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Amidst all that emotional oscillation, it’s easy to lose sight of just how amazing our subway system actually is.
To celebrate our beloved (mostly) mass-transit system, we’ve scoured the Net for the weirdest, wackiest, and most wonderful NYC subway facts. Way back in 1869, an inventor and wealthy businessman named Alfred Ely Beach came up with a radical idea: an underground system of circular, brick-lined tubes with high-powered fans at the ends.
During his tenure as New York City Mayor, George McClellan oversaw the openings of the New York Public Library, Chelsea Piers, and Grand Central Terminal.
At 180 feet below street level, the system’s deepest station is the 191st Street stop along the 1 line in Washington Heights.
In one of the most trilling moments in subway history, Michael Jackson, Martin Scorsese, and a young Wesley Snipes shot the acclaimed music video for “Bad” in the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in 1987. In a futile attempt to combat graffiti, the MTA introduced a pilot program of one dozen all-white 7 trains in September 1981. Masstransiscope has been making commutes a bit more bearable since 1980, when artist Bill Brand installed the art piece toward the end of a Brooklyn tunnel that leads to the Manhattan Bridge. Speaking of art, one of the most famous artists to put a piece in the New York City subway system is Roy Lichtenstein who, alongside Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol, was a leading figure of the pop art movement during the 1960s. And still speaking of art… Work began on the South 4th Street station in Williamsburg in 1929, but the double blows of the Great Depression and World War II put its progress permanently on pause. Inside every motorman’s cab in the subway trains, there is a metal arm a few inches long called the controller. The term “subway series” refers to a series of Major League Baseball games in which the participating teams (and their fans) can travel to and from the venues entirely by subway. In a total baller move, a teenager named Keron Thomas posed as a New York City subway motorman named “Regoberto Sabio” on May 8, 1993 and proceeded to operate an A train for several hours.
The 23 lines make their way through NYC’s 468 stations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Air pressure from the fans would push a streetcar back and forth along the line, much like the pneumatic tubes that were once used to transport mail in New York City. It is one of the few stations that still has full-time elevator operators, as elevators serve as the primary access to the platform. In 2009, City Council member Letitia James petitioned the MTA to rename the station after the King of Pop, but the MTA told her to beat it.
The “Great White Fleet” was inspired by a single white car that remained free of spray paint for a whole two months while parked in Queens (it was also protected by a chain-link fence and barbed wire, but obviously it was the paint job that did the trick).
Brand’s installation turns the NYC mass-transit system into a colourful zoetrope, the earliest motion picture device, via a long slitted lightbox placed alongside the tracks with a series of paintings inside. Lichtenstein created the 53-foot-long, enamel-on-metal Times Square Mural in 1994 after being commissioned by the MTA’s Arts for Transit program. It remained abandoned and unused until 2010, when The Underbelly Project illegally occupied the space (allegedly) and used it to showcase the works – mostly painted directly on the walls, of course – of 103 street artists from around the world. To set the train in motion, the operator must press down on the controller with several pounds of pressure, swivel it, and maintain contact.
Historically, the term derives from the World Series games played between New York teams (in fact, the Yankees have appeared in all subway series games). Before the heist, Thomas spent months reading books and operating manuals about the subway system, and even began getting into character by wearing an official blue motorman shirt while loitering on station platforms.
It is both one of the oldest and one of the largest subway systems on the planet, and ranks 7th in the world (with Tokyo at #1) for annual ridership.
Beach got permission from the infamous Boss Tweed to make the system a reality, but only as a means for moving mail, not people. Originally only scheduled to ceremonially start up the engine of the debut subway train, Mayor McClellan liked the job so much that he asked to take the reins all the way up to Harlem.
The highest train station is Smith and 9th Street (F and G) in Brooklyn, at 88 feet above street level.

For some reason, Mayor Ed Koch thought the best way to prevent graffiti would be to turn the trains into giant, all-white roving canvases. The mural incorporates many of the artist’s signature elements, including comic book characters and science fiction themes, alongside New York City motifs. The show, which took 18 months to put together, is now commemorated in a book called We Own the Night.
If the conductor lets go, for whatever reason, the emergency brakes are immediately applied. A subway series is easily accomplished in New York because both Yankee Stadium and various other stadiums of the Yankee’s opponents (including Ebbets Field, Shea Stadium, and Citi Field) have been easily reachable via NYC subway.
Like a young Frank Abagnale (of Catch Me If You Can fame), Thomas lied his way behind the controls of an A train and successfully made every stop to the end of the line in Queens before being discovered.
Like a total boss, Beach and his crew built New York’s first gas-free, soot-free, and steam-free human transportation system in secret. Keep an eye out for it next time you take a Manhattan-bound Q or B train out of the DeKalb Avenue station.
That’s even more rides than Miley Cyrus has taken on suspiciously phallic, larger-than-life food.
After two years, the surprise was unveiled to the public, but shortly afterwards Tweed set the construction of an elevated subway line in motion and Beach’s experiment was demolished to make way for the subway we know today.

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