THE 34th Street Herald Square subway complex is truly vast and contains subway lines on three separate levels. In fact, I’m so fascinated with it I made a pilgrimage there in October 2020 but I did so to obtain photos if its tiled signs, relics from the early days of the so-called Independent Subway, opened on 6th Avenue in 1940. Its construction spelled the end of the 6th Avenue El, which had been there since the 1880s.
Though the MTA has made it its mission to replace early signage with the standard white on black signs it has employed since the 1980s, there are still several examples like this at Herald Square, which direct people to lines still in existence today but are no longer called the “BMT” or “H&M.”
The “H&M” was perhaps the first designation to be outmoded. It runs under 6th Avenue and Christopher Street across the Hudson River to Hoboken and Jersey City and was called the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad when opened in 1908. The Port Authority of NY and NJ took it over in the 1960s, and promptly renamed it the PATH, for Port Authority Trans Hudson.
PENN RR, of course, refers to Penn Station, where trains going to most of the continental USA could be boarded in 1940 in a vast, ornate masterpiece of a train station that was unceremoniously razed in 1963 to make way for 2 Penn Plaza and Madison Square garden.
Anyone over age 50 may better recognize “BMT,” which was organized around 1920 when its predecessor, Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) went bankrupt in the wake of the 1918 Malbone Street Wreck, in which an inexperienced motorman crashed into a tunnel wall at Empire Boulevard, killing dozens. The BMT stood for Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit and operated several lines running between the two boroughs built by the Dual Contracts (“dual” for BMT and IRT, the older Interborough Rapid Transit). The BMT also ran plenty of surface trolley lines through a subsidiary, all of which went kaput by 1956.
All competing subway lines were unified under city management in 1940, but their old brand names lived on and are gradually expiring as the people who used them also expire.
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