The New York City subway carries many secrets, like any extensive system that was built over time. But it also comes with quite a bit of lore — from 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. As the subway is always changing, so will this list. We have just added more of our favorite secrets, from hidden art installations and remnants of the past, to fun facts about how the system works.

We encourage you 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, and Untapped Cities Chief Experience Officer Justin Rivers, for contributing their finds to this piece.

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7 thoughts on “The Top 20 Secrets of the NYC Subway

  1. Something you ought to know, is that I’ve seen “Aretha” Franklin stencils on the Franklin Avenue Shuttle platform as late as October 2018. This must’ve been one of the ones that they missed the chance to cover with a “Respect” sticker.

    Another secret that hasn’t been covered (at least on this list); At Pelham Parkway over the 5 train (IRT Dyer Avenue Line) there’s an old New York, Westchester and Boston Railway-era train indicator just past the turnstiles. This subject has been covered in “Forgotten New York,” as well as in the Wikipedia article on that station.

  2. Re Item #8:
    ~ The Brighton QJ train was not an express train. It ran local on the Brighton Line, then out to Jamaica on the Jamaica Line.

    ~ The number 8 is not some weird mistaken number. It was the designation of the last piece of the IRT Third Avenue El that ran in The Bronx, before it was torn down.

    ~ Many of us who have ridden on the trains for years would not be “thrown off” to see numbered trains above “7”. We know which lines they were and would just continue to use them as if they had their later designations.

    What DOES throw me off is the MTA’s arbitrary changing names on stations, names that have been used since the lines were built. Either because the MTA thinks riders are too dumb to distinguish between similarly named stations (e.g. Van Wyck E-F trains station along Queens Blvd and the Van Wyck E train station along Archer Avenue) or they get paid off to do it (changing Pacific Street on the 4th Avenue line to Atlantic Avenue-Barclay). The latter mixes me the times I have to change trains at that station and think I’m on the REAL Atlantic Avenue platform (Brighton Line).

  3. Another direct access location – between the subway and a store, in this case – was the subway platform entrance/exit to the former Abraham & Straus (A&S) on the IRT line. It was located on the Manhattan-bound side… I believe at Nevins Street.

  4. 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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  6. 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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