Worth St. station NY, abandoned.
New York City is a fascinating place, and that includes its underground too. With one of the oldest subway systems in the world, it is the site of abandoned stations, levels and platforms galore. Here we are taking an underground tour around those located beneath popular stations travelled by millions each day…
The New York City subway is one of the busiest metro systems in the world, trailing only Tokyo, Moscow and Seoul. Some of the active stations below or above the abandoned ones depicted here are some of the busiest on the system. Somewhat creepy to think that the subway’s secrets are so close to many, yet so far.
1. 42nd Street – Lower Level
Rarely used and now abandoned: 42nd Street’s lower level. Don’t miss the graffiti on the left.
42nd Street Times Square is one of those super busy stations and exiting here is an adventure, with crowds, confusion and tourists asking for directions. In all the hustle and bustle, it is no wonder that few notice the secret of 42nd Street: an abandoned lower level platform on the southbound side located underneath the upper level downtown local track. The lower level was built with the rest of the station in 1932 but only used from 1959 to 1981 for special fare trains and rush hour E trains in the ‘70s.
It isn’t even clear why the lower level was built but speculations exist. According to the NYC Subway website, the following story is a popular one:
“The Independent subway was being built by the city to compete directly with routes owned by the IRT and BMT companies. The #7 crosstown IRT line terminates at Times Square; it is said that the bumper blocks of the #7 are directly against or very close to the eastern wall of the lower level of the 42nd St. IND station. The construction of the lower level therefore blocked any potential extension of the #7 line to the west side of Manhattan.”
Competition between the different companies running the various lines was a big issue from the beginning, between the following authorities in particular: Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT), Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT), Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) and the Independent Subway System (IND). In 1953, the New York City Transit Authority was created and placed under its current control of the Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1968.
2. City Hall Station
The City Hall platform located in the loop with tiled arched ceilings but no tracks yet during construction in 1900.
City Hall is another station with an interesting history. Located at the southeastern end of Manhattan, the area was always the site of important buildings and offices like City Hall, the Post Office, Tweed Courthouse, the Woolworth Building and others. It is no surprise then that it was here where New York City’s whole subway project officially started: City Hall station was seen as a prestigious project, which is why it brought about extras like tiled arch ceilings, chandeliers and skylights for the station. After an official inauguration, construction started in 1900 and the station was completed in 1904.
78 years later, the now abandoned platform looks much the same.
The abandoned station is part of a loop on the 6 line that operated from 1904 to 1945. It was built to avoid passing under the Post Office building that occupied the southern end of City Hall Park from 1875 to 1939.
Here’s video footage of the 6 train rattling around the City Hall loop.
Today, it is not permitted to ride around the loop: passengers have to exit at City Hall, then see the 6 train go around the loop empty, emerging a minute later, ready to collect passengers again. In the mid ‘90s, plans to make the City Hall loop part of Transit Museum efforts were publicized but abandoned a few years later. Thus, only the train drivers and conductors get to see the beautiful abandoned platform that hasn’t changed much since construction.
3. 18th Street Station
The short 18th Street platform with wooden bench and advertisements (left) and the ticket booth in the background (right).
18th Street station was part of the first subway line on the East side that started with City Hall station. 18th Street station was originally less than 6 m (200 ft) long to accommodate exactly five subway cars and soon needed extension in 1910. Instead of a further extension in 1948, it was decided to close the station because as was the case with many others, 18th Street passenger traffic dropped once the express station on 14th Street was operational and it wasn’t feasible to keep the station open.
The characteristic oval-shaped “18” plaque today, hardly visible among the graffiti.
18th Street (and 28th Street) on Manhattan’s west side on the IRT 1 and 9 lines remained open, despite its closeness to the 14th Street and 23rd Street stations, probably because passenger traffic is extremely high in these area due to passengers coming from 42nd Street and Penn Station, both major hubs that connect the New York City subway with other rail and bus transit systems.
Today, you might catch the best glimpse of the two abandoned platforms of 18th Street station if you look out of the side window of a local 6 train between 14th and 23rd Street.
4. Roosevelt Ave – Upper Level
One of the typical long walkways at Roosevelt Avenue.
Those who have ventured into the borough of Queens and got off at Roosevelt Avenue, the heart of immigrant New York, will have been greeted by an onslaught of people, languages and noises. Among Queens’ busiest stations, one of the peculiarities of Roosevelt Avenue is that the station itself is very stretched out, with lots of walking tunnels, and that it goes two levels down for the E, F, G, R and V trains, whereas the 7 train departs from an elevated platform. So, that leaves the question – what happened to the first level?
The Queens Boulevard subway opened in 1933 with trains going as far as Roosevelt Avenue, considered the boondocks at the time. As the population grew and with it settlements in Queens, so did the subway reach. The Queens Boulevard subway stretched to Union Turnpike in 1936 and all the way to 169th Street in Jamaica by 1937.
Here’s a part of the abandoned first level, now apparently a storage area.
What distinguishes the upper level at Roosevelt Avenue from other abandoned stations or levels is that it was finished, even up to the tile work, and had a center island platform with a trackway on each side. It was built for a Second System route planned in 1929 when plans changed and the level was never used.
As exciting as abandoned subway platforms, stations and levels may seem, entering them is prohibited. But don’t worry, if you know where to look, you can find remnants of old construction almost everywhere. Or you can visit abandoned platforms legally, like the next one.
5. 42nd Street Shuttle at Grand Central
Looking toward the northern trackway of the unused shuttle, now covered with tiles. The two heavy columns (left center) mark the middle of the unfinished station platform.
Transit riders who have taken the shuttle or S-train from 42nd Street to Grand Central or vice versa will have embarked on the shortest of all the routes on the New York City subway system. With just the 5th Avenue stop to get off in between, the shuttle connects the west with the east part of Manhattan at the height of 42nd street, a crucial traffic artery of the city.
The Dual System of Rapid Transit in 1913 basically concerned the northward expansion of the two existing subway routes on Manhattan’s west and east side beyond 42nd Street. A shuttle was to connect the east (Grand Central) and west (Times Square), and a third station was planned at Lexington Avenue. Two tracks were deemed sufficient to shuttle passengers back and forth but oh, were they wrong!
Let’s turn around for the eastward view. The old tunnel still exists behind the wall on the right.
When the new shuttle opened in 1918, crowd conditions were so bad and disaster seemed so imminent that by the second day of operations, the Public Service Commission ordered the shuttle closed. The only fast solution at the time was to cover the new, unused trackways of the planned shuttle station with wooden flooring, so that the whole width of the station became a passageway between Lexington Avenue and the shuttle stations.
So it happened and almost two months later, the shuttle reopened with three trains in operation. The provisional wooden flooring, known as the "cattle chute," was actually used for 28 years and only replaced with concrete in 1946. For anyone looking closely, these changes made almost a century ago are still visible.
For those who really, really want to get a feel for an abandoned station, consider this: New York City subway is one of the few in the world that operates 24 hours a day, so if it’s late enough, all stations seem abandoned. So just plant yourself on a bench and wait. Until the cleaning crew comes and scrubs down the whole station. Or the track vacuuming train rattles along. But that’s another story…