I LOVE riding the subway in New York City. I put on my headphones, play the soundtrack to one of my favorite movies of all time, and go to different parts of town to walk around and explore.
New York City’s subways are made up of over 600 miles of tracks and over 5 million commuters venture to all 5 boroughs every weekday. The subway opened in NYC in 1904 and has steadily expanded into the behemoth it is today.
Indeed, the subway is an integral part of the modern city, with a million stories to tell. Even if you’re a native New Yorker, there’s still likely a lot about the subway system you don’t know. Let’s take a look at some interesting secrets about the locomotives that help keep New York moving.
1. You can take a tour of an abandoned station
There’s a closed subway station in Lower Manhattan that the folks at the New York Transit Museum tour a few times a year with a group of lucky visitors. The City Hall stop opened in 1904 and closed in 1945. Although it was shuttered over 70 years ago, the detailed work on the tiles and the electric chandeliers remain intact. A group called Untapped Cities also gives tours of forgotten parts of New York’s subway system.
2. When subway cars are retired, they become artificial underwater reefs
Between 2001 and 2010, the MTA dumped 2,500 retired subway cars into the Atlantic Ocean along the east coast to build artificial reefs for fish. These cars that formerly transported commuters are now home to sea creatures of all kinds.
3. One station has more than 130 bronze sculptures
The 14th Street/8th Avenue station is artist Tom Otterness‘ playground. Otterness has more than 130 of his bronze pieces in the station. He calls his work there “Life Underground.” Otterness was only supposed to make about 25 pieces for the station but he kept on adding and adding for years.
4. The system has a whole lotta track
If you laid all of the tracks in the entire subway system end-to-end, they would stretch from New York to Chicago. The mainline track consists of about 660 miles, but if you add in all the track that is used for non-revenue purposes, such as the yards where the train cars are stored, the total track length adds up to more than 840 miles.
5. The subway once got hijacked
In 1993, a 16-year-old named Keron Thomas posed as a train operator and took the A train on a joyride for three hours. Thomas planned his ride for months and studied MTA manuals. Thomas was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment, criminal impersonation, and forgery. No one was hurt during the stunt.
6. There was a “Miss Subways” beauty pageant for more than 30 years
From 1941 until 1976, the MTA hosted a beauty pageant called “Miss Subways” in cars and stations. The competition was originally started to draw attention to advertisements but turned out to be very popular. After a lengthy hiatus, the pageant was resurrected in 2014.
7. Nostalgia Trains!
During the holidays, passengers can ride on vintage cars as part of the Nostalgia Train program. The cars date back to the 1930s. Sounds like fun!
8. One station served as a scientific lab
Nobel Prize-winning scientist Victor Hess conducted radioactive experiments using the 191st Street stop, the deepest station in the whole subway system. Hess was an Austrian native who won the Nobel Prize for discovering cosmic radiation in 1936.
9. Those tiles were color-coded for a reason
You might notice remnants of the color-coded system when you’re in different stations throughout the city. These different shades were supposed to be an optical cue to riders that they had reached either an express or a local stop. The system didn’t catch on, but the system remains in some places.
10. Private cars?!?
When the subway opened in 1904 it was operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, or IRT. The owner of IRT, August Belmont, Jr., had his own private subway car that included a bathroom, kitchen, and a desk to work at. The private car was called the Mineola and Belmont also used it to entertain guests.