IND Subway Line Turns 80

If you wanted to catch the A Subway train on September 9th, 1932, you would have been out of luck. It started running a day later. That's right, the Eighth Avenue Subway, at times also known as the Independent, IND or Municipal Subway, celebrates 80 years of operation on September 10th.

Photo Courtesy NY Transit Museum Archive

To this day, the simple design, durable construction and high-speed characteristics of the Independent Subway remain models of first-rate subway construction. Also, more than three-quarters of a century after the introduction of the R1 subway car, MTA New York City Transit utilizes the identical dimensions and the same overall door and window placement for all of its newly purchased B division (lettered lines) rolling stock.

Ground was broken for the Municipal Subway in March 1925, when New York City was a far different place. Skyscrapers were in their infancy, the transit fare was a nickel and trolley cars carried hundreds of thousands of riders each day. Overhead, elevated trains, which were slow, rickety leftovers from the 19th century, still rattled above several Manhattan avenues. Of course, some things haven't changed. Even back then, the IRT and BMT subway lines were crowded, struggling to serve a city bursting with new immigrants.

With the subway more popular than ever, the city's existing rapid transit lines were already severely overcrowded. Then-Mayor John F. Hylan, however, refused to grant either the IRT or BMT permission to expand, opting instead to push ahead with a proposal to build a brand new municipal subway. He wanted the new system, owned by the city but operated by a private firm, to directly compete with the older companies.

Work on the Eighth Avenue Line of the IND proceeded quickly. Unlike the IRT, which was built largely through manual labor, the IND's builders took advantage of two decades of technological advancements in tunneling and heavy construction. Most of the construction equipment used for the IND was either steam or electrically powered.

Construction of the Eighth Avenue Line largely used the cut and cover method, except in the northern Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood. There, mineworkers were employed to tunnel though solid rock.

The design of most of the stations along the municipal subway included an expansive mezzanine level situated between the street and the train platform. Under most of Central Park West, however, the subway was constructed as a two-level, double deck affair. Between 72nd and 103rd Streets, northbound local and express tracks run on the upper level while trains headed downtown operate on the lower level. Three stations with diverging routes—West Fourth Street, 50th Street and 145th Street—are also built with service operating on two levels.

The first IND line stretched south from 207th Street in the Inwood section of Manhattan to Chambers Street, near the southern end of the borough. Both express 'A' and, starting at 168th Street, local 'AA' train service was available.

There was no grand fanfare or ceremonial first run, as there had been 28 years earlier with the opening of the city's first subway, the Interborough. At 12:01 a.m. on Saturday morning, September 10th, 1932, the stations were simply opened, barricades removed from the turnstiles and the trains, which had already been running a full schedule, merely stopped at each station and started picking up passengers.

The 207th Street Yard and Shop for the IND are located on a plot of land between the Harlem River and 10th Avenue, running from 207th Street to 215th Street. A little known fact is that the 207th Street Shop sits on the site of a former Revolutionary War Cemetery. In order to build the sprawling facility, the bodies were exhumed and re-interred a few miles away at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

With a well-constructed railroad and a dependable fleet of passenger cars, the IND was poised to expand, and that's what happened. The IND was rapidly extended into Brooklyn along Fulton Street, out into Queens under Queens Boulevard and north under the Grand Concourse to 205th Street in the Bronx.

It has been a productive 80 years.

Photo Courtesy NY Transit Museum ArchivePhoto Courtesy NY Transit Museum Archive

Photo Courtesy NY Transit Museum ArchivePhoto Courtesy NY Transit Museum Archive

Photo Courtesy NY Transit Museum ArchivePhoto Courtesy NY Transit Museum Archive

Photo Courtesy NY Transit Museum ArchivePhoto Courtesy NY Transit Museum Archive

Photos: Courtesy New York Transit Museum Archive