jay Street – Borough Hall in Downtown Brooklyn. From that point on, it ran non-stop on the IND Fulton Street Line and IND Rockaway Line to Howard Beach – JFK Airport.[2][5]

At times, regular passengers were allowed on the trains and no fares were charged due to disruptions on other services; this included the 1988 closure of the Williamsburg Bridge, after a painter discovered a hole in a girder. At other times, some passengers paid the extra fare to use the JFK Express to reach Aqueduct Racetrack.[11]

On October 29, 1989, the IND 63rd Street Line opened and the JFK Express was extended to 21st Street – Queensbridge.[3][12] However, this extension was short-lived as service was discontinued on April 15, 1990.[2][3][13]

Within a few years of its inauguration, the service was being criticized as being a poor use of resources.[14] The JFK Express proved to be unsuccessful, seeing low ridership in part because the service did not actually serve any airline terminals, but rather transferred passengers to a shuttle bus service that was several hundred yards from the station.[1]

Following the discontinuation of the JFK Express, the A train continues to serve Howard Beach – JFK Airport station.[1] The JFK shuttle bus service remained in operation until the AirTrain JFK, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey-operated people mover system, replaced it on December 17, 2003.[15] The AirTrain JFK also connects with the Long Island Rail Road[16] at Jamaica, and with the E J Z trains subway services to Manhattan at Sutphin Boulevard – Archer Avenue.[15][16] A current proposal, the Lower Manhattan – Jamaica/JFK Transportation Project, would provide express train service between JFK Airport and Lower Manhattan through Brooklyn. This would be similar to the JFK Express except that the service would be an extension of AirTrain JFK and operate via the LIRR's Atlantic Branch, providing a one-seat ride to the airport terminals.


Service pattern[edit]

The following lines were used by the JFK Express service:[17]

Line Portion Tracks
IND 63rd Street Line (full line)   all
IND Sixth Avenue Line north of West Fourth Street – Washington Square local
IND Eighth Avenue Line south of West Fourth Street – Washington Square local
IND Fulton Street Line north of Rockaway Boulevard express
IND Rockaway Line north of Howard Beach – JFK Airport local


1978 brochure
The JFK Express bullet on an R68 serving the Franklin Avenue Shuttle
Station service legend
Stops all times except late nights Stops all times except late nights
Time period details
JFK Express Station Handicapped/disabled access Notes
Stops all times except late nights 21st Street – Queensbridge Handicapped/disabled access new terminus after completion of IND 63rd Street Line; opened October 29, 1989
Stops all times except late nights Roosevelt Island Handicapped/disabled access opened October 29, 1989
Stops all times except late nights Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street Handicapped/disabled access opened October 29, 1989
Stops all times except late nights 57th Street original terminus before IND 63rd Street Line opened
Stops all times except late nights 47th–50th Streets – Rockefeller Center
Stops all times except late nights 42nd Street – Bryant Park
Stops all times except late nights 34th Street – Herald Square
Stops all times except late nights West Fourth Street – Washington Square
Stops all times except late nights Chambers Street
Stops all times except late nights Broadway – Nassau Street
Stops all times except late nights Jay Street – Borough Hall
Stops all times except late nights Howard Beach – JFK Airport transfer to Port Authority shuttle bus to airport terminals


  1. ^ a b c Faison, Seth (April 20, 1993). "Trains and Buses, Then Airplanes". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Grynbaum, Michael M. (November 25, 2009). "If You Took the Train to the Plane, Sing the Jingle". Retrieved 2016-07-03. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Linder, Bernard (December 2008). "Sixth Avenue Subway Service Changes". New York Division Bulliten. Electric Railroaders' Association. 51 (12): 2–4. Retrieved 6 August 2016. 
  4. ^ Maitland, Leslie (April 14, 1980). "U.S. Cites Flaws in R-46 Subway Cars; Transit Authority to Cut Their Use 47%". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 July 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c d "New "JFK Express" Service Begun in Howard Beach" (PDF). New York Leader Observer. Fultonhistory.com. September 28, 1978. Retrieved 22 July 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c Pitt, David E. (October 22, 1989). "Transit Agency Wants to End Airport Express". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2009. 
  7. ^ Queens Subway Options Study, New York: Environmental Impact Statement. United States Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (New York), Urban Mass Transit Administration. May 1984. pp. 83–. Retrieved 10 July 2016. 
  8. ^ "PLAYING IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: LONG ISLAND CITY; Tortoise Heads Into Queens". The New York Times. October 18, 1998. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  9. ^ Lichtenstein, Grace (June 27, 1978). "Experimental Bus‐Subway Route to Kennedy Planned". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 July 2016. 
  10. ^ "Train to the Plane". YouTube. Retrieved 30 August 2009. 
  11. ^ Feinman, Mark S. "The New York City Transit Authority in the 1980s". nycsubway.org. Retrieved 30 August 2009. 
  12. ^ Lorch, Donatella (October 29, 1989). "The 'Subway to Nowhere' Now Goes Somewhere". The New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2011. 
  13. ^ The New York Times (March 11, 1990). "JFK express subway to be discontinued". Observer–Reporter. New York City. p. 54. Retrieved 22 July 2016. 
  14. ^ Goldman, Ari (June 5, 1980). "JFK Train: Wasteful Or Wonderful". The New York Times. p. B1. Retrieved June 19, 2016. 
  15. ^ a b "AirTrain JFK opens for service". Railway Gazette International. March 1, 2004. Retrieved 23 July 2016. 
  16. ^ a b Gosling, Geoffrey D.; Freeman, Dennis (May 2012). "CASE STUDY REPORT: JOHN F. KENNEDY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AIRTRAIN" (PDF). sjsu.edu. Mineta Transportation Institute, San Jose State University. 
  17. ^ "NYC Subway Map 1987 Edition". nycsubway.org. Retrieved 30 August 2009. 

External links[edit]