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NY Subway (Kevin Dooley)

5 secrets about New York City's Subway


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7th June 2013

Five things you didn't know about one of the world's most iconic transport systems

1. Hidden beauty

City Hall station is widely regarded as the most beautiful station on the New York City Subway system. Designed in Beaux Arts style, it has arched ceilings covered in interlocking Guastavino tiles and decorative features like antique brass chandeliers, wrought-iron skylights and glass-tiles. Sadly, it hasn’t been used since 1945.

The Transit Museum offers tours of the station, but they are for members only. The rest of us have to make do with catching the 6 train and getting a glimpse of the station as the train loops back northbound toward the Bronx, just after the Brooklyn Bridge stop.

2. It’s all a façade

Viewed from the street, the three-story dark-red brownstone at 58 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights looks like your average family home. It’s not. It houses electrical equipment needed to run the subway and serves as a ventilator, releasing exhaust fumes from the tunnel system. It also leads to the world's oldest train tunnel, the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, built in 1844.

3. Underground art

The New York City Subway houses art by some of America’s best known artists. Milton Glaser, the graphic designer behind the I Heart NY logo, created geometric porcelain panels at the Astor Place 6 train station. Roy Lichtenstein's Times Square Mural captures NYC's fast-paced energy in his own unique style. 

Other permanent pieces include Tom Otterness' Life Underground, featuring cartoon-like bronze sculptures throughout the 14th Street subway station, Vito Acconci's Wavewall, a wavelike installation at the Q train's West 8th Street stop, and Bill Brand's Masstransiscope, a mass-transit version of a zoetrope, creating a series of bright and psychedelic images, colours and shapes as the train moves past. 

4. Track 61

Forget Area 51. For real intrigue you should seek out Track 61, hidden beneath Track 24 in Grand Central Terminal. In the 1930s it was used by dignitaries and celebrities as a private entrance to the Waldorf-Astoria.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, used it to hide his disability from the public. The platform was wide enough to fit FDR's armour-plated Pierce-Arrow limousine, which could be driven directly from the train to the interior of the Waldorf.

Legend has it that Andy Warhol threw an underground party on the platform in 1965.

5. The pizza principle

This "economic law", first posited by Eric M Bram in 1980, states that the price of a single slice of of untopped pizza "matched, with uncanny precision, the cost of a New York City Subway token." 

Although tokens are no longer used at the turnstiles, Bram's observation has more or less held true in the era of the MetroCard.

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