NYC subway: Your essential guide to New York City’s subway

Your one-stop destination for all things transit related. Find underground secrets, NYC subway photos and the latest news about NYC subway developments.

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Love it or loathe it, the NYC subway is an essential part of city living—but we bet you’ll be an unabashed rail fan after you learn the secrets of the city’s underground rails. We dug deep into the history of New York’s transit system to find the coolest trivia, weirdest facts and untold stories about the underground rails. Plus, find the latest NYC subway news, and see how our subway stacks up against others worldwide. (Spoiler—NYC is the best, duh.)

Check out 21 interesting facts about the NYC subway system:


  • Photograph: Courtesy Bill Brand

    Glimpse a newly restored icon

    Masstransiscope has brightened many a New Yorker’s commute since 1980, when artist Bill Brand installed it in a vacant stop at the base of the Manhattan Bridge’s Brooklyn side. The zoetrope features 228 hand-painted panels that can be seen through vertical slits along the track. A 2008 restoration helped preserve Brand’s artwork, but it was damaged in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when vandals took advantage of the stalled subways to spray-paint and tear down some of the panels. Thankfully, Brand completed another restoration earlier this year—jump on a Manhattan-bound B or Q train at DeKalb Ave to have a look.

    See all NYC subway station secrets, hidden stops and abandoned places

  • Photograph: David Lubarsky

    Spot the big brown beavers

    The Astor Pl station is named for John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant who built his fortune in the beaver-pelt trade, eventually becoming the United States’ first millionaire. To honor him, architects Heins & LaFarge—who designed the structural and decorative details of many of the oldest subway stations—commissioned ceramic plaques, each featuring a large beaver biting a tree. The markers, made by Boston’s Grueby Faience Company, can be found at the southern end of each platform.

    See all NYC subway station secrets, hidden stops and abandoned places

  • Photograph: Jonathan Aprea

    Subway entrances in odd places

    Several access points for the transit system’s 468 stations aren’t in plain sight—many are tucked away in weird locales. The only entrance to the Bushwick Ave–Aberdeen St L stop is within a car dealership; you can spot it only if you’re standing directly in front of the doors. The Clark St 2/3 stop is housed in the same building as the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights—elevators inside a lobby with shops take you to the tracks. And though there’s no longer an accessible stop at the Trinity Building on Broadway, an Art Deco subway entrance sign remains; fittingly, a Subway sandwich shop is now located in its place.

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  • Photograph: Courtesy The Underbelly Project

    Graffiti goes way underground

    Williamsburg’s South 4th Street station isn’t just abandoned—it was never used at all. Work on the stop began in 1929 as part of the proposed “Second System” expansion, but the one-two punch of the Great Depression and World War II killed progress for good. But street artists have accessed the site: In 2010, the Underbelly Project illegally occupied the space (allegedly—the group never revealed its exact location), showcasing the work of more than 100 artists. (Photos of the space were later collected into a book, We Own the Night, which was published by Rizzoli.)

    See all NYC subway station secrets, hidden stops and abandoned places

  • Weird animals and items found on the NYC subway:

    1. Chamber pot, clay smoking-pipe stem, bone toothbrush From the 2011 excavation of the Fulton Street Transit Center extension; 2. Coins, washers and buttons people used as tokens to avoid paying the fare Found in various places throughout the system, including turnstiles; 3. Possum 42nd St–Bryant Park station; 4. Raccoon On the 5 train, somewhere in the Bronx; 5. Backpack filled with puppies for sale Location unknown; 6. Pigeons riding inside a subway car On the A train near the Rockaways; 7. Remnants of meals from the 18th century, including animal bones, cherry and peach pits, and coffee beans From the 2004 excavation of the South Ferry station on the 1 line; 8. Couch on a subway platform W 4th St station; 9. Rat riding the escalator On the uptown B/D/F/M platform at 34th St–Herald Sq; 10. Dead shark

  • Photograph: BEImages/Gregory Pace

    How crime birthed the Guardian Angels

    In the 1970s and ’80s, trains were the playground of NYC’s criminals: In 1981, an estimated 15,295 felonies occurred underground. (Not long before that, the 4 and 5 lines were given a new moniker: the Mugger’s Express.) But one New Yorker took matters into his own hands: In February 1979, beret-sporting Brooklynite Curtis Sliwa led a group of crime stoppers who began patrolling the trains. Originally called the Magnificent 13, the vigilante group came to be known as the Guardian Angels.

    Learn about the most notorious NYC subway crimes and incidents

  • Photograph: Courtesy New York Transit Museum Collections

    The (futile) battle against graffiti

    In September 1981, the MTA introduced a pilot program of one dozen all-white 7 trains, dubbed the Great White Fleet, after a single white car remained spray-paint-free for two months while parked in Corona, Queens. (Never mind that it was protected by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.) Mayor Ed Koch hoped that the immaculate exteriors would cause would-be vandals to think twice about defacing the cars. Think again: The trains had been transformed into moving street art within a couple of years.

    Learn about the most notorious NYC subway crimes and incidents

  • Photograph: Wikimedia Commons user 'Ad Meskens'

    A teenager brakes for the A train

    On May 8, 1993, 16-year-old Keron Thomas pulled a Catch Me If You Can move by impersonating a motorman on the A train. He boarded in an MTA worker’s shirt at the 207th St–Inwood station, and no one caught on to the ruse until three hours in, when the teen tripped the train’s emergency brake. But before then, Thomas delivered hundreds of riders, making every stop on the route.

    Learn about the most notorious NYC subway crimes and incidents

  • Photograph: Courtesy New York Transit Museum Collections

    The worst subway wreck in NYC history

    On November 1, 1918, 93 people were killed and approximately 200 were injured aboard a Brooklyn Rapid Transit train when Edward Luciano—a fill-in for the regular driver, who was on strike—lost control as he was entering Brooklyn’s Malbone Street tunnel (now used by the Franklin Ave S). The sharp curve necessitated a 6mph speed limit, but witnesses claimed Luciano was moving at least five times that quickly, causing the first car to derail and the second to crash into a concrete partition. As a result, the striking motormen—who had walked off the job that morning—put an end to the dispute.

    Learn about the most notorious NYC subway crimes and incidents

  • Stay away from the third rail

    Straphangers have long been warned about the hazardous third rail, and for good reason. People who’ve accidentally fallen onto the electrified piece of track are often badly injured or killed. On July 8, 2013, 30-year-old Matthew Zeno stopped to urinate on the G train tracks near the Broadway stop—and, sadly, was electrocuted. The young man was pronounced dead shortly after; a friend who attempted to help him also got zapped, but survived.

    Learn about the most notorious NYC subway crimes and incidents

  • Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

    Rats gone wild

    Despite a number of measures to control underground rat infestations, including poison and traps, some scientists posit that the number of rodents who call the MTA’s tunnels and platforms home could number well into the millions. (Transit officials take care to note that there’s no reliable estimate.) Earlier this year, the MTA implemented another possible solution: the use of ContraPest, a sterilization agent for female rats that will be placed in bait boxes in station trash rooms and (hopefully) look just as tasty as a half-eaten dollar slice.

    Learn about the most notorious NYC subway crimes and incidents

     

  • Save your mobile strength

    If you just have to play Candy Crush during your morning commute, use this trick to help conserve your phone battery: Set it to airplane mode, which keeps the device from constantly seeking a nonexistent wireless signal. Of course, if you’re an AT&T or T-Mobile customer, you can easily hook into Wi-Fi or make phone calls at 36 stations in Manhattan. This fall, Sprint and Verizon will also offer both services, and the MTA hopes to cover all 277 underground stations within the next four years.

    Make your NYC subway commute easier with these tricks

  • Warm up by sitting down

    Winter is coming, and one place to take refuge from the season’s freezing temps is on a subway car—especially if you can grab a seat. The heating units that warm up the carriages are located underneath the benches of many cars,  so you can thaw your chilly feet on cold days.

    Make your NYC subway commute easier with these tricks

  • Avoid the MetroCard line

    Sign up for an EasyPay MetroCard account online to skip vending machines entirely. Choose between a monthly unlimited or a pay-per-ride card, and the card will auto-fill with either a dollar or a ride amount. You can also track swipes to see which option is more cost-effective.

    Make your NYC subway commute easier with these tricks

  • Look for the zebra stripes

    If you need to board in the middle of a subway train, keep an eye out for the black-and-white-striped bar that hangs above platforms. This is the conductor’s indication board: Operators typically ride in the middle car, and point to this sign to show the whole train has arrived in the station.

    Make your NYC subway commute easier with these tricks

  • Know where to stand

    One way to figure out where subway doors may open involves gum. Look at the platform floor—if you see a mural of black splotches, it indicates where people have been spitting their gum out when the doors open. (Though if a platform was recently cleaned, you’re SOL.)

    Make your NYC subway commute easier with these tricks

  • Photograph: Moviestore collection Ltd / Alamy

    Face-off: Woody Allen versus Sly Stallone

    In his 1971 film Bananas, a young Woody Allen and a younger Sylvester Stallone duke it out aboard a moving train. Stallone plays a local tough antagonizing passengers in a subway car, including an older woman whose crutches are used as weapons (comically, of course).  Allen, in true New Yorker fashion, does his best to ignore the ruckus, but eventually confronts Stallone and his hooligan friend, pushing them out the car door right before it shuts. Unfortunately for Woody, the door opens again, and his character learns that no good deed goes unpunished.

    See all NYC subway in film, TV, music and other pop-culture depictions

  • Graffiti makes the Ramones look tougher…maybe?

    The Ramones are perhaps the most famous band to come out of the golden era of CBGB, but you could argue that they weren’t exactly the toughest. That might explain the story behind the cover of the band’s 1983 album, Subterranean Jungle. The group was shot by photographer George DuBose at the 57th St station, but in postproduction, graffiti was airbrushed onto the car, presumably to make the punk icons seem grittier. The band was none too happy about the added street art, but it stayed, because record executives always know what’s best for rock & roll.

    See all NYC subway in film, TV, music and other pop-culture depictions

  • Photograph: United Archives GmbH / Alamy

    A creepy urban myth is brought to life

    Long before (or after, depending on your interpretation of time and space) the Morlocks terrorized the Eloi, cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers fed on New York’s surface population. Well, sort of: The 1984 flick C.H.U.D. was inspired by the urban legend of mutant creatures occupying subway tunnels and wreaking havoc upon those aboveground. The movie was shot here in 1983, and used the anchorages on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge as a setting. While not a critical darling upon its release, C.H.U.D. has lived on as a cult hit, earning a reference in an episode of The Simpsons (“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”).

    See all NYC subway in film, TV, music and other pop-culture depictions

  • Filming the subway for the first time

    Long before Michael Jackson performed “Bad” on the Hoyt–Schermerhorn platform, Edwin S. Porter, a filmmaker for the Thomas A. Edison Company, made “City Hall to Harlem in 15 Seconds via the Subway Route.” The comedic short, filmed in 1904, was the first motion picture ever shot in the transit system. But that wasn’t Edison’s maiden dalliance with capturing NYC transit: In 1899, the inveterate inventor shot a short film aboard a train on the Brooklyn Bridge, showing the aboveground transport traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

    See all NYC subway in film, TV, music and other pop-culture depictions

  • Seinfeld gets subway annoyances right

    In “The Subway,” an episode from the show’s third season, the Seinfeld crew takes to the underground rails, running into just about every crappy transit experience imaginable: Kramer is saved from a mugger by an undercover cop; Elaine gets stuck underneath a dude’s armpit on a stalled train; and Jerry falls asleep on the way to Coney Island, waking to find himself seated across from a naked guy (in true NYC fashion, everyone else in the car stands at one end to avoid the weird nude person). Much about the city and the subway has changed in the past two decades, but some things—like unforeseen delays and run-ins with odd characters—probably never will.

    See all NYC subway in film, TV, music and other pop-culture depictions

Photograph: Courtesy Bill Brand

Glimpse a newly restored icon

Masstransiscope has brightened many a New Yorker’s commute since 1980, when artist Bill Brand installed it in a vacant stop at the base of the Manhattan Bridge’s Brooklyn side. The zoetrope features 228 hand-painted panels that can be seen through vertical slits along the track. A 2008 restoration helped preserve Brand’s artwork, but it was damaged in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when vandals took advantage of the stalled subways to spray-paint and tear down some of the panels. Thankfully, Brand completed another restoration earlier this year—jump on a Manhattan-bound B or Q train at DeKalb Ave to have a look.

See all NYC subway station secrets, hidden stops and abandoned places







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