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New York Subway

The New York City Subway is a large underground train Metro system in New York City. It includes over 722 miles of track and 469 stations, making it the most extensive public transportation system in the United States and one of the largest and longest in the world. It is operated by MTA New York City Transit.

Table of contents
1 History
2 The subway system
3 Train lines
5 External Links


The subway was originally built as three separate subway systems.

The Interborough Rapid Transit or IRT was the first of these subway systems to open, following more than twenty years of public debate on the merits of subways versus the existing elevated rail system and on various proposed routes. It opened on October 27, 1904. The first IRT line to open ran between City Hall and Broadway and 145th Street.

The Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit or BMT operated both elevated trains (els) and subways, mostly within Brooklyn or connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan and Queens. It was originally called the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company but was renamed in 1923.

The Independent Subway System or IND first opened in 1932, as a municipally-owned alternate to the two earlier private systems. The first IND line to open was the 8th Avenue line.

The three lines were unified and then operated by the New York City Transit Authority (now MTA New York City Transit) in 1940. However, the distinction between the three systems survives in the line numbering: IRT lines (now referred to as "Division A") have numbers, BMT/IND (now collectively "Division B") uses letters. There's also a more physical but less obvious difference. Division A (IRT) cars are narrower than Division B (BMT and IND) ones by about a foot (~30cm) and shorter by 9 to 24 feet (~2.7 to 7.3m).

The original IRT subway lines were built to elevated line dimensions. The clearances and curves on these lines are too narrow and too sharp for any IND or BMT equipment. The later extensions of the IRT, constituting the bulk of the system, were built to BMT dimensions, and so are of a profile that could use IND/BMT sized equipment. In other words, Division B equipment could operate on much of Division A if station platforms were trimmed and wayside furniture moved. Being able to do so would increase the capacity of Division A. However, there is virtually no chance of this happening because the portions of Division A that could not accomodate Division B equipment without major physical reconstruction are situated in such a way that it would be impossible to put together coherent through services. The most that can be reasonably hoped for is that some branch lines of Division A might be resized and attached to Division B lines. This was done with the Astoria Line in Queens, and has been proposed for the Pelham Bay Line in the Bronx.

Because the Division A lines are of lower capacity for a given capital investment, all new extensions and lines built since World War II have been for Division B.

Division A cars can travel on Division B lines when necessary, but are not used for passenger service on those lines due to the dangerously wide gap between the car and the station platform.

The subway system

The New York City Subway is designed for carrying large numbers of people during working days. A typical subway station has waiting platforms ranging from 400 to 700 feet long to accommodate large numbers of people. Passengers enter a subway station through stairs towards station booths and vending machines to buy their fare, currently the MetroCard. After swiping at a turnstile, customers walk down to the waiting platforms below. Some subway lines in the outer boroughs have elevated tracks with stations that passengers climb up to.

In many stations there is both express and local service. These lines generally have four tracks-the outer two for locals, and inner two for expresses. Express lines have subway trains that pick up and unload passengers at specific stations, particularly transfer stations (special stations where passngers can walk from one line to another for free), while skipping less frequently used local stations.

A typical subway train has from 8 to 11 cars (shuttles as short as 2), when put together the train can range from 400 to 650 feet long. As a general rule the IRT trains are shorter and narrower than the IND/BMT trains, the result being that each line uses different types of subway cars. Between 1985 and 1989 some trains on the IRT lines were painted red, giving them the name redbirds. Most of them were replaced by new, more modern subway trains between 2000 and 2004.

The subway stations are in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx. Nearly all subway lines cross through these boroughs, and they also possess a majority of transfer stations. All lines enter and/or leave Manhattan(except shuttles)except one major line, the (G), directly connecting Brooklyn and Queens without going into Manhattan.

In 1994 the subway system introduced a special fare-paying system called the MetroCard, which allows commuters to use cards that store money paid to a token booth clerk or to a vending machine. The MetroCard was further enhanced in 1997 to allow passengers to make free transfers from subway to bus and vice versa within two hours. The world-famous token was phased out by 2003, the same year when the MTA raised its basic fare to $2, over angry protests from passenger and advocacy groups such as the Straphangers Campaign.

In 2002 an average of 3.3 million people used the subways every weekday.

Train lines

There are 27 train routes in the NYCT system, including several shuttles. Each line has a color. Trains are marked by a circle (local) or a diamond (rush-hour only).



The original IND nomenclature (for letters A-H) depicted the Manhattan mainline name as the route name, and included the branch line name with the destination name. For example, the "A-Washington Heights - Fulton Street Express via 8th Avenue" had "A-8th Avenue Express" as the route name, "Washington Heights-207th Street" as the upper destination and "Fulton-Euclid Avenue" as the lower destination.

IND usage classified all lines that entered Manhattan by their mainline routing: A, C, E via 8th Avenue, B, D, F via 6th Avenue; then further grouped the letters by "uptown" destination: A & B to Washington Heights, C & D to Concourse, E & F to Queens. As a final touch, single letters (A train) denoted an express, double letters (AA) a local on the same route.


Once integration with the BMT system began in earnest in 1967, the coherence of this lettering scheme was first corrupted, then pretty much thrown out the window, with trains running express on part of a route, local on another part. Terminals were swapped, and new letters introduced wihtout any particular underlying logic. The double letter system was played around with: in addition to the original "neat" AA, BB, CC, etc., classifications, there were QB, QT, QJ, RJ, MJ, and NX, the latter an express; and then the system was abandoned entirely, all lines receiving a single letter or number.

The original BMT nomenclature didn't use route letters, though it sometimes used numbers. The "W-West End Express via Broadway Express" routing above was simply the "West End Express."

BMT route numbers, used on some equipment until 1967, were:

†As of 2/23/2004

With the beginning of major route integration of the IND and BMT in 1967, an attempt was made to eliminate the traditional BMT route names, like Brighton Beach, Culver and Sea Beach, in favor of the more "efficient" route letter system. It was thought this would make the system easier to use for tourists and casual riders, but it created a different confusion as lines with identical destinations might take different routes to get there: In 1965 there were two "Broadway Express" trains and one "Broadway Local" which went to Coney Island, but by entirely different paths. This problem was exacerbated by shuffling of services between different branch lines: in 1954 "D" train service was introduced on the Culver Line in Brooklyn; in 1967 it was switched to the Brighton Beach Line, and in 2004 it is to be switched yet again, this time to the West End Line.

External Links