John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2007 September 11

    With construction resumed on the 2nd Av line (again!) some readers 
asked me which routes will work the new line. There is no simple answer 
for a couple reasons. 
    I deal here only with the lettered routes, those of the IND and 
BMT, because the 2nd Av line will be operated only by these routes. 
Numbered routes are confined to IRT lines, which do not interact with 
IND/BMT lines. 
    I also describe the trackwork in the IND 63rd St line that joins 
2nd Av to 6th Av and Broadway. This description is essential to 
understanding some peculiar routings now employed from time to time. 

Route designations 
    The IRT and BMT companies, before they became divisions of the 
unified New York City transit system, preferred geographic names for 
their routes. They did number their routes and these numbers were 
sometimes listed in their litterature. As far as anyone can remember, 
the route numbers were never emphasized in announcements, instructions, 
or signs. 
    The IND used letters for its routes. These were from the start of 
service in 1932 extensively employed in litterature. The lettering 
system was deceptively simple. A single letter was assigned to express 
routes; geminated ones to local routes. The 'odd' letter routes worked 
the 8th Av line; 'even', the 6th Av. The last letters needed to cover 
all of the IND services were H and HH. 

NYC Transit letters
    In the 1950s the plan arose to merge the IND and BMT lines into 
one grand system with thru routing over the lines of both divisions. 
Part of this project was the 2nd Avenue subway, which would connect 
with both IND and BNT lines. 
    In anticipation of this coalition, the BMT routes were assigned 
letters, following the IND scheme. The BMT services picked up with 
letter J and continued thru the alphabet. The last letters needed, 
with some skipped, were T and TT. 
    Without going into some intriguing, but tedious, detail, the IND 
pattern was not faithfully followed. Assorted pairs of letters, not 
just geminated ones, tried to reflect the geographic territories of 
the BMT services. 
    The IRT was not part of the coalition project. There was no 
revision of the IRT route designations. NYC Transit (to use the current 
name of the agency managing the transit system) left the IRT's 
geographic names in place. 
    The roll signs of the new cars received in the 1950s thru the 
1970s had the IND letters, the new BMT letters, and the old IRT proper 
names. There were gaps in the sequence of letters to allow for new 
routes in the future. Some were employed when the Chrystie St section 
opened in 1967. This segment was the first major operational piece of 
the future 2nd Avenue line. 

Present lettering 
    In 1984, or maybe 1985, NYC Transit revamped all the route 
designations. The most important changes were a formal numbering of 
the IRT services and the elimination of double letters. All routes now 
have a single character for their designation. Such a paradigmatic 
shift forced a shuffle of letters on the IND and BMT, such that some 
routes were removed from their traditional  territories. 
    For the most part, the original IND letters were preserved. The 
BMT letters were almost completely revised. While UND riders suffered 
only a minimal adjustment, BMT and IRT riders went thru a protracted 
acclimation period. 

Mainline colors 
    A collateral change was to assign a color to the mainlines on 
Manhattan. Previously colors were only a typographic aid on maps or, 
for a while, assigned to each discrete route. The latter resulted in 
the 'candy cane' maps of the late 1960s. As example, the IND 6th Av is 
now the orange line; BMT Broadway, yellow; IRT Lexington Av, green. 
    Any route, regardless of letter, that works the IND 6th Av has its 
letter on an orange shield. Any route that runs in the BMT Broadway 
has a yellow shield behind its letter. Any service that plies the IRT 
Lexington Av is numbered on a green shield. 
    This color scheme is very helpful for threading thru the subway 
system. If you want to get to a station on the IND 6th Av, the orange 
line, you MUST somewhere, somewhen, get onto a train whose letter sits 
in an orange shield. Conversely, you may start from the orange line by 
boarding an orange train. If you are going to a station WITHOUT an 
orange stripe on the subway map, you MUST somewhen, somewhere, change 
from your train to a train of the same color as your target station. 
    As useful as the color scheme can be, NYC Transit never latched 
onto it like other towns do. It never cites the 'green line'. In the 
stead, it cites the routes that run in the green line, as the '4-5-6 
line'. As I explain later, this is a risky and confusing method of 
describing the various lines. 
    Other towns, to be fair with them, have a far simpler transit 
network. Their trains pretty much run back and forth on a single 
itinery, to which a single color can be assigned. Where we use letters 
and numbers for our routes, they can do well with just a color. Trains 
on Boston's orange line run back and forth from the north end at Oak 
Grove station to the south end at Forest Hills station. There being 
only the one itinery, there is no need for a new designation. You look 
for the one and only orange train. 
    An irritating feature of the colors is that they are not 
calibrated. Other towns typicly make sure their colors are the same in 
all their litterature, signs, maps. NYC Transit does not. You may see 
a sign with a purple, violet, maroon, magenta shield, all being the 
color for the IRT Flushing line. It's supposed to be magenta. 
    An other example is the orange and red lines. Their colors shift 
from clearly distinct to almost the same, a reddish-orange or orangish-
red, like a tomato. 

Mutable routes 
    After all the effort to revise the route designation system, it is 
a cruel fact of life in New York that the subway routes are not 
permanent. They are shifted and shuffled every so often to the point 
that we can not confidently know where they will run a few years from 
now. Some routes haven't changed much in decades while others mutate 
every couple years. The result is that the letter for a route no 
longer has a stable geographic meaning. 
    This also means that it is very risky to refer to a subway line 
only by the routes that work it today. There really is no such a thing 
as the 'D' line, but only a 'D' route. The physical structure that the 
'D' train now works remains in place when the 'D' train is shifted to 
an other part of the transit grid.   
    The use of only the route designation to cite a structure makes 
havoc in reading old news items, like for some history study. An 
incident happened on the 'D' line, according to the historical text. 
Unless the reader traces the history of service, he may be misguided 
to the wrong line under today's routings. A parallel situation 
prevails for travel instructions in old litterature still in current 
    An other situation is the alteration of a route during the day and 
during the week. Route 'N' runs on Manhattan bridge as an express only 
during the day, not in owl hours. In those hours it's a local thru the 
Montague tunnel. The 'V' train runs only on weekdays, not on weekends. 
Route 'G' normally ends its run at Court Square. one station short of 
entering the IND queens Bv line. Yet it can extend its run to Forest 
Hills, several kilometers along that line. 
    This is particularly troublesome when announcements are made about 
services at transfer stations. The annunciator is supposed to be 
wisely about the alterations of service. It far too often isn't. 
Riders may look for a service that at the instant hour runs on 
different tracks or isn't running at all. 

Proper names 
    It is best to refer to the LINE, the structure (tunnels, tracks, 
stations) by a proper name and NOT by the letter (or number for IRT) 
of the routes running in it. 
    The proper names of the lines were never formally declared. They 
came about thru popular usage or legacy litterature. Despite the 
occasional multiple names for a particular line, the names are 
amazingly stable. Everyone equa mente accepts all the names for a 
given line. It's the Woodlawn line and the Jerome Av line. 
    It seems that one line never got named! The IND territory from 
Bergen St to Church Av stations is innominate! It is variously and 
indifferently called the Prospect Park, Smith-9th St, Church Av, and 
South Brooklyn line. Since the attachment of the former BMT Culver 
line to it in the 1950s, it is also called the Culver line! 
    One line whose name is the cause of some bitter bar-room brawls is 
the BMT Canarsie line. If you live in Brooklyn, this is the Canarsie 
line. For Manhattan folk it's the 14th St line. Those who want to keep 
peace between the boros compromise with 14th St-Canarsie line. 

Obsolete signs 
    On the cars the roll signs carry only certain of the possible 
letters. Depending on which cars are assigned to 2nd Av, the choice of 
new letters is constrained by their signs. New rolls can not be easily 
made because the various models of car are fitted with rolls of 
assorted size, length, and fittings. 
    The newer 'V' route on IND 6th Av got its designation because the 
signs on the cars assigned to this route have that letter on an orange 
shield. If it was on some other color of shield, for a mainline other 
than IND 6th Av, it could not be used for this route. 
    A more serious glitch is that the older signs have the letter AND 
geographic name on the same panel. When the current scheme of letters 
was established, there was some intent to associate the letters with 
territories in the transit system. These associations were hard-
written on the roll signs made at that time. Cars since the 1970s has 
the letter and name on separate panels. 
    On the IND 6th Av this today causes substantial mixups. This line 
carries both the 'B' and 'D' routes. Today 'B' works the BMT Brighton 
line; 'D', BMT West End. When certain older cars were assigned to 
route 'B' their signs read 'B - West End express'. This WAS the 
territory for "B" trains in the 1980s, but not now. 
    The cars obtained since the 1980s have digital displays, not roll 
signs. The display can be coded for any combination of route name and 
letter. On the other hand, there is no color shield on these signs. 
All writing is in one color. In theory, this frees the letter from its 
mainline color, the 'V' situation noted above, so any route on any 
mainline can have any letter. 

Many alphabets 
    Discarding the color shield on the new digital signs loses some 
powerful flexibility. Now -- and this is a real dark secret -- EACH 
mainline color can have its OWN COMPLETE set of letters! There COULD 
be an orange 'A' train, working IND 6th Av, along with a blue 'A', the 
one now running on IND 8th Av. 
    This faculty so far is used rarely, best remembered from the 
1980s-1990s repair of Manhattan Bridge. There was an orange 'D' and 
'Q' train concurrent with a yellow 'D' and 'Q'. That's how the split-
service was operated with the transfer between the two pairs of route 
at 34 St/6 Av/Broadway. 

What's on 2nd Av?
    The talk right now is that the first reach of the 2nd Av line, 
from its junction with the IND 63rd St line to its north terminal at 
96th St, will be worked by route 'Q'. This really means that if the 
new line opened tomorrow, the plausible route to be extended onto it 
is the present 'Q'. 
    Now 'Q' ends on the center tracks at 57 St/7 Av on BMT Broadway. 
The center tracks continue north and east to IND 63 St. They are now 
used for stashing extra trains or shifting trains between BMT Broadway 
and IND 6th Av. 
    In 1989-2001 'Q' did run beyond 57 St/7 Av to Queensbridge via IND 
63 St. However, there is nothing in future years to keep 'Q' from 
being rerouted away from IND 63 St so it can not be the initial new 
service in 2nd Av. Nor is there anything to prevent sending some other 
route to 57 St/7 Av on its center tracks, making that route the 
reasonable first service in 2nd Av. 

2nd Av alignment 
    The first segment of the new line has stations at 72nd St, 86th 
St, and 96th St. Layup tracks extend north of 96th St to about 103rd 
St. The structure is configured for future extension north and south 
in 2nd Av. 
    There is continual agitation to close up the long reach between 
72nd St and 86th St, some 1200 meters!. Common alternatives are an 
extra station at 79th St. or replacing 72nd St with new stations at 
76th St and 66th St. So far there is no positive effort to accommodate 
these suggestions. 
    The entire line has only two running tracks. Trains make all stops 
along it, except for a quite unlikely skip-stop operation. There seems 
to be no thought of later fitting express tracks, altho these can be 
added without seriously upsetting the present construction plans. 
    The color for the main stem of the 2nd Av line is turquoise[!], 
which I suspect most people will treat as a cyan or aqua tint. Transit 
pundits hazard that it's the same color used for the defunct 'Train to 
the plane' service to Kennedy airport. 

Lexington Av station 
    The junction between 2nd Av and the rest of the system is at the 
existing Lexington Av station on IND 63rd St. This resembles the 5th 
Av station on IND 53rd St: two tracks, lateral platforms, two levels. 
    The upper level, for downtown service, is about 24 meters below 
the street; lower, uptown, about 30. Escalators and elevators reach to 
the fare control house on the northwest corner of Lexington Av & 63rd 
St. Stairs are only for emergency egress. At the east end of the 
station is a vacant chamber for the future access to a fare control at 
3rd Av & 63rd St. 
    This station is in fact a 4-track, island platform, 2-level 
structure much like 7th Av on IND 53rd St. The present arch roof is a 
false ceiling. The orange brick back wall is a skin wall. When the 2nd 
Av line opens, this wall and roof will be removed to reveal a wider 
arch over the full width of the station. 
    The currently used tracks will be the southern pair. The north 
pair in this station is behind the back wall, This part of the station 
is raw with no finish and minimum conveniences. The tracks end in 
bumpers at the east, 3rd Av, end of the station. 
    The north tracks are used now to relay trains between BMT Broadway 
and IND 6th Av or to store extra trains for either line. You may hear 
rumbling noises behind the wall. It more likely is an empty train back 
there than it is the IRT Lexington Av line above you. 
    If you look out the front or right-side window of a downtown train 
leaving this station, you see a double crossover joining your track to 
the northern track on your right. You also see, before the crash wall 
blocks your view, the northern track itself. 
    A similar configuration is on the uptown level. In this case, from 
the front or left-side window, the crossover is immediately before 
entering the station. You see a bit more of the northern track, on 
your left, and confirm that it does align parallel to the southern 
track, before the station walls block your view. 
    When the station is filled out, the north tracks will extend east 
and curve north into 2nd Av. They join the mainline in a flying 
junction near 66th St & 2nd Av. The long reach to join the mainline is 
due to the difference in elevation between the 63rd St line, heading 
under East River to Queens, and 2nd Av, much closer to the street. 

This is a bus?!
    The stored-ride MetroCard, the one you refill with dollars as you 
use up its rides, allows a transfer for each fare you use. This 
privilege applies to bus-bus and bus-subway, but not to subway-subway. 
Because there are so many subway stations where you may change from 
train to train without leaving the system, the restriction against 
subway-subway transfer is not a serious one. 
    MetroCard knows where the first fare was paid and compares that 
location to where you are offering the transfer. If the first ride was 
via bus, it allows the transfer to an other bus or to the subway. If 
the first ride was via subway, the transfer is allowed only to a bus. 
    If you enter a subway station after taking the first ride via 
subway, you are clipped for a second fare. This can happen if you exit 
to the street form one station, walk to an other station, and enter the 
other station. Unless you query the MetroCard at a card head, you may 
not realize that you are down two, not one, fare for the full journey. 
    Why do this? It can be quicker and simpler to jump ship where two 
stations are near to each other but have no walk-thru transfer than to 
continue your ride to a transfer station farther down the line. 
    There used to be lots of intensely irritating pairs of close 
subway stations with no internal transfer between them. Some were: 
        IND's Lexington/53rd St and IRT's 51st St/lexington Av 
        IRT's Atlantic Av and BMT's Atlantic Av & Pacific St
        BMT's Botanic Gardens and IRT's Franklin Av 
        IRT's Fifth Av and IND's 42nd St (6th Av line) 
Blessed be the minds that eventually built walk-thru connections at 
these stations! The last pair was at first connected by paper ticket. 
You picked up a ticket when leaving the one station and handed it to 
an agent at the other. 
    There are still many annoying stations pairs having no walk-thru 
interchange between them. Several are: 
        IND's Canal St and IRT's Canal St (7th Av line) 
        IND's Jay St and IRT/BMT's Boro Hall & Court St 
        BMT's Livonia Av and IRT's Junius Av 
        IRT's Nevins St and BMT's DeKalb Av 
        BMT's Rector St and IRT's Rector St 
        BMT's Whitehall St and IRT's South ferry & Bowling Green 
        IRT's Astor Pl and BMT's 8th St 
        IND's Broadway-Lafayette St and BMT's Prince St 
        OMD's Grand St and BMT's Bowery 
        IND's Broadway-Lafayette St and IRT's Bleecker St uptown 
        BMT's City Hall and IRT's Park Place & Brooklyn Beidge 
        IND's Chambers St & World Trade Center and BMT's Cortlandt St 
    Some of these pairs are under consideration for walk-thru 
transfers or have transfers under construction. 
    However, there IS a free transfer via the stored-value MetroCard 
between IND's Lexington/63rd St station and IRT/BMT's Lexington/59th 
St! You have to walk on street but you enter the other station with NO 
second fare deducted from your MetroCard! 
    How is this wizardry pulled off? 
    He he he. The two Lexington Av stations are coded as BUSES! 
MetroCard rings up your first fare as a subway ride when you entered 
the subway. You exit from the one Lexington Av station, walk to and 
enter into the other. MetroCard sees the other Lexington Av station as 
an effing bus!! Subway-bus? Good; transfer is allowed. 
    Mind well that the transfer mark on your MetroCard lives for only 
two hours. If you don't exercise it within that span, it dies. You are 
charged a new fare there after. 

    Now all trains passing thru Lexington Av/63 St go to either IND 
6th Av or IND Queens Bv. Route 'F' provides this service at all hours. 
Downtown trains run thru on the upper level; uptown, lower. 
    When this station opened in 1989, the line ended at Queensbridge 
with three stations: Lexington Av, Roosevelt Is, Queensbridge. Because 
this segment reached only to the East River waterfront in Long Island 
City, with no substantial penetration into Queens, it was called the 
    From 1989 to 2001 various routes served this station. If the route 
came from the BMT Broadway, it switched thru the double crosover west 
of the station from the north to the south tracks. 
    There were several options for prolonging the tracks farther into 
Queens, with structure allowing for different directions of extension. 
Eventually they were tied to the IND Queens Bv line near 36th St 
station in 2001. 
    The planned routing for the complete station is simple. All trains 
on the south pair of tracks are orange trains to or from IND 6th Av. 
Those on the north pair are yellow for BMT Broadway. The double 
crossover will not operate for regular service, only for diversions 
and shuffling trains between the yellow and orange lines. On the new 
subway map this station will have both an orange, like now, and a 
yellow stripe. 
    The mainline north of the junction will have only a yellow stripe 
because only trains from BMT Broadway, possibly the 'Q' train, will 
work this line. For the record, the 2nd Av mainline is the turquoise 
line. It will be served by a new route 'T', restoring a letter now 

Disused turnouts 
    On the south tracks, both levels, east of Lexington Av station, 
are turnouts heading south into 2nd Av. These were provided for 
traffic between Queens and the southern reach of the mainline. An 
uptown train would stop at 55th St/2nd Av, then Roosevelt Is. 
    These are hard to spot from the train window because they are not 
lighted and are made of concrete similar to the rest of the tunnel. 
Heading to Queens the turnout trails into your track from the right. 
On the way to IND 6th Av, it leads away on the left from your track. 
    The connection will be installed when the southern segment is 
built, but there seems to be no proposed service for it. One plausible 
reason is that the connection would join the IND Queens Bv line, which 
is already overloaded with current service. The connection may be only 
for yard & shop moves. 
    Here's a diagram of the Lexington Av/63 St station as it is now 
and when completed by year 2020. Only one level is shown, the other 
being a duplicate. 

   / --------\-----------#bumper 
  /           \ / +-----+ 
  |   crossoverX  | sta | LEXINGTON/63 IN 2007 
  |           / \ +-----+ 
  |       /--/---\------------IND Queens Bv 
  |      / 
  |      | 
  |      |IND 6th Av 
  |BMT Broadway 
                            |2nd Av 
    /--------\---/--------/ | 
   /          \ / +-----+    
  |   crossoverX  | sta | LEXINGTON/63 BY 2020 
  |           / \ +-----+    
  |       /--/---\------------/----IND Queens Bv 
  |      /                 | /(no service)  
  |      |                 |/ 
  |      |IND 6th Av       |2nd Av 

  |BMT Broadway 
    It's a bit amusing that we in 75 years developed rockets and space 
travel to send humans to the man, and probably will do so again by 
2020. In the same span we haven't gotten far at all with building the 
2nd Av line! The Moon is over 380,000 kilometers and three days away. 
The first piece of 2nd Av mainline is only 3 kilometers long and takes 
ten minutes to traverse. 

Chain letters 
    If you speak with transit workers and fans, you may hear of the 
'G' and 'T' tracks in the IND 63rd St line. These letters refer to the 
chaining of the tracks, the method of locating points along them. The 
name comes from the early use of real chains of prescribed length and 
number of links for pacing off distances along roads, canals, walls, 
and similar linear features. This scheme is also called decatenation, 
for obvious reasons. 
    Each continuous segment of the subway has a zero point from which 
downtrack distance is measured. Each such segment is given a letter, 
or two letters. Each of the three divisions has its own set of chain 
letters, like the Bayer letters for stars within constellations. Each 
track in a segment is also given a number. 
    Chaining need not concern you if you are not tuned into transit 
circles. But, if you ask, the tracks from BMT Broadway to Lexington 
Av/63 St are tracks G3 and G4. Those from IND 6th Av to this station, 
and beyond to their merge with IND Queens Bv, are tracks T1 and T2. 
    The G tracks start on the BMT Broadway at 58th St & 7th Av, north 
of the 57 St/7 Av station. This point is also the zero of the 'G' 
chain. The T tracks tap off of the IND 6th Av at 52nd St & 6th Av, 
north of Rockefeller Center station. The 'T' chain continues from that 
in the IND 6th Av. 
    You may hear of an IND 63rd St and a BMT 63rd St line. Because the 
two divisions are now so interlinked, there probably is no strong 
reason to cleave this reach of subway into two distinct lines. For the 
picky & fussy among readers, the IND line is the south pair of tracks; 
BMT, north. The very station may be allocated to both, much like 
Queensboro Plaza is both a BMT and an IRT station. 

Missing letters 
    If you examine the current, 2007, subway map, you notice that 
there are gaps in the route letter sequence. Some of the missing 
letters were once active. Others were never used. Hence, it is 
possible that when the 2nd Av line opens, the itineries of the routes 
may be so altered that some of the missing letters may be called into 
service. So far, one retired letter, 'T', is on deck for 2nd Av 
mainline service. 
    Here I note the missing letters. This is NOT a history of their 
former use, but simply their current status. Only the present 
lettering system is covered. There was an alphabet soup of old 
lettering from before the mid 1980s that will never be used again. 
    As long as I'm going thru this magilla, I include the IRT's 
numbering scheme. IRT trains will not operate on 2nd Av. 
    'H' - Used for shuttles from Euclid Av to Rockaway Pk and Far 
    'I' - This may be excluded because it resembles the number '1', 
even tho a 'I' and '1' train can not operate together on the same line 
    'K' - Used for assorted itineries. It may be held back for some 
new variation in BMT service in Brooklyn and Queens. 
    'O' - This may be excluded because it resembles the number '0', 
even tho a 'O' and '0' train can not operate together on the same line 
    'P' - Prepared for a threatened Amtrak strike several years ago 
that would have shut down Penn Station. It would have run from Sutphin 
Bv/Archer Av to 34 St/Penn Sta by a twisted itinery thru tracks not 
now in regular use. The route was never activated; the strike was 
averted. It is sometimes noted that 'P' is now excluded because it 
sounds naughty to tell a rider, 'take a 'P''. Yet the same argument 
applies to the existing 'F' route. I have on occasion, at 34 St/6 Av, 
advised a rider to 'take an 'F' against the wall'. 
    'T' - Used for BMT West End line. Possible restored use for 
mainline service in 2nd Av. 
    'U' - Never used 
    'X' - Never used 
    'Y' - Never used 
    '0' - This may be excluded because it resembles the letter 'O', 
even tho a '0' and 'O' train can not operate together on the same line 
    '8' - Internal name for the <6> route 
    '9' - Used for skip-stop service on IRT Upper Broadway 
   '10' - Internal name for <5> 
   '11' - Internal name for <7> 
   '12' - Internal name for (2) to New Lots Av, not Flatbush Av 
   '13' - Internal name for (3) to Flatbush Av, not New Lots Av