17 Things You Didn’t Know About the NYC Subway

Like the Brooklyn brownstone that’s hiding an MTA secret

As imperfect as the subway is, you have to admit: It’s as much a part of NYC life as wearing black or being skeptical of anyone giving out free stuff. (Besides, it gives you somewhere to catch up on "2 Dope Queens.") Here, 17 facts about the iconic transit system, ranging from weird to wonderful (but mostly weird). 

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1. Trains with numbers—1,2,3, etc.—are both narrower and shorter than their lettered—A, C, E, etc.—counterparts.

2. The longest train route is the A, running more than 31 miles from Washington Heights to Far Rockaway.

3. NYC’s annual ridership is 1.76 billion. But if you think your commute is packed, try the train in Tokyo—where that number is nearly doubled.


4. Don’t freak out, but most of the subway system relies on century-old technology: Track switches and signals have to be operated manually.

5. Speaking of which: If you’re ever late to work because of a subway delay, the MTA will write you a note.

6. For reasons we’ll never understand, there’s been more than one wedding on the subway (most recently, a couple held their reception on the A train). Hey, whatever your dream day looks like…

7. A 16-year-old once impersonated a train operator—that is to say, he drove passengers around and stopped at stations normally—for three hours before he was caught.

8. There’s a fake townhouse in Brooklyn Heights that’s actually used to house active subway machinery.

9. Among the items that have turned up at the MTA lost and found are a diamond engagement ring, multiple TVs and a pet rabbit. The most common items? Phones, wallets and MetroCards, of course.

10. Just a week ago, someone set the Guinness World Record (admittedly, he held the previous record) for traveling to all 469 of NYC’s subway stations in the shortest time possible.


11. The average subway car travels 131,325 miles between repairs. (We’re not sure if that’s reassuring or terrifying.)

12. And if all the subway tracks were laid end to end, they’d reach from NYC to Chicago.

13. From 1941 to 1976, there was a “Miss Subways” beauty pageant, with contestants’ photos and bios displayed in train cars. Cheesy, sure, but groundbreaking too: At the time, it was more diverse than any other beauty contest in American history.

14. There are nine permanently closed stations, including the gorgeous City Hall stop, once the end of the 6 train. Technically you can sneak a glimpse by staying on the train as it loops around to go back uptown, but to really appreciate those vaulted ceilings, skylights and chandeliers (!), your best bet is to take a tour.

15. There also used to be a secret station under the Waldorf Astoria, used only by fancy VIPs.

16. What happens to retired subway cars? Some ended up at the bottom of the ocean—thousands of them, in fact. They were placed all along the Atlantic coast, from New Jersey to Georgia, to create artificial reefs as a habitat for sea life. (And believe it or not, the fish love them.)

17. It’s not exactly a secret, but if you haven’t seen the animated artwork Masstransiscope—visible from Manhattan-bound Q or B trains as they depart from Dekalb station—do yourself a favor and hop on the train. It’s well worth the swipe.

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From 2016-2019 Carolyn Kuang-chen Stanley held the role of Editor covering food, travel and all things nyc.