Weird and Heavily Travelled

I took the 42nd Street shuttle last week for the first time in years. I don’t consciously avoid that train but I tend to try to arrange my subway trips in Manhattan so that I don’t have to transfer, even if that means walking a bit. To clarify: the vast majority of my subways trips in Manhattan, like most people’s, inclined a lot of distance uptown or downtown and a much smaller amount of distance crosstown. I avoid transfers by walking crosstown at one or both ends of my train trip. I was on the shuttle because I was going from a site visit near Grand Central (the east end of the line) to one on the Upper West Side and the weather was bad. So I got on the shuttle and changed at Times Square (the west end of the line) to the 1 train to head uptown.

To take a step back for a moment, why does a subway line with a total length of less than half a mile exist? The original IRT subway in 1904 was a big lazy Z in plan: running from City Hall up Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue to Grand Central, then curving west on 42nd Street to Times Square, and then running north up Broadway. When the system was expanded a few years later in the Dual Contracts phase, the BMT got two main lines in Manhattan (Broad and Nassau Streets downtown; Broadway in midtown) and the IRT split the Z into an east-side line (the south half of the Z plus a northern extension up Lexington Avenue) and a west-side line (the northern half of the Z plus a southern extension down Seventh Avenue and Varick Street). That orphaned the east-west center of the Z, which became the shuttle, serving to provide an easy connection between the two halves of the IRT empire. The old stations at Grand Central and Times Square were partially abandoned and partially modified beyond recognition, since the new east and west side lines had their own new stations there and the shuttle had to be shorter than the mid-Z link to fit in between. The photo above shows the result: that’s part of the Times Square shuttle station in the 40s (courtesy of the MTA) and it’s pretty clearly part of the old tunnel east of the original Times Square Station. At both ends, the shuttle stations had the steelwork of the old tunnel rather than the more-widely-spaced columns of stations. The original IRT had four tracks, three of which remained in use for the shuttle, although one track (the one farthest north) was a bit difficult to reach at the Times Square end.

Anyway, after all these years, the shuttle has been renovated and made more like a proper line, even if it’s still half a mile long. The old Track 3 has been removed, so only the northern and southernmost tracks remain, with a wide platform between at each end. The awkwardness at getting off the platform at Times Square has been replaced by a proper passageway. And the platforms have been straightened and lengthened so that the shuttle trains are now six cars long instead of four. Here’s the Grand Central station:

Here’s a view of Times Square similar to the one above, showing that the widened platform still has the closely-spaced columns:

Here’s the new connection from the Times Square platform to the rest of the Times Square station. The round columns are cast iron, and they mark part of the original Times Square station in 1904:

Finally, the shuttle now has special cars with almost no seats:

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