New York City Subway

New York City Subway
New York City Subway
MTA New York City Subway logo.svg
NYC Subway R142 on the 4 R160A on the E.jpg
Top: A number 4 train made up of R142 cars enters the Fordham Road station.
Bottom: An E train made up of R160A cars waits for passengers at the 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal station.
Locale New York City
Transit type Rapid transit
Number of lines 24
Number of stations 468
Daily ridership 4,395,063 (daily, 2010)
5,156,913 (weekdays, 2010)[1]
Began operation

first section of subway: October 27, 1904
first elevated operation: July 3, 1868

first railroad operation: October 9, 1863[2]
Operator(s) New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) Standard gauge
System map
NYC subway-4D.svg

The New York City Subway is a rapid transit system owned by the City of New York and leased to the New York City Transit Authority,[3] a subsidiary agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and also known as MTA New York City Transit. It is one of the oldest and most extensive public transportation systems in the world, with 468 stations in operation (421, if stations connected by transfers are counted as single stations);[1][4] 209 mi (337 km) of routes,[5] translating into 656 miles (1,056 km) of revenue track; and a total of 842 miles (1,355 km) including non-revenue trackage.[6] In 2010, the subway delivered over 1.604 billion rides, averaging over five million (5,156,913 rides) on weekdays, over three million (3,031,289 rides) on Saturdays, and over two million (2,335,077 rides) on Sundays.[1]

The New York City Subway is the fourth busiest rapid transit rail system in the world in annual ridership, after Tokyo's, Moscow's, and Seoul's rapid transit systems,[7] and the busiest in the Americas. It is one of the four systems in the U.S., along with portions of the Chicago 'L' system, PATH, and PATCO, to offer service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.[8]



The system's stations are located throughout the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Staten Island has a rail line, the Staten Island Railway, which opened in 1860 and uses R44 subway cars, but has no links to, and is not officially considered part of the subway, though it has been included on all official Subway Maps since 1998.

All services pass through Manhattan except for the Franklin Avenue Shuttle in Brooklyn, Rockaway Park Shuttle in Queens, and Brooklyn–Queens Crosstown Local (G train) connecting Brooklyn and Queens. All but two of the 468 stations of the subway are served 24 hours a day.[9] Contrary to its name, the New York City Subway system is not entirely underground; large portions of the system (especially outside of Manhattan) are elevated, on embankments, or in open cuts. A few stretches of track run at ground level.

An entrance to the Times Square – 42nd Street station, the busiest station of the New York City Subway.[10]

In 2005, the New York City Subway hit a 50-year record in usage with a ridership of 1.45 billion.[11] The trend toward higher ridership continued into 2008; MTA released figures that subway use was up 6.8 percent for January and February as higher gasoline prices encouraged riders to use mass transit over automobiles.[12]

According to the United States Department of Energy, energy expenditure on the New York City Subway rail service was 3492 BTU/passenger mile (2289 kJ/passenger km) in 1995. This compares with 3702 BTU/passenger mile (2427 kJ/passenger km) for automobile travel.[13] However, the figure for automobiles is averaged over the entire United States. Driving a car in New York City is significantly less efficient due to the highly urbanized environment.[14]

Many lines and stations have both express and local services. These lines have three or four tracks. Normally, the outer two are used for local trains while the inner one or two are used for express trains. Stations served by express trains are typically major transfer points or destinations. The BMT Jamaica Line uses skip-stop service on portions, where two services (J Z trains) operate over the line during rush hours and many stations are only served by one of the two.


Political cartoon critical of IRT service in 1905. The IRT is labeled as the "Interborough Rattled Transit".
External videos
Subway Colors and Names, Metropolitan Transportation Authority; July 25, 2010; 2:09 YouTube video clip
Ten Years Later: MTA Reflects on 9/11, Metropolitan Transportation Authority; September 7, 2011; 4:21 YouTube video clip

A demonstration for an underground transit system in New York City was first built by Alfred Ely Beach in 1869. His Beach Pneumatic Transit only extended 312 feet (95 m) under Broadway in Lower Manhattan and exhibited his idea for a subway propelled by pneumatic tube technology. The tunnel was never extended for political and financial reasons, although extensions had been planned to take the tunnel southward to The Battery and northwards towards the Harlem River.[15] The Beach subway was demolished when the BMT Broadway Line was built in the 1910s; thus, it was not integrated into the New York City Subway system.

The first underground line of the 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. The Great Blizzard of 1888 helped demonstrate the benefits of an underground transportation system. The oldest structure still in use opened in 1885 as part of the BMT Lexington Avenue Line in Brooklyn and is now part of the BMT Jamaica Line. The oldest right-of-way, that of the BMT West End Line, was in use in 1863 as a steam railroad called the Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island Rail Road.

Map of the 1906 IRT system in Manhattan

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.[3] This required it to be run 'at cost', necessitating fares up to double the five cent fare popular at the time.[16]

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 Cortlandt Street station after the World Trade Center collapse

In 1934, transit workers of the BRT, IRT, and IND founded the Transport Workers Union of America, organized as Local 100. Local 100 remains the largest and most influential local of the labor union. Since the union's founding, there have been three union strikes over contract disputes with the MTA, 12 days in 1966, 11 days in 1980, and three days in 2005.

The September 11th 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.[17]

Construction methods

42nd Street station improvements, 1987.

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 uses cast-iron tubes, segments between 33rd and 42nd streets under Park Avenue, 116th Street and 120th Street under Broadway, and 157th Street and Fort George under Broadway and Saint Nicholas Avenue, all of which used either rock or concrete-lined tunnels.[18]

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.

Lines and routes

125th Street station on the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line
Late night subway service map

Many rapid transit systems run relatively static routings, so that a train "line" is more or less synonymous with a train "route". In New York, routings change often as new connections are opened or service patterns change. Within the nomenclature of the subway, the "line" describes the physical railroad track or series of tracks that a train "route" uses on its way from one terminal to another. "Routes" (also called "services") are distinguished by a letter or a number and "Lines" have names. They are also designations for trains, as exemplified in the Billy Strayhorn song Take the "A" Train. This terminology is also used to a loose extent in the Taipei Metro.

There are 24 train services in the subway system, including three short shuttles. Each route has a color and a local or express designation representing the Manhattan trunk line of the particular service. The color lime green is exclusively assigned to the Crosstown Line route since it operates entirely outside Manhattan while the shuttles are all assigned dark gray.[19] The 1, 6, 7, C, G, L, M and R trains are fully local; making all stops. The 2, 3, 4, 5, <6>, <7>, A, B, D, E, F, N and Q trains have portions of express and local service. The J train normally operates local on its route, but during rush hours it is joined by the Z train. Both operate skip-stop during rush hours over the same route.

The current color system depicted on official subway maps was proposed by R. Raleigh D'Adamo, a lawyer who entered a contest sponsored by the Transit Authority in 1964. D'Adamo proposed replacing a map that used only three colors (representing the three operating entities of the subway network) with a map that used a different color for each service. D'Adamo's contest entry shared first place with two others and led to the Transit Authority adopting a multi-colored scheme.[20] However, the lines and services are not referred to by color (e.g., Blue Line or Green Line), although the colors are often assigned through their groups.

Though the subway system operates on a 24-hour basis, some of the designated routes do not run or run as a shorter route during late night hours. In addition to these regularly scheduled changes, because there is no nightly system shutdown for maintenance, tracks and stations must be maintained while the system is operating. To accommodate such work, services are usually changed during midday, overnight hours, and weekends.

A Division (IRT) consists of:
Route Line
NYCS 1 Broadway – Seventh Avenue Local
NYCS 2 Seventh Avenue Express
NYCS 3 Seventh Avenue Express
NYCS 4 Lexington Avenue Express
NYCS 5 Lexington Avenue Express
NYCS 6 NYCS 6d Lexington Avenue Local
NYCS 7 NYCS 7d Flushing Local/Express
42nd Street Shuttle 42nd Street Shuttle
B Division (BMT/IND) consists of:
Route Line Route Line
NYCS A Eighth Avenue Express NYCS L Canarsie Local
NYCS B Sixth Avenue Express NYCS M Sixth Avenue Local
NYCS C Eighth Avenue Local NYCS N Broadway Local
NYCS D Sixth Avenue Express NYCS Q Broadway Express
NYCS E Eighth Avenue Local NYCS R Broadway Local
NYCS F Sixth Avenue Local Franklin Avenue Shuttle Franklin Avenue Shuttle
NYCS G Crosstown Local Rockaway Park Shuttle Rockaway Park Shuttle
NYCS J Nassau Street Local NYCS Z Nassau Street Express

Subway map

The current official transit maps of the New York City Subway are based on a 1979 design by Michael Hertz Associates. The maps are not geographically accurate due to the complexity of the system (i.e. Manhattan being the smallest borough, but having the most lines), but are known to help tourists navigate the city, as major city streets are shown alongside the subway stations serving them. The newest edition of the subway map, which took effect on June 27, 2010, reflects the latest service changes and also makes Manhattan bigger and Staten Island smaller.[21][22]

Part of the reason for the current incarnation is that earlier diagrams of the subway (the first being produced in 1958), while being more aesthetically pleasing, had the perception of being more geographically inaccurate than the diagrams today. The design of the subway map by Massimo Vignelli, published by the MTA between 1974 and 1979, has since become recognized in design circles as a modern classic; however, the MTA deemed the map flawed due to its placement of geographical elements.[23][24]

On September 16, 2011, the MTA introduced a Vignelli-style interactive subway map, aptly called "The Weekender"[25], to its website.[26] As the title suggests[27], it is a way for riders to get information about any planned work, from late Friday night to early Monday morning, that is going on either on a service(s) or station(s) of the subway during the weekend only.[28][29]

There are several privately produced schematics which are available online or in published form, such as those by Hagstrom Map.[30] Additionally, the New York City subway map has served as the subject of artistic endeavors. Among these are works by Fadeout Design and by Alexander Chen.[31][32]

Stations facilities and amenities

Entrance to Broad Street station with its red lamps
The IND Eighth Avenue Line station at 59th Street – Columbus Circle
7 train arriving at Vernon Boulevard – Jackson Avenue station (43s)
Lit-up exit sign on a turnstile

Station and concourse

Many stations have mezzanines. These allow for passengers to enter from multiple entrances and proceed to the correct platform without having to cross the street before entering. They also allow for crossover between the uptown and downtown platforms.

Passengers enter a subway station through stairs towards station booths and vending machines to buy their fare, which is currently stored in a MetroCard. After swiping the card at a turnstile, customers continue to the platforms. Some subway lines in northern Manhattan and the other boroughs have elevated tracks to which passengers climb up to the platforms and station houses via stairs, escalators, or elevators.

Globe lamps

At most of the system's entrances and exits sits a lamp post or two bearing a colored spherical lamp. Before the introduction of the MetroCard in 1994, these lights indicated the station's availability. A green lamp meant that the station was open and running 24 hours a day, a yellow lamp meant that it was open only during the day, while a red lamp meant that it was an exit-only. The yellow lamp was phased out and replaced by red lamps, which takes over the role of both a part-time entrance and exit-only.[33]


A typical subway station has waiting platforms ranging from 500 to 600 feet (150 to 180 m) long. Due to the large number of transit lines, one platform or set of platforms often serve more than one service. Passengers need to look at the overhead signs at the platform entrance steps and over each track to see which trains stop there and when, and at the arriving train to see which one it is.

There are a number of common platform configurations:

  • On a double track line, a station may have one center island platform used for trains in both directions, or 2 side platforms, one for a train in each direction.
  • For lines with three or four tracks with express service, local stops will have side platforms and the middle one or two tracks will not stop at the station. On these lines, express stations have two island platforms, one for the local and express in one direction, and another for the local and express in the other direction. Each island platform provides a cross-platform interchange between local and express services. Almost everywhere expresses run, they run on the inner one (of 3) or two (of 4) tracks and locals run on the outer two tracks. In a 3-track configuration, the center express track can be used toward the center of the city in the morning and away from the center in the evening, though not every 3-track line has that express service.

Three four-track express stations have an island platform for the center express tracks and two side platforms for the outside local tracks. These three stations are connected to major railway stations and the next station along the line is also an express station with the more common platform configuration. The purpose of splitting the platforms is to limit overcrowding by preventing cross-platform interchanges between local and express services. This occurs at Atlantic Avenue on the IRT Eastern Parkway Line (2 3 4 5 trains) with the adjacent express station Nevins Street, where the connection is to the Atlantic Terminal of the Long Island Rail Road; and 34th Street – Penn Station on both the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line (1 2 3 trains) and IND Eighth Avenue Line (A C E trains), with adjacent express stations at Times Square – 42nd Street and 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal, where a connection is available to Pennsylvania Station, one of the two major Manhattan train stations. This does not occur with the connection to New York's other major station, Grand Central Terminal, at Grand Central on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4 5 6 <6> trains), which has no adjacent express station.

There is one notable 6-track local station, DeKalb Avenue, where trains to or from the Manhattan Bridge (B D Q) either stop at the outer tracks of one of the island platforms, or pass through and bypass the station on the middle tracks ("express tracks") (D N). Trains to or from the Montague Street Tunnel (N R) stop across the platform from the respective outer track.


Many stations are decorated with intricate ceramic tile work, some of it dating back to 1904 when the subway first opened. The subway tile artwork tradition continues today. The "Arts for Transit" program oversees art in the subway system.[34] Permanent installations, such as sculpture, mosaics, and murals; photographs displayed in lightboxes, and musicians performing in stations encourage people to use mass transit.[35] In addition, commissioned art displayed in stations and "art cards", some displaying poetry, are in many of the trains themselves in unused advertisement fixture slots. Some of the art is by internationally known artists such as Elizabeth Murray's Blooming, displayed at Lexington Avenue / 59th Street station.[36]


The Crown Heights – Utica Avenue station is one of a group of stations that became accessible after station reconstruction.

Since the majority of the system was built before 1990, the year the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect, many New York City Subway stations were not designed to be handicapped-accessible. Since then, elevators have been built in newly constructed stations to comply with the ADA. (Most grade-level stations required little modification to ADA standards.) In addition, the MTA identified "key stations," high-traffic and/or geographically important stations, which must conform to the ADA when they are extensively renovated.[37] As of June 2011, there are 89 currently accessible stations; many of them have AutoGate access.[38][39][40]


A typical scene of musicians performing on the platform of the Broadway – Lafayette St station.

Since 1987, MTA has sponsored the "Music Under New York" (MUNY) program[41] in which street musicians enter a competitive contest to be assigned to the preferred high traffic locations. Each year, applications are reviewed and approximately 70 eligible performers are selected and contacted to participate in live auditions held for one day.[42][43][44]

At present, more than 100 soloists and groups participate in MUNY providing over 150 weekly performances at 25 locations throughout the transit system. For example, Mr. M. Salieu Suso, a kora player from The Gambia, plays at Union Square.[45]

In addition, any musician/entertainer may perform in subway mezzanines and platforms. On platforms, there may be no amplifications as this is part of MTA policies:[46]

The New York City Transit (NYCT) is a subdivision of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) that operates the city's subways and buses. The NYCT authorizes these types of free expression in subway stations: "Public speaking; distribution of written materials; solicitation for charitable, religious or political causes; and artist performances, including the acceptance of donations."

Performers must not be within 25 feet (7.6 m) of a token booth or 50 feet (15 m) from a MTA office/tower, blocking access to an escalator, stairwell, or elevator, interfering with transit services or passenger movement; or in an area where construction is occurring. In addition, performance is prohibited during public service announcements and may be no louder than 85 dBA at 5 feet (1.5 m) away or 70 dBa at 2 feet (0.61 m) from a token booth. Performances are prohibited in subway cars.


Restrooms are rare in the subway system as only 129 open restrooms are in 77 of the system's 468 stations.[47] Most station rest rooms previously open to the public have been closed to the public and converted to storage spaces or for employee use only. However, there are a few major stations that have operating restrooms, including on the concourse of 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal, Chambers Street, 57th Street, Coney Island – Stillwell Avenue, and Lexington Avenue / 59th Street.[48]


Some platforms have newspaper stands that sell various items including newspapers and food. The MTA also installed retail spaces within paid areas in selected stations, including the station concourses of the Times Square complex and the Sixth Avenue concourse at 42nd Street – Bryant Park.

According to the MTA, the New York City Subway is home to 345 retail spaces, making over US$70 million in rent and licensing fees in 2009 for the authority. It is continuing to make efforts in attracting more diverse retailers and vendors to set up shop in the subway system.[49]


Rapid transit and rail connections are available at designated stations to Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, AirTrain JFK, Metro-North Railroad, New Jersey Transit and PATH. Connections to the Staten Island Ferry and privately operated ferries such as NY Waterway and New York Water Taxi, as well as intercity and commuter bus lines at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, are also available. Free MetroCard-only transfers to buses are available to the MTA New York City Bus (including the bus rapid transit Select Bus Service), MTA Bus, MTA Long Island Bus and Bee-Line Bus System.

Rolling stock

A digital sign on the side of an R142 4 train.
A Vaktrak track vacuuming train
Driver's cab of a R160B series car on the N train.

As of June 2011, the New York City Subway has 6,292 cars on the roster.[50] A typical New York City Subway train consists of 8 to 11 cars, although shuttles can have as few as two, and the train can range from 150 to 600 feet (46 to 180 m) in length. Trains not in revenue service can be up to 12 cars long.[citation needed]

The system maintains two separate fleets of cars, one for the IRT lines and another for the BMT/IND lines. All BMT/IND equipment is about 10 feet (3.0 m) wide and either 60 feet 6 inches (18.44 m) or 75 feet (23 m) long whereas IRT equipment is approximately 8 feet 9 inches (2.67 m) wide and 51 feet 4 inches (15.65 m) long. There is also a special fleet of BMT/IND cars that is used for operation in the BMT Eastern Division, consisting of R42 married pairs and R143 and R160A four-car sets. Due to clearance issues on various sharp curves, 75-foot (23 m) long cars are not permitted on BMT Eastern Division trackage.

Cars purchased by the City of New York since the inception of the IND and the other divisions beginning in 1948 are identified by the letter "R" followed by a number; e.g.: R32. This number is the contract number under which the cars were purchased. Cars with nearby contract numbers (e.g.: R1 through R9, or R26 through R29, or R143 through R160B) may be relatively identical, despite being purchased under different contracts and possibly built by different manufacturers.

The MTA has been incorporating newer subway cars into its stock in the past decade. Since 1999, the R142, R142A, R143, R160A, and R160B fleet have been added into service.[51][52] These cars feature recorded announcements for station information, closing doors, and other general messages in lieu of conductor announcements, although live conductor announcements can still be made. The recordings began in the late 1990s and featured Bloomberg Radio on-air speakers, who volunteered at the request of their employer and future city mayor Michael Bloomberg. Voices include Jessica Ettinger Gottesman, Diane Thompson, Charlie Pellett, and Catherine Cowdery. With regards to why certain messages are voiced by males and others by females, MTA spokesperson Gene Sansone said in 2006 that, "Most of the orders are given by a male voice, while informational messages come from females. Even though this happened by accident, it is a lucky thing because a lot of psychologists agree that people are more receptive to orders from men and information from women".[53]

The MTA is planning to order 340 subway cars that feature surveillance cameras for a total of US$750 million by 2015. However, the cameras themselves will not be monitored in real time, but used by law enforcement to detect any criminal activity that could happen in the subway cars.[54]


An NYCTA token from the mid-20th century
The current Metrocard design

Token and change

From the inauguration of IRT subway services in 1904[55] until the unified system of 1948 (including predecessor BMT and IND subway services), the fare for a ride on the subway of any length was 5 cents (nickel). On July 1, 1948, the fare was increased to 10 cents (dime), and since then has steadily risen. When the New York City Transit Authority was created in July 1953, the fare was raised to 15 cents and a token issued. Until April 13, 2003, riders paid the fare with tokens purchased from a station attendant. The tokens were changed periodically as prices changed. For the 75th anniversary of the subway in 1979 (also called the Diamond Jubilee), a special token with a small off-center diamond cutout and engraved images of a 1904 subway car and kiosk were issued. Many were purchased for keepsakes and were not used for rides. The last iteration of tokens featured a hole in the middle and phased out in 2003 when the fare rose to $2.00.[56]

Token sucking

It was a common scam to circumvent the payment of fares by jamming the token slot in an entrance gate with paper. A passenger would insert a token into the turnstile, be frustrated when it did not open the gate, and have to spend another token to enter at another gate. A token thief would then suck the token from the jammed slot with their mouth. This could be repeated many times as long as no police officers spotted the activity. Token booth attendants would often coat the token slots with soap to discourage "token sucking".[57] Token sucking (also known as stuff 'n' suck) was charged under Theft of services, Criminal tampering and Criminal mischief.[58]

Token War with Connecticut

There was some controversy in the early 1980s when enterprising transit riders discovered that tokens purchased for use in the Connecticut Turnpike toll booths were of the same size and weight as New York City subway tokens. Since they cost less than one third as much, they began showing up in subway collection boxes regularly.[59] Connecticut authorities initially agreed to change the size of their tokens,[60] but later reneged and the problem went unsolved until 1985, when Connecticut discontinued the tolls on its turnpike.[61] At that time, the MTA was paid 17.5 cents for each of more than two million tokens that had been collected during the three year "token war."[61]


In 1994, the subway system introduced a fare system called the MetroCard, which allows riders to use cards that store the value equal to the amount paid to a station booth clerk or vending machine. The MetroCard was enhanced in 1997 to allow passengers to make free transfers between subways and buses within two hours; several MetroCard-only transfers between subway stations were added in 2001. With the addition of unlimited-ride MetroCards in 1998 (for 7-day and 30-day periods, later 1-day "Fun Pass" and 14-day periods, both of which have been discontinued), the New York City Transit system was the last major transit system in the United States with the exception of BART in San Francisco to introduce passes for unlimited bus and rapid transit travel.[62]

Renovation and expansion plans

Current expansion projects include the Second Avenue Subway on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, 7 Subway Extension to the west side of Manhattan, and Fulton Street Transit Center in Lower Manhattan.[63][64][65][66][67][68]

In August 2006, the MTA revealed that all future subway stations, including ones built for the Second Avenue Subway and Flushing line extension, will have platforms outfitted with air-cooling systems.


Pending legislation would merge the subway operations of MTA New York City Transit with Staten Island Railway to form a single entity called MTA Subways.[69] The Staten Island Railway operates with R44 subway cars on a fully grade-separated right-of-way, but is typically not considered part of the subway, and is connected only via the free, city-operated Staten Island Ferry.

In the early 21st century, plans resurfaced for a major expansion, the Second Avenue Subway. This line had been planned in the 1920s, but was delayed several times since. Construction was started in the 1970s, but discontinued due to the city's fiscal crisis. Some small portions remain intact in Chinatown, the East Village, and the Upper East Side, but they are each quite short and thus remain unused.[70]


New train arrival signs on the BMT Canarsie Line
RFID trial on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line

Train arrival times

In 2003, the MTA signed a $160 million contract with Siemens Transportation Systems to install digital next-train arrival message boards, called Public Address/Customer Information Screens (PA/CIS) at 158 of its IRT (numbered line) stations.[71] These signs were to be different from the current LED signs that display the current date and time. However, many problems arose with the software used in Siemens programming, and the MTA stopped payment to the company in May 2006.[72] The MTA threatened to drop Siemens, but about a month later Siemens announced they had fixed the problem. The signs were scheduled to begin operation in late 2007.[73]

A different system was eventually developed, tested, and installed successfully on the L train.[74] In 2008, system-wide roll-out was pushed back to 2011, with the MTA citing technical problems.[75][76] However, in December 2009 an initial trial was implemented at three stations along the IRT Pelham Line (6 <6> trains) in the Bronx.[77] The announcements are voiced by radio traffic reporter Bernie Wagenblast[cite this quote] and Carolyn Hopkins, the voice of the New York subway.[78] As of March 9, 2011, the system is now active in about 110 stations all over the New York City Subway.[79][80][81][82][83][84][85]

2006 PayPass only trial

The MTA signed a deal with MasterCard only in the first few months of 2006 to test out a new RFID card payment scheme.[86] Customers had to sign up at a special MasterCard website and use a MasterCard PayPass credit or debit card/tag to participate. Participating stations included:[87]

  • IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4 5 6 <6> trains) from either 138th Street stations in the Bronx to Borough Hall, Brooklyn,
  • Court Square – 23rd Street in Queens for the E M trains,
  • and Court Square for the 7 <7> trains.

Originally scheduled to end in December 2006, the MTA extended the trial due to "overwhelming positive response".[88]

2010 PayPass and PayWave trial

In light of the success of the first Paypass pilot project in 2006, another trial was started by the MTA. This one started on June 1, 2010 and ended on November 30, 2010. The first two months started with the customer just using the MasterCard PayPass debit or credit card.[89][90][91][92][93] However, this trial was the debut of having a rider use the VISA PayWave debit or credit card to enter the system, which started on August 1, 2010.[94] For six months, a rider could use either a MasterCard Paypass or VISA PayWave credit/debit card to pay for a fare on the following locations or routes:

Two options are available during this second trial for fare payment:

  • "pay-as-you-go" RFID card scan at select turnstiles or locations; or,
  • pre-funded fares via a pilot website called the "NY/NJ Transit Trial"[95] for multiple and unlimited ride discounts. Effective October 16, 2010, pre-funded fares are not available in the trial website.


In the mid-2000s, the MTA began the process of automating the subway. Beginning with the BMT Canarsie Line (L train) and the IRT Flushing Line (7 <7> trains),[96] the MTA has plans to eventually automate a much larger portion, using One Person Train Operation (OPTO) in conjunction with Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC). Siemens Transportation Systems is building the CBTC system (a 1959 experiment in automating the 42nd Street Shuttle (S train) ended with a fire at Grand Central on April 24, 1964). In late winter 2008, the MTA embarked on a 5-week renovation and upgrade project on the 7 train between Flushing – Main Street and Woodside – 61st Street to upgrade signaling and tracks for CBTC. On February 27, 2008, the MTA issued an Accelerated Capital Program to continue funding the completion of CBTC for the 7 train and continue onto the Queens Boulevard Line (E F M R trains). The proposed plan is estimated to cost US $1.4 million.[97](p. 15–16)

Help Point

The MTA set up another technology pilot project for the New York City Subway called "Help Point" in April 5, 2011. Help Point is a new digital-audio communications system that lets a rider access it, in case of an emergency or needing subway information for travel directions.[98] The top button is labeled red for emergencies towards the Rail Control Center. The bottom button is labeled green towards a MTA station agent for any inquiries. All units are equipped with a microphone to speak into and a speaker to hear answers to the rider from a MTA worker.[99] Also, the units are ADA-compliant.

The two subway stations that are part of this trial are on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line. They are the 23rd Street and the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall stations. The Help Points at the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall station are wireless and the 23rd Street station ones are hard-wired, to test which type of transmission is best for the subway. If the test project is successful, then this communications system will replace the existing CAI units on all 468 subway stations in the future.[100][101]

On The Go! Travel Station

On September 19, 2011, the MTA set up another pilot project, an online, interactive touchscreen computer program called "On The Go! Travel Station." It lists any planned work or service changes occurring on the subway, but also includes information to help travelers find landmarks or locales near the stations with an OTG outlet. The first station to test this new technology is Bowling Green on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line.[102] Other stations getting this program in the future are Penn Station (with the LIRR), Grand Central Terminal (with Metro-North), Atlantic Avenue – Pacific Street in Brooklyn, and Jackson Heights – Roosevelt Avenue / 74th Street – Broadway in Queens.[103]

Safety and security

Crime, train accidents, suicides and threats of terrorism all impact the subway system.

Train movement safety

Safe train operation on the whole New York City Subway is ensured by a combination of interlocking, signalling, wayside train protection and wayside speed control layouts [104]. However, no technical system is free of hazards.


Like the railways, the subway used mechicanical interlocking in early days and introduced relay interlocking later. Computer-based interlockings are state-of-the-art systems offering additionally functions. But independently from the applied technology, the interlocking logic stayed the same: "Control lengths" along the selected route to be set until the target signal plus an additional overlap (safety distance) must be clear of any trains or cars to be able to clear the signal for the according route and target signal. "Single line signal diagrams" show all defined "control lengths" (and routes) for each interlocking tower.


New York City Subway generally distinguishes signals into:

  • Automatic signals, controlled only by train movements
  • Approach signals, like automatic signals, can be forced to switch to stop aspect by interlocking tower
  • Home signals, route set by interlocking tower
  • additional signals (call-on, dwarf, marker, sign, time signals)

Common automatic and approach signals consist of one signal head showing one of the following signal aspects:

  • stop (one red light); with special rules for call-on and timer signals
  • clear, next signal at clear or caution (one green light)
  • proceed with caution, be prepared to stop at next signal (one yellow light)

Where different directions are possible, the subway uses both speed and route signalling, but with two different home signal aspect philosophies:

  • IRT sections with older signalling:
- one signal head for each possible route ahead (with main route above diverging routes)
  • migrated IRT sections, BMT and IND divisions:
- upper signal head for speeds
- lower signal head for routes (with main route shown green and diverging route shown yellow)

Train protection

Subway trains are stopped mechanically at all signals showing "stop" aspects by automatic train stops located on the right side of IRT tracks and the left side of BMT/IND tracks; all cars are equipped with tripcocks. Althoug this is a simple principle of train stops, that wayside trippers must not be removed to trip ("stop") position until it is guaranteed that the train has fully passed the signal with all its cars.

Speed control

Speed control on the subway ensured by "Time Signals": A timer is started as soon as the train passes a certain point and will clear the signal ahead as soon as the predefined time elapsed; the minimum time is calculated from the speed limit and the distance between start of timer and signal. "Time Signals" are distinguished into "Grade Timer" for speed supervision at grades, curves or in front of buffer stops, and in "Station Timer" for low-speed entrance into stations in order to reduce train headways.


Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC) is the state-of-the-art system for signalling, Automatic Train Protection and speed control being installed in the subway system within its current big automation project.

Train accidents

Including the predecessors of the New York City Subway, at least 55 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.[105] The deadliest accident, the Malbone Street Wreck, happened November 1, 1918 beneath the intersection of Flatbush Avenue, Ocean Avenue, and Malbone Street near the Prospect Park station of the then-BRT Brighton Line in Brooklyn, killing 93 people. [106]

Passenger safety


The subway carries up to 1.5 billion passengers a year. Crime rates have shown variations over time, with a drop starting in the '90s and continuing today.[107]

In order to fight crime, various approaches have been used.[108] In the '60s, for example, Mayor Wagner ordered an increase in the Transit Police force from 1,219 to 3,100 officers. During the hours at which crimes most frequently occurred (between 8:00pm and 4:00 am), the officers went on patrol in all stations and trains. In response, crime rates decreased, as extensively reported by the press.[109]

In July 1985 however, the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City published a study showing riders abandoning the subway, fearing the frequent robberies and generally bad circumstances.[110]

To counter these developments, policy that was rooted in the late 1980s and early 1990s was implemented.[111][112] 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.[113]

In 1989 the Metropolitan Transportation Authority asked the transit police (then located within the NYCTA) to focus on minor offenses such as fare evasion. In the early nineties, the NYCTA adopted similar policing methods for Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal.

In 1993, Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani took office and with Police Commissioner Howard Safir the strategy was more widely deployed in New York under the rubrics of "zero tolerance" and "quality of life". Crime rates in the subway and city dropped,[114] prompting New York Magazine to declare "The End of Crime as We Know It" on the cover of its August 14, 1995 edition.

Giuliani's campaign credited the success to the zero tolerance policy.[115] The extent to which his policies deserve the credit is disputed.[116]

New York City Police Department Commissioner William J. Bratton and author of Fixing Broken Windows, George L. Kelling, however, stated the police played an "important, even central, role" in the declining crime rates.[117] The trend continued and Giuliani's successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, stated in a November 2004 press release that "Today, the subway system is safer than it has been at any time since we started tabulating subway crime statistics nearly 40 years ago."[118]


A portion of subway-related deaths in New York consists of suicides committed by jumping in front of an oncoming train. Exact numbers are not available, as the cause of death is listed as "unknown" in cases where no witness was present and no suicide note found.

Between 1990 and 2003, 343 subway-related suicides have been registered out of a citywide total of 7,394 (4.6%) and subway-related suicides increased by 30%, despite a decline in overall suicide numbers. [119]

Several planned stations in the New York City Subway may possibly feature platform screen doors. This includes the 7 line extension,[120] and Second Avenue Subway.[121] Although these doors are designed to improve airflow in stations, they also prevent people from falling or jumping onto the tracks.[122]


After the September 11 attacks in New York, the MTA was extremely wary of anyone taking photographs or recording video inside the system and proposed banning all photography and recording in a meeting around June 2004.[123] However, due to strong response from both the public and from civil rights groups, the rule of conduct was dropped. In November 2004, the MTA again put this rule up for approval, but was again denied,[124] though many police officers and transit workers still confront or harass people taking photographs or video.[125]

On April 3, 2009, the NYPD issued a directive to officers stating that it is legal to take pictures within the subway system so long as it is not accompanied with suspicious activity.[126]

Currently, the MTA Rules of Conduct,[46] Restricted Areas and Activities section states that anyone may take pictures or record video, provided that they do not violate MTA regulations:

Section 1050.9 Restricted areas and activities.
Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.[127]

Terrorism prevention and foiled plot

On July 22, 2005, in response to bombings in London, the New York City Transit Police introduced a new policy of randomly searching passengers' bags as they approached turnstiles. The NYPD claimed that no form of racial profiling would be conducted when these searches actually took place. The NYPD has come under fire from some groups that claim purely random searches without any form of threat assessment would be ineffectual. "This NYPD bag search policy is unprecedented, unlawful and ineffective," said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. "It is essential that police be aggressive in maintaining security in public transportation. But our very real concerns about terrorism do not justify the NYPD subjecting millions of innocent people to suspicionless searches in a way that does not identify any person seeking to engage in terrorist activity and is unlikely to have any meaningful deterrent effect on terrorist activity."[128] The searches were upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in MacWade v. Kelly.

On April 11, 2008, MTA received a Ferrara Fire Apparatus Hazardous Materials Response Truck, which went into service three days later. It will be used in the case of a chemical or bioterrorist attack.[129]

Najibullah Zazi and alleged co-conspirators were arrested in September 2009 and pled guilty to being part of an al-Qaeda plan to engage in suicide bombings on the New York City subway system during rush hour that month.[130][131][132][133][134][135][136][137]


2009–2010 budget cuts

28th Street Station after the W train was discontinued in mid 2010
The interior of an F train during morning rush hour

The MTA faced a budget deficit of US$1.1 billion in 2009. Fare increases (three times from 2008–2010) and service reductions (including the elimination of two part-time subway lines, increased weekend headways on other lines, and shortening, rerouting, or elimination of many bus routes) were enacted to balance the deficit.

Capacity constraints

Several subway lines have reached their operational limits in terms of train frequency and passengers, according to data released by the Transit Authority. All but one of the "A" Division Lines as well as the E and L trains are beyond capacity.[138]

The Second Avenue Subway will relieve pressure on the Lexington Avenue line (4/5/6) when its first segment begins operating in 2016, but no such relief is planned for other crowded lines. However, the Long Island Railroad East Side Access project is expected to bring many more commuters to the Lexington Avenue Line at about the same time, further overwhelming its capacity. Because new subway construction can require years to plan and complete, the Transit Authority can only turn to increased bus service to manage demand in the short run, until automation of the subways using CBTC allows trains to run with less headway.

Subway flooding

Service on the subway system is occasionally disrupted by flooding from rainstorms, even minor ones.[139] Rainwater can disrupt signals underground and require the electrified third rail to be shut off. Since 1992, $357 million has been used to improve 269 pump rooms. As of August 2007, $115 million has been earmarked to upgrade the remaining 18 pump rooms.[140] Despite these improvements, the transit system continues to experience flooding problems.

Rain from drainage pipes comes into a subway car

On August 8, 2007, after more than 3 inches (76 mm) of rain fell within an hour, the subway system flooded, causing every line to either be disabled or seriously disrupted, effectively halting the morning rush. This was the third incident in 2007 in which rain disrupted service. The system was disrupted on this occasion because the pumps and drainage system can handle only a rainfall rate of 1.75 inches (44 mm) per hour; the incident's severity was aggravated by the scant warning as to the severity of the storm.[141] (p. 10) In late August 2007, MTA Engineer Phil Kollin announced new plans to create a system that would pump water away from the third rail.

On August 27, 2011, due to the approach of Hurricane Irene, the MTA suspended subway service at 12:00 noon in anticipation of heavy flooding on tracks and in tunnels. It was the first weather-caused shutdown in the history of the system.[142] Service was restored by Monday, August 29.[143][144]

In addition, as part of a $130 million and an estimated 18 month project, the MTA began installing new subway grates in September 2008 in an attempt to prevent rain from overflowing into the subway system. The metallic structures, designed with the help of architectural firms and meant as a piece of public art, are placed atop existing grates but with a 3-to-4-inch (76 to 100 mm) sleeve to prevent debris and rain from flooding the subway. The racks will at first be installed in the three most flood-prone areas as determined by hydrologists, including Jamaica, TriBeCa and the Upper West Side. Each neighborhood is scheduled to have its own distinct design, some featuring a wave-like deck which increases in height and features seating (Jamaica), others with a flatter deck that includes seating and a bike rack.[145][146]

Flooding at 125th Street after a water main break.

Litter and rodents

Litter accumulation is a perennial problem in the subway system. In the 1970s and 1980s, dirty trains and platforms, as well as graffiti were a serious problem. The situation has improved since then, but the 2010 budget crisis has threatened to curtail trash removal from the subway system.[147][148]

The New York City Subway system is infested with rats.[149][150] Rats are sometimes seen on platforms,[151] and are commonly seen foraging through garbage thrown onto the tracks.[152] They are believed to pose a health hazard, and on rare instances have been known to bite humans.[153] Subway stations notorious for rat infestation include Chambers Street, Jay Street – MetroTech, West 4th Street, and Spring Street.[154]

Decades of efforts to eradicate or simply thin the rat population in the system have been unsuccessful. In March 2009, the Transit Authority announced a series of changes to its vermin control strategy, including new poison formulas and experimental trap designs.[155] In October 2011, the MTA announced a new initiative to clean 25 subway stations, along with their garbage rooms, of rat infestations.[156]


New York subway trains produce high levels of noise that exceed guidelines set by the World Health Organization and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.[157] In 2006, Columbia University's school of public health found noise levels averaged 95 decibel (dB) inside subway cars and 94 dB on platforms.[157] Daily exposure to noise at such levels for as little as 30 minutes can lead to hearing loss.[157] Noise on one in 10 platforms exceeded 100 dB.[157] Under WHO and EPA guidelines, noise exposure at that level is limited to 1.5 minutes.[157] A subsequent study by Columbia and the University of Washington found higher average noise level in the subway (80.4 dB) than commuter trains including the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) (79.4 dB), the Metro-North (75.1 dB) and Long Island Railroad (LIRR) (74.9 dB).[158] Small numerical increases on the decibel scale can translate into large increases in sound intensity; specifically, it is a logarithmic scale: sound at 95 dB is 10 times more intense than at 85 dB and 100 times more intense than at 75 dB, and so forth.[158] In the second study, peak subway noise registered at 102.1 dB.[158]

Public relations

The Board of Transportation and then New York City Transit Authority (MTA New York City Transit) has had numerous events that promote increased ridership of their transit system.

Miss Subways

From 1941 to 1976, the Board of Transportation/New York City Transit Authority sponsored the "Miss Subways" publicity campaign. In the musical On the Town, the character Miss Turnstiles is based on the Miss Subways campaign.[159][160] In one scene, the musical shows three sailors taking an uptown train at Times Square.

The campaign was resurrected in 2004, for one year, as "Ms. Subways". It was part of the 100th anniversary celebrations. Featuring young models, entertainers and others, the monthly campaign, which included the winners' photos and biographical blurbs on placards in subway cards, featured such winners as Mona Freeman and prominent New York City restaurateur Ellen Goodman.

Subway Series

Subway Series is a term attributed to any series of baseball games between New York City teams, called thus as opposing teams can travel to compete merely by using the subway system along with the fact that subways are adjacent and visible to their respective stadiums. Subway Series is a term long used in New York, going back to series between the Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants and the New York Yankees in the 1940s and '50s. Today, the term is used to describe the rivalry between the Yankees and the New York Mets. During the 2000 World Series, cars on the 4 train (which stopped at Yankee Stadium) were colored white with blue pinstripes, while cars on the 7 train (which stopped at Shea Stadium) were colored orange and blue, the Mets' team colors.

See also


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