TRAIN BLOG (WSAU) New York City has some must-see tourist spots. It also has some out of the way places that are unique, charming, and worth the price of admission. So set aside your desire to visit the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or Central Park. Here’s one of those only-in-New York places.
First, you have to find Boerum Place. It’s near what used to be downtown Brooklyn. It’s not really a street, it’s more of an alleyway. You need to be in the last car of the F-train as it pulls into Borough Hall station. At the back of the platform is a small stairway, leading up the station’s mezzanine. Past the exit turnstiles you walk through the Borough Hall office building. Go out the front doors, left on Livingston Street, and two blocks down you’ll see Boerum Place. A few steps into the alleyway in a stairwell leading down from the street. It’s an abandoned subway station. Go down. It’s ok.
At the bottom of those stairs you’ll be in the New York Transit Museum. It’s in the no-longer-used Court Street Subway Station. For a kid who likes trains, this is the best museum… ever.
The museum itself looks like a subway station from years ago. Old yellow-tinged light bulbs give the place a gloomy feel. None of the bright fluorescents of today. The old brown-wood token booth used to be standard in every subway station. They’re replaced with steel-framed boxes now. Every New Yorker knows that the railings on subway station stairwells used to be painted reddish-orange, and they are here. The steel-grating at the station entrance is green, just like it’s supposed to me.
They have every style of subway token the New York Transit Authority ever used, including the ones where the ‘Y’ was carved out in the middle to prevent counterfeiting. They have every style subway map ever printed. I remember pestering the token clerks for many of them over the years.
Most of the museums floor space is taken up with a giant three-dimensional track map of the entire subway system. For a kid who looked out the front window as the subways wound through their tunnels, I knew where the switches were, where the elevated tracks began, and which stations were the express stops. They were all there. It was the ultimate visual display of the vastness of the New York subway.
And then, go downstairs. The sign said “to all trains.”
One level below is the old platform of the Court Street Station. And parked along that platform are the old retired subway cars of New York City. There’s an R6 there, the old cars that used to ply the F-train’s route. There’s a Bluebird, one of the subway cars that was specially-ordered for 1969 Worlds Fair. Some of the old trains I don’t remember – like the open platform cars that once ran on the old els that have long since been torn down. At the front of the line was a new R-46, the city’s newest subway car, with the shiny plate-steel and the blue stripe down the side, with the doors that make the electronic ‘ding dong’ sound when they’re about to close.
My first trip there, age 10, included a meeting with one of the museum’s volunteers. He was a retired subway worker who showed kids around the place. He could tell just by looking who the real train fans are. “Hey you,” he said, pointing a finger at me. “Do you want to learn how to drive the train?” Oh my, did I ever. He used his pass key and unlocked the motorman’s cab. We went inside.
“Here’s what we do when we’re ready to leave the station,” he said.
“Pull down the side window, and check the door lights.” I wasn’t strong enough to unlatch the window. He did it for me. I stuck my head out and looked down the string of train cars. “See the red lights above the doors?” I looked.
“Push this button.” I did.
‘Ding-dong!” The doors closed, and the red lights went out. “No lights means the doors are closed.”
“See this switch? Push it down.” I did. The distinct electronic cackling sound of the train’s PA system followed. “Announce the station, kid. Speak right into there.”
“This is Court Street Station…. Borough Hall next,” I said. “All aboard for Borough Hall.”
“Now take the red handle, move it like this.” The airbrakes released and the throttle speedometer lit up. “Now push down on the throttle and turn it to here, and away we go.”
Trains in the transit museum don’t actually go anywhere. But they still work. And in a young boys mind that day, we went cruising down the tracks towards Coney Island.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau