Possibly one of the most distinctive icons of New York City, equal in status to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, the New York Subway is a labyrinth of lines and routes that sprawl across the city, commuting millions of people each day and easing congestion in one of the major locations of the world.
The New York Subway is one of the ten busiest systems in the entire world, even beating cities such as London and Mexico City in terms of how many boardings are recorded each year.
Made up of nearly 470 passenger stations, and covering 230 miles of routes, the New York Subway enjoys a long and interesting history that is intertwined with the story of the growth of New York City into one of the largest metropolitans in the world today.
In 2005, 1.45 billion people frequented the New York Subway – marking a record for the system. Nearly 6.5 million people use the system each and every day, and these figures are expected to rise as the price of fuel increases in the world.
The New York Subway is owned by the City of New York and is always in the process of development.
Interestingly, and despite its name, the New York Subway is not only about underground transport, with just over 40% of its routes running above ground. However, in densely populated areas such as Manhattan, the tracks run almost exclusively below ground, saving precious space and ensuring that the local population can travel conveniently and fast to their required destinations.
The New York Subway was created out of a number of individually constructed routes that aimed to take the earlier inhabitants of New York to various locations on the outskirts of the core city. Railroads that were created as a means to take people to the entertainment area of Coney Island, as well as tracks that ran in Manhattan and Brooklyn made up the first routes.
When several whole counties and some of others united to form the City of Greater New York in 1898, city planners decided that the most important form of transport would be the underground subway. However, the cost of creating such a huge project was well beyond the means of the city or a single private company. As such, the city contracted with the privately owned IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit Company) with an agreement to share the profits.
The first subway was built on a route running from City Hall to the Bronx in 1904, followed by numerous extensions over the years. Initially it was undecided how to run these subways – using either direct current as proposed by Thomas Edison, or Nikola Tesla’s alternating current. Today, however, the New York Subway works on direct current.
A series of contracts signed between the city and the private companies IRT and BRT (Brooklyn Rapid Transport Company) from 1913 onwards ensured that the lines continued to grow at a rapid pace, joining existing lines and improving on others.
In later years, the city decided to build and operate its own new system with investment from the private sector, which let to the creation of the Independent Subway System. The IND system, as the new system came to be known after the city acquired BRT and IRT in 1940, was the latest and most innovative subway development of its time. The city almost immediately began eliminating redundant lines throughout the city.
Lines continued to be built around New York, although many stations were not maintained and their conditions began to reach dangerous levels in the 1980’s. Reconstruction and refurbishment began in the mid 1980’s and work continues to be done on many lines even until today. Ground has also been broken to begin the construction of future lines.
Despite being a unified company, the New York Subway stations are divided by traditional early company operators, namely IRT Lines, BMT Lines, IND Lines and Staten Island.
The stations are as follows:
- IRT East Side Line
- IRT West Side Line
- IRT Grand Central/Times Square Shuttle
- IRT Flushing Line
- Bronx IRT – Woodlawn Line
- Bronx IRT – Lennox/White Plains Rd./Dyre Avenue Line
- Bronx IRT – Pelham Line
- The Brooklyn IRT
- BMT Astoria Line
- BMT Brighton Line
- BMT Broadway Line
- BMT Canarsie Line
- BMT Culver Line
- BMT Jamaica Line
- BMT Myrtle Avenue Line
- BMT Sea Beach Line
- BMT West Side Line
- BMT 4th Avenue Line
- IND 6th Avenue Line
- IND 8th Avenue Line
- IND Concourse Line
- IND Crosstown Line
- IND Fulton Line
- IND Queens Boulevard Line
- IND Rockaway Line
- IND World’s Fair Spur
- Staten Island Rapid Transit
The New York Subway uses, and has used, a large number of cars according to the needs of the system. Essentially, the cars used are divided into A Division (numbered lines) and B Division (lettered lines).
A Division Cars
A Division cars, also known as numbered lines, comprise at present two distinct types of cars: The R142/R142A and the R62/R62A. Cars 1101 – 1250, 6301 – 7180 and 7211 – 7810 make up the first type, while cars 1301 to 1625 and 1651 to 2475 make up the second type.
Retired A Division cars include the R110A/R130; the R33/R36 Mainline; the R21/R22 and the R12.
B Division Cars
B Division cars, also known as lettered lines, comprise a large number of cars that are currently being used. These incorporate the R160, R143, R68/R68A, R46, R44/44 SIRT, R42, R40/R40M, R38 and R32/R32A.
A number of retired cars also made up this fleet in years gone by.
The majority of users today use the prominently displayed numbers or letters that appear on the cars, following an effort made by the city to get people to move away from referring to the lines by their station names.
In 1979, a color code was introduced that essentially grouped trains by their main lines. This new system hoped to simplify the other systems that were put in place over the years. Unfortunately, however, old habits are hard to break and New Yorkers still feel most comfortable with signage that is referred to by letters and numbers.
Getting About with the New York City Subway with MetroCard
The easiest and most common way of riding the New York City subway is through the purchase of a MetroCard. This card enables users to pay for their fares on the subway and also save money in the process. While fares per line traditionally cost around $2, the cost is reduced with the use of a MetroCard.
Subway users simply swipe the MetroCard through the turnstile of the subway and walk through when the screen reflects the word GO. Passengers can check how much fare money is left on their card at any MetroCard reader in any station, although the balance is also displayed at the turnstile after every use. The MetroCard can also be used on the bus.
The New York City subway system is clearly one of the most efficient in the world. Where once the subway had a reputation for being unsafe and dingy, today it serves millions upon millions each year in safe, convenient and clean conditions. There is no doubt that the subway continues to be the favored and most effective way for locals and visitors alike to get around this great city.
Note: This information can change without notice. Confirm all details directly with the company in question.