BMT West End Line
R-68 no. 2750 on "D" service, BMT West End Line at Fort Hamilton Parkway. Photo by Zach Summer, January 2012.
The West End Line began service in 1864 as a steam railroad called the Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island between 25th St and 5th Ave in South Brooklyn to the Bath section of Brooklyn, which in today's map would be 65th Street and New Utrecht Avenue. In 1867, the steam line reached Coney Island, making it the first steam railroad to reach the Atlantic Ocean at this location. In 1885, a branch was built from 5th Avenue and 38th Street to Second Avenue and 39th Street as a ferry connection. Also in 1885, the BB&CI was reorganized into the Brooklyn, Bath and West End Railroad.
In 1889, when the 5th Ave El reached 5th Ave and 36th St, the railroad was abandoned north of 36th St. Trains then ran from 2 branches, one from the ferries and one from the junction of the 5th Ave El, to Tivoli's Hotel in Coney Island. The two branches joined in West Brooklyn, which is approximately where New Utrecht Ave & Ft Hamilton Pkwy meet now.
In 1893, the line was electrified with trolley wire and merged with the Atlantic Avenue Railroad which itself merged with the Nassau Electric Railroad in 1898. In November of 1893, the Atlantic Avenue Railroad started running streetcars on the line, and in early 1894, railway post office mail was begun on the line to Coney Island.
In 1901, BRT elevated trains began using the surface West End trackage, using trolley poles. Service connected to the West End from a ramp of the 5th Avenue elevated at 36th Street. Called the "5th Ave - West End Line", it ran using third rail from Sands St or Park Row to 36th St and then by trolley pole to Coney Island. Originally, the West End Line has its own Coney Island terminal, but later in the 1900s shared a terminal with the Sea Beach line. In 1919, both the Culver and West End Lines moved to their new terminal, the present-day Stillwell Avenue and Coney Island BMT stop.
In 1917, as part of the Dual Contracts, the West End El as we know it today was built, replacing the surface route. Streetcars replaced trolley powered El cars on the surface until the trolley line was closed in 1947. Steel cars from the 4th Avenue subway to Chambers St via the Manhattan Bridge replaced the wooden 5th Ave El cars, and the 5th Avenue El was closed in 1940. Remains of these ramps can be seen today just north of the 9th Avenue and 39th Street station. Some service in Manhattan ran as far north as Union Square in 1917, and then to Times Square in 1918. By 1919, part time service was available at 57th St and 7th Ave. Because of a shortage of steel cars, shuttles consisting of wooden equipment ran between Bay Parkway and Coney Island at rush hours until 1953. Rush hour trains consisting of steel cars also ended their runs at Bay Parkway.
In 1918, the Malbone St. wreck on the BRT Brighton Line killed 97 people. As a result of the wreck, the BRT went bankrupt and was reorganized into the BMT (Brooklyn - Manhattan Transit Corporation). The West End Line then became a BMT property.
The West End Line was unified into the New York City Transit System on June 1st, 1940, after BMT shareholders agreed to a $175 million buyout from the City of New York.
Through the 50s and 60s, off-hour service was reduced on the West End Line. At some point in the mid-late 50s, the West End express Manhattan Bridge through service was discontinued during late night hours, replaced first by service via tunnel to Chambers St, and later by a shuttle to 36 St/4 Ave. The West End Local (also sometimes called the West End Short Line, and later the TT) was originally a rush-hour only operation; midday service started when the Culver Line through service ended (around 1958 or 1959), at which time the midday West End Express (T) train through service was discontinued.
In the mid 60s, Sunday through service was eliminated, replaced by a Coney Island to 36 St/4 Ave shuttle. TT trains terminated at Bay Parkway in rush hour (Bay Parkway to Chambers St. via tunnel), and the T expresses ran over the Manhattan Bridge to 57th St or Astoria. During midday weekdays, the T express didn't operate and the TT ran all the way to Coney Island.
On November 26th, 1967, as part of the opening of the Chrystie Street connection, West End service was rerouted up 6th Avenue. Rush hour trains terminated at 168th St; normal hour trains terminated at 57th St and 6th Ave when it was opened July 1st, 1968.
The West End is serviced by the D ("B" until Spring 2004) route and there is only local service between Coney Island and 9th Avenue. Until 1996, there was M train service to 9th Avenue during midday hours (after being rerouted off the Brighton Line in 1988 because of the "temporary" Manhattan Bridge work); currently M train service on the West End line is operated only during rush hours as far as Bay Parkway. (M service terminates at Chambers Street weekday middays.) Even with the supplemental service on the West End at rush hours, New York City Transit never decided to have an express service to Bay Parkway.
Probably no other line in the New York City Transit System is as well known as the West End line (save for the #6 in The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3). The West End was used in a major chase scene of the movie The French Connection in 1971 as a car chases the train overhead from Bay 50th nearly all the way to the 60th Street side of the 62nd St. Station.
- 1862: Opened as the Brooklyn, Bath & Coney Island Railroad
- 1885: Reorganized into the Brooklyn, Bath and West End Railroad
- 1892: Merged into the Atlantic Avenue Railroad
- 1893: Electrified using trolley wire.
- 1898: Merged into the Nassau Electric Railroad.
- 1899: Absorbed into the BRT
- 1917: Became part of the New York Consolidated Railroad under the BRT.
- 1923 15 June: Control transferred to BMT (New York Rapid Transit Corp)
- 1940 1 June: Unified into the New York City Transit System.
- 1940: Abandonment of 5th Avenue El
- 1967 26 November: Chrystie Street connection opens.
The structure at 9th Avenue is open cut, having rambled through a short rock and brick-lined 2 track tunnel upon exiting from the 4th Avenue subway.
Upon exiting the tunnel, the remains of the 5th Ave El ramps (made of concrete) can clearly be seen, followed by a set of similar looking concrete ramps coming from the 36th/38th Street Yard which is on the left side of the train. A complicated maze of switches then appears, three tracks which lead to the ex-Culver line stop on the lower level (closed since May 11th, 1975) and three tracks which lead to the upper level for the West End Line, in an open cut. Both levels of 9th Ave have 2 island platforms and one express track down the middle.
The West End Line then becomes elevated between 9th Ave and Bay 50th St, using an El structure typically built during the Dual Contracts days. All local stops are side platforms and all express stops are of the island platform type. The express stops are 9th Ave, 62 St, and Bay Parkway; all other stops are local. 62nd Street allows a direct transfer to the Sea Beach Line, which runs in an open cut below.
After leaving Bay 50th St, an S curve takes you from the El structure (4.5 miles long) onto grade level, with the massive Coney Island shops right beside you. Then the line crosses Coney Island Creek and rises again before entering Stillwell Avenue, the terminal station. More information about Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue Station available on its own page.
The elevated West End Line is one of the finest elevated runs in the city. The stations have enough of a distance where decent speed can be attained before stopping at the next one.
Photo opportunities exist at 62nd Street, where you can get a good shot of trains approaching from either direction. Another good spot is at 18th Avenue on the Coney Island bound side. Trains can be captured just before they round the curves at either side of the station. The view from 18th Avenue is especially good because this station is a bit above the grade of the line farther south along 86th Street. Even with no train at hand, the views shows how the classical New York elevated line fits into a busy 'downtown' district.
At 9th Avenue, the West End Line uses the upper level. There used to be a pedestrian crossing over the center express track at the north side of the station that also provided TA employees access to the 36th Street Yard. Until recently, there was never a "no admittance" sign; in the last few years, one was erected. That perch provided for some great shots of trains coming from the 4th Avenue subway. However, good shots can still be taken from the platform level.
An interesting view of the street and underworks of the el are had from the mezzanine and crossunder at Bay Parkway station.
On the curve out of the 4th Avenue subway (heading outbound to Coney Island) the line sees daylight for about 50m. Tangent to this curve and merging into it are tracks from piers on the waterfront, operated by the South Brooklyn RR. The line then straightens out heading east into a rock tunnel. It reenters daylight at about 7th Avenue. Then you see the ramps and other railworks leading into 36th Street Yard and Ninth Avenue station. Within the tunnel the line fans out from two to four tracks to separate a West End local service from an express one.
Stillwell Avenue offers many varied opportunities for photos and should not be missed. The north end of the station has a pedestrian crossing over all 8 tracks, and the view from the West End side looking north towards Manhattan is the best. Looking south, photos can be taken with the Cyclone rollercoaster or the parachute jump (a New York landmark that used to be part of the 1939-40 World's Fair) in the background. Exit the station at Stillwell Avenue and yet more opportunities are available to you along Stillwell Avenue on the west, Surf Avenue on the South and Neptune Ave on the north sides of the station. (West End and Sea Beach trains depart in a northerly direction over Neptune Avenue).
|BMT West End Line|
By Mark S. Feinman, Peggy Darlington, David Pirmann, and Ed Sachs.