Lost in Transit: 5 Unseen Parts of NYC's Subway System

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First opened on October 27, 1904, the New York City subway system now has more than 400 stations over the course of 842 miles of track. As one of the world’s oldest underground systems, things have changed a lot since its grand opening more than a century ago. Here are just a few of the many stations that have come and gone.

1. City Hall Station

Courtesy of The Fine Art Photo

The subway system’s first station, the City Hall stop, is a “ghost station” now, according to Taras Grescoe in his book Straphanger. The forgotten original terminal, which opened on the evening of October 27, along with 27 other stations along the west side, sits abandoned beneath City Hall. Although one train—the downtown local 6—still passes through the terminal, it’s just a quick blur of what once was. In photography from The Fine Art Photo, the ghost station—with its glass skylights and emerald tiles—can still be seen in all its beauty.

So why did New York City desert this station? By mid-century, longer trains were needed to accommodate an increasing ridership—but the City Hall platform’s unique curve wouldn’t allow for this. The prospect of a difficult revamp, on top of a low daily ridership for this particular station, led to the city retiring the City Hall stop at the end of 1945.

2. 18th Street Station

Courtesy of The Tech

Also unveiled with the City Hall stop was the 18th Street station, located at Park Avenue South, which was originally intended to accomodate five subway cars. As ridership picked up, the station was hastily extended in 1910. That lasted for a while, but another big change for the subway system was coming soon: the 14th Street express station. Like most other older stations at the time in 1948, passenger traffic dropped as soon as the express station was launched. Soon, it was decided that it wasn't feasible to keep the 18th Street station operational. Today, the station is basically the same as when it closed—aside from a touch of graffiti on the station's walls, which covers up the iconic oval-shaped "18" plaque.

3. FDR's Station

WNYC.org reports that there's one station that was meant for one person only: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On a tour of the Grand Central Terminal, MTA worker Dan Brucker gave a tour of the station hidden away far below ground. Roosevelt's custom train was designed so he could be driven in a limousine from inside the train, down a ramp and into an elevator next to the platform. From there, he would take the elevator to the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, where he would give a speech. This train car still sits below Grand Central.

4. Sedgwick Avenue Station

Courtesy of Joseph Brennan

Created as an extension and as a way to add a new station on the Bronx side, the Sedgwick Avenue station was opened in July 1918. When it first opened, the station was part of a large “elevated subway” route, providing the main service to the Jerome Avenue line, but it was replaced when subway trains became the main service of transport in the ‘20s. When the city took over the Interborough Rapid Transit routes in 1940, it eliminated several elevated subway routes, ceasing joint operation of elevated subways and subway trains. When the route was shut down, the steel elevated structure was removed. However, the ground level and tunnel platforms still remain today, and are visible with a little exploring: “Go to Ogden Avenue from Jerome Avenue, turn into 161 Street, and walk onto the footbridge over Sedgwick Avenue and the Major Deegan Expressway. The outdoor portion of the platforms is visible in the bushes …,” according to Joseph Brennan, an engineer at Columbia University's IT, who has collected data on abandoned stations.

5. 91st Street Station

Courtesy of David Pirmann

Originally, a station on 91st Street was provided because there was a long 10-block stretch without a station, and developers saw the area becoming widely populated in the future. As part of the first New York subway in 1904, it was much like other local stops: about 200 feet long, just long enough to accommodate five car trains, but platforms were extended in 1910 for longer trains. When it came time for an extension program in the '50s, the Transit Authority decided the 91st Street station wasn't necessary, and it was closed in 1959. Parts of the platform are visible if riding the 1 train between 86th Street and 96th Street.

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March 5, 2013 - 2:00pm
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