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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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”).
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.
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.
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.)
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Changes to schedules can occur at short notice, especially at weekends—pay attention to the posters on subway station walls and announcements you may hear in trains and on subway platforms. Be warned: Since 9/11 backpacks, bags and other large containers may be subject to random searches. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) 718-330-1234 or 511 within the city, mta.info The MTA runs the subway and bus lines and services to points outside Manhattan. News of service interruptions and MTA maps are on its website. Fares and tickets Although you can pay with coins (no dollar bills) on the buses, you’ll need a MetroCard to enter the subway system. You can buy them from booths or vending machines in the stations; from the Official NYC Information Center; from the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn or Grand Central Terminal; and from many hotels. The standard fare across the subway and bus network on a MetroCard is $2.25, though a single-ride ticket purchased at a vending machine costs $2.50. Free transfers between the subway and buses are available only with a MetroCard (for bus-to-bus transfers on cash fares, see below). Up to four people can use a pay-per-ride MetroCard, sold in denominations from $4.50 to $80. If you put $10 or more on the card, you’ll receive a seven per cent bonus. However, if you’re planning to use the subway or buses often, an Unlimited Ride MetroCard is great value. These cards are offered in two denominations, available at station vending machines