by Kevin Walsh

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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Gary Fonville November 9, 2021 - 3:58 am

I can’t think of any other place in NYC where so many underground train lines converge in such a small area. Here you have:
1. The former H&M railroad, now PATH.
2. The former IND subway, now the B,D F and M lines.
3. The former BMT, now the N, R and Q lines.
4. The former Pennsylvania RR tunnel now used by Amtrak, the Long Island Railroad and NJ Transit.

Ty November 9, 2021 - 6:48 am

My granddad worked and retired for the H&M at 30 Church. They called it ‘The Tubes’ then. He’d scour radio row for Vacuum tubes for TV repair side business All things that don’t exist anymore.

David+Perl November 9, 2021 - 10:13 pm

There used to passageways from that station going west to the current Penn Station and north to the 42nd Street – 6th Avenue subway station. Both were closed off many years ago.

Andy November 9, 2021 - 10:58 am

May I add a couple of additional historical items:

1. The Port Authority of NY and NJ (before 1972 was the Port of NY Authority) formally took over the H&M and created PATH on September 1, 1962. Part of the deal was that the two states allowed the Port Authority to build the original World Trade Center complex where the old H&M Hudson Terminal stood in Lower Manhattan. The H&M had been in bankruptcy since 1954 and moving it to Port Authority stewardship would ensure its long term survival. Ironically, the H&M’s patronage declined beginning in 1927, when the Port Authority’s first trans-Hudson vehicular crossing, the Holland Tunnel, was opened. Along with the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge, much traffic was siphoned away from the H&M, leading to the bankruptcy.

2. The IND 34th St.-6th Ave. station, opened December 15, 1940, was the most complicated piece of subway construction in New York history. The IND tunnels had to go around the H&M south of 34th Street, go under the BMT tunnel, and go above the LIRR-PRR tunnels below 32nd and 33rd Streets. The H&M 33rd St. terminal had to moved a block south to accommodate the new IND tunnel.

The IND four track line, as opened in 1940, was truncated between 34th and West 4th Street stations, because of the H&M tunnel already there. Only the local tracks were originally built south of 34th St. Express tracks stub ended there, which is why F trains did not go south of 34th Street except in rush hours. In 1967, a pair of deep level IND tunnels, below the PATH tracks, were opened between 34th West 4th Streets, allowing full express service on 6th Ave. Those tunnels were part of the Chrystie Street connection project that united the IND and BMT divisions into one operating unit, today’s B division or lettered lines. The entire project was put into service over Thanksgiving Day weekend, November 26, 1967. I rode one of the first rerouted D trains the same day, which saw the introduction of the stainless steel R32 cars on the D train. Hard to believe it’s been 54 years.

therealguyfaux November 9, 2021 - 5:46 pm

There IS an H&M clothing store in Herald at 1293 Broadway, cr. of W. 33rd, so maybe that sign is actually accurate NOW, in late 2021, though it could hardly have been the original tilemasons’ intention to advertise it… 😉

Lawrene Stelter November 9, 2021 - 9:05 pm

The 6th Avenue Elevated opened in 1878 and it ceased operations in December 1938. The 6th Avenue Subway opened in December 1940.

The BRT went into receivership in 1919 and emerged as the BMT in 1925.

The Port Authority took over the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad in 1962 as part of the deal to build the World Trade Center.

A private company until June 1940, the BMT surface operations were handled by its subsidiaries: Brooklyn & Queens Transit (trolley cars and trolley buses) and the Brooklyn Bus Corp.(motor buses; operations began in
The last two Brooklyn trolley lines were converted to motor buses in October 1956 and the last trolley buses ran in July 1960 [Both under the New York City Transit Authority.]

Lawrence Stelter, 11/9/21


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