The Best of New York

In August 2012, I spent a wonderful 4 days in New York City. Plenty of people have been there before and raved about Central Park (loved it), Times Square (was underwhelmed) and the Empire State Building (what a view). There were so many high points about travelling on the New York City subway, so I won’t bore you all with the details of my sightseeing and subway ramblings, but I will list my top 5 items that should be on any rail tourist’s itinerary when visiting New York City:

New York Transit Museum

The New York Transit Museum is operated by the MTA (operators of the subway system) and is located in the disused Court St subway station in Brooklyn. The upper level contains a history of the system, along with artefacts from the operations of the subway through various eras.  The lower level is the platforms for the disused station, which has a collection of historical subway cars stabled, most of which are open for inspection. The station is still connected to the subway network and many of the cars are in serviceable condition and are occasionally used on tours.

Old subway car on static display at the NYC Subway Museum

Old subway car on static display at the NYC Transit Museum

The New York Transit Museum is open Tuesday to Friday (10am to 4pm) and weekends (11am to 5pm). It is closed on Mondays and public holidays. It is located at the corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn Heights and is within walking distance of the following subway stations:

  • Court St (R)
  • Borough Hall (2, 3, 4, 5)
  • Hoyt Schermerhorn (A, C, G)

Grand Central Terminal Tour

Grand Central Terminal main entrance

Grand Central Terminal main entrance

The Municipal Arts Society of New York conducts a comprehensive daily tour of the historic Grand Central Terminal. The knowledgeable guides give insights into how politics shaped the railway station and how the railway station shaped New York City. Tours are run every day at 12:30 and cost $20. The tour takes between 60 and 90 minutes, and is well worth taking the time to do. More information is available here.

Staten Island

Staten Island to the South of Manhattan has a 14 mi (22.5 km) above ground railway running from the north (St George) to the south (Tottenville). The line is all that’s left of a larger railway network on the island, and is classed as part of the New York Subway system (although no physical connection exists). The line uses 4 car R44 NYC subway stock from the early 1970s, which are stored and maintained at a yard near Clifton station. Trains requiring heavy maintenance or overhaul are taken on a truck to Coney Island yard.

R44 sets stand at St George on Staten Island

R44 sets stand at St George on Staten Island

The line is operated more like a suburban railway than a subway. Trains run every 30 minutes during the off peak, with express trains and short runs at peak times. The full journey of 22 stations takes just over 40 minutes for an all stations train. Basic destination indicators are provided on the front of each train (a manually placed sign), with blue indicating all stations service and red indicating an express or out of service train.

An express train stands in Tottenville yard, awaiting the afternoon peak.

An express train stands in Tottenville yard, awaiting the afternoon peak.

The best way to get to Staten Island is on the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry is free, operating 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. The service operates at 30 minute frequency or better, and the crossing takes about 25 minutes. I also believe that the ferry gives the best vantage point for photographing the Statue of Liberty. (Did I mention it’s free??)

The Statue of Liberty, as seen from the Staten Island ferry

The Statue of Liberty, as seen from the Staten Island ferry

On Staten Island, the ferry docks at the St George Terminal, which also houses St George railway station. In Manhattan the ferry docks at Whitehall Terminal, which is within easy walk of  the following subway stations:

  • South Ferry (1)
  • Whitehall St South Ferry (R)
  • Bowling Green (4, 5)

The Bridges

An R160 set crosses the Manhattan Bridge

An R160 set crosses the Manhattan Bridge

Another thing that I like to do on holidays is walk across famous bridges. In New York, it is possible to combine trains and bridges in a single activity. Subway trains share the Manhattan Bridge and Williamsburg Bridge, as well as being visible from the eastern end of the Queensboro Bridge. Subway access is available at the folowing stations:

  • Manhattan Bridge – West side: Chambers St (J, Z), East side: York St (F)
  • Williamsburg Bridge – West side: Delancy St/Essex St (F, J M, Z), East side: Marcy Av (J, M, Z)
  • Queensboro Bridge – West side: Lexington Av/59th St (4, 5, 6, N, Q, R), East side: Queensboro Plaza (7, N, Q)
An R160 set on the eastern side of the Queensboro Bridge

An R160 set on the eastern side of the Queensboro Bridge

An interesting place for watching trains was the east side of the Queensboro Bridge. The 7 train runs on a double deck elevated track section, with eastbound trains on the top level and westbound trains on the lower level. This is easily visible from Queensboro Plaza South, on the south east side of the bridge.

Coney Island

A D Train stands at Coney Island Stilwell Av station

A D Train stands at Coney Island Stilwell Av station

Coney Island was once an island, but has now been connected to the mainland by land reclamation. As well as having quite a nice beach, and a famous amusement park, Coney Island Stilwell Av is a very busy subway station, being the terminus for the D, F N & Q subway lines. It is an elevated station, and trains approach from the north (D & N) and east (F & Q). The N Line runs at ground level through the impressive Coney Island subway railway yard, just north of the station.

R68 sets standing in Coney Island yard, s seen from an N train

R68 sets standing in Coney Island yard, s seen from an N train

Other Ideas

If you have a little more time in your itinerary, the nycsubway.org site has a page where railfans have put together their ideas for self guided subway tours. Click here for more information.

Aside from these rail related adventures, my favourite place in New York City was Central Park. It’s easy to forget that you’re in the the middle of such a huge concrete jungle when you’re surrounded by birds, trees and ornate bridges. There are lakes and waterfalls, places to sit and relax and contrasting views of skyscrapers behind a small forest of tall trees.

An oasis in the concrete - Central Park

An oasis in the concrete – Central Park

A walk I enjoyed (taking about 45 – 60 minutes) was from the south west corner to the north side of the park. Take the subway to 59th St/Columbus Circle (1, A, B, C, D) and walk through the park. On the north side, there are stations at Central Park North (2, 3) or on the north west side at Cathedral Parkway (B, C).  Just make sure you leave plenty of time to be out of the park before sunset!

The view across one of Central Park's many lakes

The view across one of Central Park’s many lakes

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