I just want to do a quick Sunday feature page this week, as I got plenty of walking in and watched plenty of baseball and football. A few weeks ago I went over to the 42nd Street shuttle that connects Times Square and Grand Central because I wanted to document the not insignificant changes that have been made to what’s basically the shortest subway line in the city.
Of all of New York City’s hundreds of subway stations, the Times Square Shuttle station is the one I’ve always found the most fascinating. The original IRT subway constructed from 1900-1904 was basically S or Z-shaped and ran from City Hall north on Elm (later Lafayette), 4th Avenue, Park Avenue, then west on 42nd and north again on Broadway to a terminus at 145th Street. Of course more stations and lines were built in short order from 1905-1908. Times Square is one of the Original 28 stations and surprisingly, in 1904, was built as a local station, with two platforms on either side and four tracks, two locals and two expresses. Thus, original IRT trains between 1904 and 1918 ran express from the original Grand Central stop all the way to 72nd Street, making two turns in between (see this map for the route).
When a second impetus of building subways and elevated lines began as part of the Dual Contracts funding the IRT and helping to originate the BMT (after the 1918 Malbone Street Wreck) in the early 1910s, that “S/Z” became an “H” as the original IRT was run up to the Bronx via Lexington and then south to Brooklyn along 7th Avenue and Varick Street. This caused big changes at the original Times Square station, which became orphaned as a result of those uptown and downtown expansions. It became a shuttle train running between Times Square and Grand Central, with transfers to nearly a dozen other subway lines. At first these transfers were not free: they only became so after the subways were unified in 1940, with the true interconnectedness with free transfers not achieved until the late 1940s.
What happened was that one of the tracks, Track 2, was removed from service and a platform constructed over it while Track 1, the southernmost, retained a connection with the Lexington Avenue IRT. Track 4, meanwhile, retained a connection with the Broadway/7th Avenue IRT, but it was awkward for passengers to accessits platform. They had to walk around the western end of Tracks 1, 3 and 4 and then over a metal bridge plate to access the Track 4 platform, which was the original local northbound platform. That metal bridge plate was removed by MTA personnel when trainsets had to be moved from the Shuttle onto the Broadway/7th Avenue line.
I’ll tell you what changes were made a bit later on. First…
I reached the Shuttle platform by making a transfer from the #7 and to do so, you pass under this huge mural, executed by famed Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein in 1994; it’s simply called “Times Square Mural.”
Most of the years I have been coming to the Times Square station — and I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid with my parents, so it’s over 50 years — there has been a record store in the station, between the stairs going to the BMT platforms handling the N/R/Q/W trains and the Shuttle area. And there was until just recently, till the Covid-19 Pandemic cooked Record Mart’s goose. I’d have to think that since there’s still a market for recordings pressed on vinyl some incarnation of a record store will return when the Pandemic is done. Whenever that may be.
Here’s a look at the vast “foyer” that leads to the Shuttle platform area. Formerly, the “sidewalk” was paved unevenly, patched from years of piecework here and there. Recent changes have seen a more even, uniform treatment introduced; for example, there had been some skylights visible from the walkway that have since been removed. You can see them on this FNY page.
If you look at early photos of IRT stations, the station columns were painted as you see them here, with color halfway up the column with a thin stripe on top of that. The new paint scheme is gray with just a hint of blue. this seems to be the go-to color in NYC infrastructure lately; you can also see it in High Line Park, opened in stages between 2009 and 2020.
I may as well reveal it. What the MTA did this year is remove Track 3 and straighten (to a large degree) Tracks 1 and 4, removing the gap fillers that allowed safe egress and entrance on curved platforms. The gap fillers weren’t as noticeable was they are at the 14th Street 4/5/6 trains and former South Ferry terminal because they were located under the platform instead of extending it outward. Removing Track 3 created a much wider center platform at Times Square and especially at Grand Central.
What I’m showing here is the west end of the Times Square shuttle platform, and construction people were still working on the station behind the pizza-decorated barrier. Behind here were some of the station’s more noted oddities, such as the remains of a doorway that allowed bundles of newspapers to be picked up and dropped off from New York Times offices located directly above, as well as that metal plate crossover I was talking about. I don’t know what will become of that or if the MTA still wants to move trainsets out of the shuttle station from here (subway historian Andy Sparberg, help me out here in Comments).
Here’s a look at that new, widened center platform. The diagonal braced columns were originally along a trackway and I’m glad the MTA retained this design element.
Another design element I’m glad the MTA stuck with was this fancy fence with the knobbed finials on the westbound platform, formerly the southbound Times Square platform.
Though the MTA has not retained any of the original “Times Square” large mosaic/terra cotta station ID plaques (it used to, on the Track 4 platform) there is a smidgen of the old design here, as well as a pair of “42” terra cotta friezes.
You didn’t think the MTA would get rid of the old Knickerbocker “door to nowhere” that formerly got you into the Knickerbocker Hotel (still standing on 7th and West 42nd)? Of course you didn’t.
The MTA has an information board delineating the TSS station’s complicated history and depicts one of those mosaic/terra cotta tablets I mentioned.
A look at what is now a considerably less-complicated Times Square Shuttle station, with only Tracks 1 and 4 remaining. Future generations of passengers will scratch their heads and wonder where the heck tracks 2 and 3 are and only historians will be able to explain their absence. I think the MTA should have gone ahead and renamed Track 4 Track 2. It’s not like Tracks 2 and 3 are ever coming back. The MTA tends to be hidebound about nomenclature though. Take IRT line numbering. When skip stop service was briefly tried on the #1 Broadway local, the skip stop train was tabbed #9. They could have called it the #8, as that was the next number after the #7 Flushing Line, but… #8 had already been claimed, by the orphaned 3rd Avenue El in the Bronx, where service ended… in 1973.
Something new has been added: when Track #3 was eliminated and turned into a platform, the MTA saw an opportunity to extend a corridor west to 6th Avenue and create a transfer to the IND lines that run there, the B/D/F/M trains. Thus…
A “gallery” in more ways than one was built along the former trackway to allow a free transfer to the IND from not only the Shuttle, but also the Broadway/7th Avenue IRT 1/2/3 and the BMT Broadway N/Q/R/W. That’s a lot of free transfers.
Prior to just recently, the only Nick Cave I knew about was the Australian rocker known since the 1980s with the Birthday Party, Bad Seeds, and solo work. However, there’s another Nick Cave, an artist from Missouri best known for his “soundsuits,” what the New York Times calls “wearable fabric sculptures made of materials such as twigs, wire, raffia and even human hair that often generate sound when the wearer moves.” (I seem to recall the two Nick Caves teaming up for a project a couple of years ago). Several mosaics of figures wearing Soundsuits, as well as a video boards showing them in action, can be seen in the new transfer corridor.
Returning to the Times Square shuttle station…
It was time to take the short ride in an R62 car to Grand Central. Some years ago, the MTA removed most of the seats ostensibly to relieve crowding (not a problem during the Pandemic). However, this does mean disabled or compromised passengers are out of luck if they need to sit down; there are only 4 seats per car now.
The Grand Central shuttle platform, minus Track 3 and with a widened platform, has likely the widest central island platform in the subways. Unfortunately it still has its 1980s wall mosaics, which look like crude computer art from the same period.
A new escalator/staircase has been created to get passengers up to the new skyscraper One Vanderbilt and into Grand Central Terminal. The signage here matches the Garamond style from GCT. Note the Long Island RR reference: that divison will also be running trains into GCT now scheduled for the end of 2022. We shall see…
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