They Moved the Millions: Introduction

From nycsubway.org

They Moved The Millions · by Ed Davis, Sr.


This scene nearly duplicates the nostalgic memories of the author. Although High-V's were normally assigned to this line, this view of the restored Low-V's on a fantrip is like a spirit from the past reincarnated. Except for fluorescent lighting, this station on the IRT Broadway line is little changed over almost 80 years. Can't you hear the sounds of traction motors, clicking rail joints, etc., echoing in the brick arch station? Franklin B. Roberts photo.

Picture the scene. A subway station deep under the streets of Upper Manhattan in New York City; a family waits on the platform for a train to take them into mid-Manhattan to shop at the department stores, With them is a young boy about seven years old, eagerly anticipating a train ride downtown, to which he is well accustomed but never tires of. As they stand and wait for the southbound, or downtown train, a sound is heard coming north thru the tunnel. The boy looks and sees the lights of an uptown train coming, cheery warm glow of incandescent lighting in the windows, the colored marker lamps on top of the first car and flickering of kerosene lamps near the deck of that car. The sounds of traction motors and clicking of rail joints become louder and louder and the obscure shape then identifies itself as a train as it rumbles out of the almost dark tunnel into the station which is lit only somewhat better than the rest of the right of way. Sparks fly from the wheels as the compressed air presses cast iron brake shoes against them and the train grinds to a stop. Doors open and close, there is a slight lurch, then movement, and with the sound of growling traction motors, the train moves on, out of the station, and off in the distance to fade from view.

Another set of lights soon appears from the north, again the same sounds are heard and the same sight seen as the downtown train approaches and clatters into the station. The family, along with other passengers that were waiting, boards the train and all except the young boy take seats, which at this time of day are available. The boy runs to the window on the door at the front of the first car to play motorman while they are riding. With the growl of traction motors and their power, the cars vibrate as the train begins to move and gain speed, interior lights dim slightly as voltage drops due to the drain of power, and the sounds change to a feverish pace as the train gains speed. The boy has little to see other than shiny rails and the parade of green signals indicating a clear track ahead, and then the lights of the next station down the line, but this is sheer fascination imagining that he is running the train and hopes that someday he will.

Note: The station they waited at was 181 St. on the IRT Broadway Line and the trains were the old High-V's.

Much of the sounds of these days are now gone; the equipment that has replaced those pioneer electric railway cars have a different type of traction motor gearing that no longer can be heard, and with the advent of air-conditioned cars even the sounds of clicking rail joints virtually inaudible; trains still fascinate children, today's generation enjoys today's trains, but for those of us who grew up in the 50's the old equipment is dear to many of us, and nostalgia cannot be overpowered by practicality. To the author there would never be anything that signified electric railroads as much as the old equipment did, especially that of the IRT.

Back to our young boy; after about a half hour's ride, part of it on express tracks where this train seems to be the world's fastest vehicle, and the action of railroading underground seems to be the world's most thrilling business, the family arrives at their station stop and leaves the train, the young boy watches it leave and fade off in the distance, and gleefully thinks of the trip home and many other rides downtown and to places of recreation in the future.

One of the thousands of children who had this experience, your author had the chance to fulfil his childhood imaginations as ten years of his life were spent as a motorman on the New York City Transit System. While even a railroad buff can find running trains to be a job more than a hobby at times, the author during his career alternated runs every week and worked every line on all divisions of the system and this way never permitted boredom nor excess familiarity with the job to spoil it for him. He also had the chance to run all types of equipment including wooden trains built in 1903, the many types of heavy steel trains built over the years, to the stainless steel, electronically controlled rolling stock of the 1970's.

This book is aimed at all generations of railroad buffs who are familiar with the New York City Transit System. To those who commuted on the trains for years and are now older ... you might enjoy learning about what you used to know; to those who are in mid-life, and to the young who might like to learn about what type of rolling stock used to be and how it evolved into what is presently in service. Additionally, those who are or were employed on the system may be interested in knowing the history of the cars both past and present, in addition to your present mechanical knowledge. You will forgive the author's sentiments for old equipment from the period from 1902-1939; just as some authors attempt to convince the reader that steam was superior to diesel power on railroads (and honestly it could be), while admitting that modern rolling stock is technically superior, it certainly hasn't had the ruggedness nor built in longevity that the pioneer electric rolling stock had. Anyhow, we will evaluate all of it and the reader be the judge. This is not intended to be an overly technical work so that the layman outside the railway field can understand it.

Prologue: About the Lines

The New York City Transit System is divided into two divisions, A and B, with the B division having subdivisions Bi and B2. These divisions are known for operating purposes to personnel concerned; an attempt was made during the late 1967 merger of the BMT and IND lines to bury their original identities but the public had the old divisional designations so firmly entrenched in their minds that the original designations, with roots going back to the days of private ownership, that the authority abandoned the attempt at burying the old divisional names. Thru the text references will again be made to the earlier companies' history and municipal takeover to keep the reader refreshed but we will give a brief description of the lines and divisions here to give the reader an idea of what all of the present day routes and some earlier routes were.

"A" Division, or IRT: Routes of the former Interborough Rapid Transit Company, the first subway operator and owner and operator as well of routes of the former Manhattan Railway Company which until their demise were the elevated lines in Manhattan.

The elevateds, or "els", comprised of the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 9th Avenue elevated lines which were extended into the Bronx partially over their own lines (3rd Ave. to Gunhill Road) and over elevated extensions of subway routes (Gunhill Road to 241 St. and White Plains Road, Freeman St. via Westchester Ave., and Woodlawn via Jerome Ave.). These portions still remain but all of the original Manhattan Railway trackage is gone. The Second Ave. line also ran to Queens via the Queensboro Bridge and into Astoria and Flushing over lines that still exist, but the bridge line is gone.

The subway routes comprise of the Broadway-7th Ave. and Lexington-4th Ave. trunk lines in Manhattan which feed lines into outlying areas, including subways to Utica Ave. with elevated trackage to New Lots Ave., and Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn and a subway to Dyckman St. in the Inwood section of Manhattan. Branch lines of the Broadway-7th Ave. line include the line to Van Cortlandt Park which is elevated beyond Dyckman St. and the Lenox Ave. subway route which has a terminal at 148 St. and Lenox in Manhattan and extends to the Bronx and runs over the Westchester Ave.-White Plains Road elevated line to the city limits at 241 St. and White Plains Road, as well as a branch that runs over the former New York, Westchester and Boston right of way to Dyre Ave. from East 180 St. The Lexington Avenue trunk line, or East Side line, has branches to Woodlawn via Jerome Ave. on elevated trackage, to Pelham Bay Park partially by subway with the last few miles from Hunts Point on an elevated; it also serves jointly with West Side service over the elevated line from 149 St. and 3rd Ave. to 241 St. White Plains Rd. Both East and West Side routes serve jointly in services to Brooklyn and additionally have short extensions to South Ferry in Manhattan. The Flushing Line is physically a part of the IRT, is manned by IRT crews, but dispatching for it is done by B1 division personnel. The IRT is generally a fast railroad, there are some slow curves on the lines but most of the trackage allows constant high speed operation.

"B1" Division, or BMT: These are the routes of the former Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Company, originally known as Brooklyn Rapid Transit. Many of these routes now run partially over the B2 or IND division, and the reverse situation exists for IND routes, running on BMT track. In the heyday of the BMT there were elevated routes on 3rd Ave. and 5th Ave. (Brooklyn) to Bay Ridge, the Culver Line and West End Line elevateds to Coney Island, Fulton Street to Richmond Hill, Broadway-Brooklyn elevated with branches to Canarsie and Jamaica, Myrtle and Lexington Ave. lines. The BMT subway consists of the Fourth Ave. line in Brooklyn, two routes into Manhattan, one over the Manhattan Bridge to Canal St. and the other, longer route thru the Montague St. tunnel under the East River which serves lower Manhattan. Both of these routes join at Canal and Broadway and run under Broadway and 7th Ave. to 57 St. and then to Queens via the 60th St. Tunnel with branches to Astoria over an elevated line and Forest Hills via the IND subway.

The Southern lines of the BMT comprise of the Brighton line to Coney Island which branches off at Dekalb Ave. and runs via a brief subway run to Prospect Park where the line then runs thru an open cut, over an embankment line, and then is elevated to Coney Island. There is a shuttle to Franklin Ave. from Prospect Park which was the original Brighton route to the city, via a connection with the Fulton St. elevated. The 4th Avenue subway branches into 2 routes to Coney Island, one over the West End elevated and the other via the Sea Beach Line which is an open cut for most of the run. It also branches out to 95th St. in Fort Hamilton via subway. At one time the Culver Line elevated to Coney Island was served thru the 4th Ave. subway but that is now a branch of the IND.

The Eastern lines of the BMT comprise the Broadway-Brooklyn-Jamaica elevated which runs over the Williamburg Bridge into Manhattan and then to Broad St. in lower Manhattan via the Centre St. subway and the former Nassau Loop route. Another line sharing this trackage is a branch to Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village which was originally part of the old Myrtle Ave. elevated line, the existing portion is of course still elevated; it joins the Broadway el at Broadway and Myrtle, shares the line to Broad St. (when it is not just a shuttle line), and runs back to Brooklyn via the Montague St. tunnel and Brighton line to Coney Island. There is one part of the Eastern section that is mostly subway; the 14th Street-Canarsie line which runs from 14th St.-8th Avenue in Manhattan over a line thru the Bushwick and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn to a connection with the elevated trackage to Canarsie at East New York. The subway portion is full of snaking curves and a constant vigil for speed control signals and slow curves on the part of the motorman is necessary.

Although there are fast portions of track on the BMT it is basically a system full of curves and restricted speeds, the slowest of the former 3 systems.

"B2" Division, or IND: Formerly the Independent City Owned Rapid Transit Railroad. These lines were all originally owned and operated by the City. In Manhattan there are two trunk lines, 6th Ave. and 8th Avenue which join into one at 59 St. and this one trunk line runs via Central Park West and St. Nicholas Ave. to Harlem, where one branch goes to Washington Heights and Inwood to a terminal at 207 St. and the other runs to 205 St. and Perry Ave., via the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. From Mid-Manhattan at 53 St. there is a branch to Jamaica in Queens which is served by both 6th and 8th Ave. trains. In lower Manhattan at West 4th St. there are two branches to Brooklyn, which meet again at Jay St. in downtown Brooklyn; one runs across Houston St. thru the lower East Side and into Brooklyn via the Rutgers St. tunnel under the East River. The other runs to Fulton St. in lower Manhattan where it crosses the East River into Brooklyn.

The 6th Ave. route serves the IND subway route to Church and McDonald Aves. in Brooklyn where it then becomes an elevated and runs over the former BMT Culver line to Coney Island. There are also 6th Ave. services to Coney Island running over present day BMT trackage (for operational purposes) via Brighton and West End lines. There is a nearly completed extension to Queens from the 6th Ave. line via 63 St. in Manhattan which will terminate in a place without connections to other lines but will in any event serve the recently developed Roosevelt Island housing complexes en route.

The 8th Ave. line runs into Brooklyn also and serves communities along the Fulton St. subway route to East New York, and then runs over the former BMT elevated trackage via Liberty Ave. to Lefferts Blvd. in Richmond Hill. A line to the Rockaways over rebuilt, former Long Island Railroad trackage branches off from this line.

A crosstown line runs from Downtown Brooklyn to Long Island City in Queens via subway. In downtown Brooklyn it connects to IND routes there and in Long Island City, at Queens Plaza, it joins trackage of the IND Jamaica line and runs to Forest Hills, a completely local service.

In addition to joint BMT-IND services on 6th Ave. the Queens line is served at times by BMT trains which run entirely over BMT trackage to Queens Plaza and then run to Forest Hills over the IND. One time there was 6th Ave. service running to East New York and Jamaica over the Broadway-Brooklyn elevated but this service died along with much of the manufacturing business in the city, a victim of changing times. It would have been a good alternate route to Jamaica, and would have relieved much of the overcrowding on the IND Queens line if a planned line relocation had been done on the elevated BMT portion, eliminating slow curves and allowing express service. Too bad this didn't work out, but community groups were opposed to the line relocation and 3rd-tracking which would have had more trains running thru their neighborhoods.

In any event, the B2, or IND division is essentially the fastest of the former divisions, nosing the IRT out in outlying areas but running almost neck and neck thru Manhattan. Even local services are fast, the ride being a near monotonous pace with few restrictive curves.

As a footnote, most of the IND lines that were first built duplicated elevated routes in Brooklyn and Manhattan and were planned that way. The elevated lines in those areas were demolished within a decade of the opening of the Independent lines in the 1930's.

Car assignments as noted in the text are always subject to change; information as given may be different at press time or at purchase of book. In addition, at any given time trains may be converted for service on lines other than their usual assignments to compensate for car shortage, service interruptions, or rerouted trains.


A scene from the past, repeated in many places in the city. The South Ferry elevated terminal of the IRT looms over entrances to the South Ferry subway station (also of the IRT). Four routes terminated here on the el, two subway routes passed around the loop thru the underground station. Out of sight, a short distance away, the BMT subway also had a stop here. Such has been the density of service at times on the system; the elevated terminal, alas, has been gone for over three decades. Franklin B. Roberts collection. Copyright 1985 by Edward C. Davis, Sr. Reproduced on nycsubway.org with permission. Webmaster's Note: The photos presented in these articles were in many cases scanned from the original slides obtained from the author. Where the original slides weren't available, scans from the book are used. In a few cases, similar photos from the collection of nycsubway.org were used instead of the low-quality scans from the book. These are all noted as such in the captions.

Copyright © 1995-2012 nycsubway.org.
nycsubway.org is not affiliated with any transit agency or provider.
Not mobile.