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The New York City subway carries many secrets, like any extensive system that was built over time. But the NYC subway also comes with it quite a bit of lore–from its urban explorers who have explored every nook of its vastness, the technological feat it was to build in some of the toughest Manhattan schist, and its evolution from high-class experiment to mass ridership.

No list of subway secrets can be complete, so we see this article as an evolving entity. We’ve started with our favorite secrets but encourage you all to comment and Tweet at us (@untappedcities) with other hidden gems. Special thanks to Matt Litwack, author of Beneath the Streets: The Hidden Relics of New York’s Subway System for contributing his finds to this piece.

10. Why do the conductors point up when the train is stopped?

Subway Conductor Pointing-NYC-GIF-RedditGIF via Buzzfeed

Pulled from this AMA on Reddit (the answers have since been deleted because the subway conductor was upset that his words were being quoted out of context and incorrectly): “We’re pointing at the conductor’s indication board, which is a zebra-striped sign. If the sign is in front of my window, it means that the entire train is on the platform. They don’t trust us to just look (see that other question about zoning out), so required procedure is to point to it at every station before we open the doors. The absolute biggest violation a conductor can make is opening the doors where there isn’t a platform. If that ever happens, the first thing supervision is going to ask you is ‘did you point to the board?’.”

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3 Responses
  1. Dennis Harper Reply

    The pointing idea is based on sound science. If a person uses his hands along with eyes it forces a kind of mental requirement before an important action is taken, such as opening train doors. Japanese train crews use this technique. They also do it when crossing tracks as in look/point before crossing.

    I first saw the technique used in LaGuardia tower back in the 1960’s. I was there several times having been a student pilot at an airport flight school. I thought it was odd they were pointing at airplanes. A controller explained it was done primarily when takeoff or landing clearance was given although some did it for every aircraft movement.

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  3. In building the IND subway system in the early 1930’s the planners allowed in a few places for the express tracks of a route to take a different faster pathway than the local tracks. This occurs on both the E and F express trains in Queens, and the F-train in Brooklyn. In point number 10, the F-train express tracks that take a direct route between the cited stations are not “abandoned” just simply not used often. Those tracks are used when F and G trains are re-routed between those stations.

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