New York City Subway

Humble Beginnings                                                                A City Underground


Today, as one of the world's most complex transit systems, few can imagine the very humble beginnings of New York City's underground subway.


In 1869, Alfred E. Bay fathered the underground subway system with his Beach Pneumatic Transit Company. Bay was among the first to prove that travel was indeed possible in a pnuematic system. This breakthorugh was merely an experiment that modeled a proposed subway system. It ran only a block long and headed straight for a dead end at the end of the track. Unfourtunately, for Bay, however, his proposal was eventually dismissed due to funding and permit delays. The station was subsequently closed down. 

Though the Bay station was shutdown, New York City officials still saw the need for a cheap but reliable transit system for its residents that would reduce street congestion and further development in outlying areas. Unlike the many elevated lines that already existed, few private companies wanted to take on the costly project of constructing an underground subway system. It was at this time that the city decided to construct the expensive underground system itself while leaving the equipping and operation of the system to private companies. These contracts between the city and private enterprises guaranteed a fixed rate fare of 5 cents for its passengers and shared profits to the benefit of all investors. 

The first subway contract was issued with the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) and ran a line from City hall to the Bronx. The BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) contract followed taking over the brooklyn elevated lines.

Further expanision of rapid transit continued as the city began to launch its own independent systems (IND) that rivaled with privately owned companies.

Finally, in June of 1940, the city took over the transit system and ended the era of elevated lines by closing down several  of these lines in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The unification of the BMT, IRT and IND systems eventually came to be known as the MTA New York City Transit.


Remnants of the Past

Though the titles of the various subway lines have changed, there is still evidence of the initial division in the subway system. The former IRT lines are today's number trains while the BMT/IND lines are today's letter trains.