Observations on the New York Subway

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compsci

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I've been in New York for three weeks now, and have already covered somewhere around 1/3 of the subway system. Many things have struck me as different from LU. They are listed in no particular order below.

  • There are express trains which skip several stops to get passengers around faster and confuse tourists.
  • The subway runs 24 hours a day. But you can have a long wait for a train after midnight.
  • If you manage to get a seat it is a plastic bench rather than something vaguely soft covered in moquette.
  • Most trains still have guards (or conductors as they call them)
  • Guards seem to like shutting the doors while passengers are still boarding. This is the case even when the passengers in question were waiting well before the train arrived.
  • On some subway lines the maintenance leaves something to be desired. The ride quality on some lines is so bad that it feels like the train has square wheels.
  • As a result of this the noise, especially when a corner is encountered, is horrific.
  • Many older trains don't have full width cabs. So everyone can have a "cab ride".
  • There are no train describers. So people peer down the tunnels looking for headlights.
  • The fare is a flat $2 regardless of how far you go.
  • You can get 1 day, 7 day or 30 day unlimited Metrocards, but not annual tickets for some reason.
  • It takes at least two attempts to get a turnstile to accept a Metrocard, which needs to be swiped precisely to be read correctly.
  • You get free transfer to/from bus and subway.
  • It is quicker to walk then to get the bus in rush hour.
  • You need to use the entrance on the correct side of the street at some stations or either lose $2, wait 18 minutes if you have an unlimited card or take a train to the next station with a cross passage.
  • Stations have long names based mostly on the road junction they are located at.
  • Most stations have black (or maybe just not cleaned) walls, making them rather dark.
  • The signage often leaves something something to be desired, and is sometimes completely wrong.
  • The map is geographical and very difficult to follow.
  • The "Pocket" map is about the same size as an OS map.
 
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Techniquest

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Cheers for that lot matey, sounds like a particularly 'interesting' ride that lot!

Rather hoping to fit some of it in when I go to New York one day!
 

Mojo

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My visit to New York a few years back reminds me of what an interesting system it is.

I liked the fact that stations built on curves have grilles that come out from the platform when the train came to a stop, removing the need to "Mind the gap."

Station staff seem unknown, except the people in the ticket huts.
 

compsci

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It just gets stranger:

  • There are scheduled trains which take routes which aren't marked on the map, such as the very limited rush hour E service to 179 St Jamaica.
  • Apparently 8:30pm is rush hour, so I ended up returning along that branch having already visited on an F.
  • Many stations have almost identical names, so double check before exiting.
  • There are abandoned platforms at some stations with nothing more than a very small "No Trains" sign to stop passengers entering.
  • The one at Columbus Circle also has a sign labelled "A C B Trains" pointing at it.
  • "No Trains" actually means "Employees Only" (What about contractors?)
  • Abandoned platforms are sometimes full of (hopefully clean) laundry.
  • If an interchange isn't logical for the average passeneger it may not be signed at all. (E to J at Jamaica Center)
  • The length of an interchange line on a map is proportional to its length. Times Square to Port Authority Bus Terminal makes Bankument look like a cross platform interchange.
 

Nick W

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There are abandoned platforms at some stations with nothing more than a very small "No Trains" sign to stop passengers entering.
Can these still be used if one platform is taken out of use?
 

compsci

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The platform in question is between the express tracks. It appears to be maintained to the same standard as the other two islands, so preumably all that would be required would be opening the doors on that side and altering the signage appropriately.
 

Guinness

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Gareth Hale said:
I will be riding the NYC Subway in two years time, sounds like it shall be good fun, I like squeels and bounces :D
By the sounds of the authors opinions I would prefer The Tube for Squells and bounces. Reminds me of those err.. Buses on Single Axle Bogies. A Scrapper or a Pacer.
 

compsci

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There is a (fully working) ticket machine inside the fare control at Wall Street (4 & 5). There is so such thing as an excess fare on the New York Subway. Discuss the apparent paradox here.
 

evil_hippo

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It is the huge mumber of variations of the orange lines towards the south of the city that look particularly scary.

compsci said:
[*]There are abandoned platforms at some stations with nothing more than a very small "No Trains" sign to stop passengers entering.
I belive this is so they can put one set of tracks out of use for maintenence (bearing in mind it is a 24 hour service) and maintain a service to all stops when the slow lines are out?


Me and Nicole, who wonderfully both adore underground railways :), plan to get a lot of the system in when we're there over new year. Actually, rather than put me off, your words have made me relish the excitement of it all.
 

GeoffM

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There are express trains which skip several stops to get passengers around faster and confuse tourists.

Only if you're incapable of reading a map - I never had a problem, neither did any of the blonde females with me.

There are no train describers. So people peer down the tunnels looking for headlights.

Probably looking for the big coloured number on the front to check that it's the rght train.

Most stations have black (or maybe just not cleaned) walls, making them rather dark.

Can't say I've noticed that - most are tiled.

The map is geographical and very difficult to follow.

Actually it makes sense to have a geographical version rather than an LU style map. It makes relating the grid of streets to stations and lines far easier than a stylised diagram.

The length of an interchange line on a map is proportional to its length. Times Square to Port Authority Bus Terminal makes Bankument look like a cross platform interchange.

Would that be related to the fact the map is geographical, perchance?

There is a (fully working) ticket machine inside the fare control at Wall Street (4 & 5). There is so such thing as an excess fare on the New York Subway. Discuss the apparent paradox here.

Presumably so people can top up or buy new metrocards whilst waiting for the train. Sounds logical to me.

http://www.nycsubway.org/ - see the track maps.

Geoff M.
 

compsci

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I was thinking more to the sheer length of the interchange between Times Square and PABT. The connecting tunnel is a whole block, and just when you think you've got there you have another walk of about half a platform length to get to the Uptown platform as there is an offset layout.

People peer down the tunnels not so much to check which route the train is running on (which is also on the sides at regular intervals) as to see if there is any train coming at all. If there is a delay of some kind people just keep looking, and even putting their hands out to check for any breezes caused by far away movement. There are some stations with helpful staff who announce the current locations of the next trains, but in most cases you're on your own. I've had to wait 20 minutes for the next train in some cases. It might well have been quicker to walk, but there was no way of knowing this in advance.

If you're planning on going anywhere at the weekend then you really need to check the MTA website or phone them in advance as there is often little or no information regarding service changes at stations. I've seen whole platforms of people waiting for a train that will never come (unless they stand there for another two days) and no announcements or staff to inform them of this. There are locations where the staff are poractive enough to break out some rolls of hazard tape and fence off platforms where nothing is going to stop, but this doesn't seem to be a consistent policy. There are often notices placed on pillars, but these are very easy to overlook.
 

GeoffM

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It is a fair walk, but at least the map perfectly clearly indicates this, being as it is geographic. Unlike Bank/Monument which looks shorter but actually takes longer from Circle/District to Central - or, even worse, W&C.

For the novices, yes I guess the NYC subway can be a little confusing. But try travelling on it for a couple of months like I did and it makes perfect sense. You just need to read the maps and use a bit of common sense. If my parents can navigate it successfully then I'm sure you can!

Geoff M.
 

compsci

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I've ended up in Washington DC for a couple of days. In the bowels of the earth under my hotel at l'enfant plaza is the largest underground station I have ever seen, with two lines crossing at right angles in absolutely massive intersecting tubes. The size of it has to be seen to be believed, but I'll try and get some pictures tomorrow. I also intend to try and get to Wheaton, which has some of the longest escalators in the world.
 

GeoffM

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Can't remember which line it is, but one runs northwards past the approaches to Union Station - lots of "big" trains in and around the depot.

If you can, go to Boston and see their "underground". It's old, and they have trams running underground! "Cab" rides are possible here too.

Geoff M.
 
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