New York Subway Lines – The History Behind Their Names

Petr Novák

The New York City subway is a story unto itself. With over 115 years of history, close to 500 stations, well over 1,000 miles of track, and more than 6 million riders each day, the history of the New York City subway is rich. It even provides the answer to why some subway lines are marked with a letter and others with a number.

New York Subway Lines – The History Behind Their Names | © Unsplash.com

  1. Table of Contents
    1. The History of Subway Lines in New York City
    2. New York City Subway Lines by Date of Operation

    The History of Subway Lines in New York City

    The rationale behind marking the New York City subway system in two different ways is historical, tracing back to the early 20th century. During this time, the New York City subway was operated by two entities: the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT).

    The Interborough Rapid Transit Company initially distinguished its subway lines by name. For instance, the Broadway Line stretched from Atlantic Avenue to 242nd Street, while the neighboring Ninth Avenue Line ran from South Ferry to 155th Street. After its expansion in 1917, it shifted to number designations.

    The competing Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation, established in 1923, distinguished its lines with letters from the outset.

    In 1940, both corporations were sold to the City of New York. They were combined with the city’s existing Independent Subway System (IND), also known as the ISS, which operated several lettered subway lines.

    Even today, there are visible differences between the lines. Cars on the numbered lines are typically narrower, shorter, and lighter, while trains on the lettered lines are generally larger, heavier, and shorter.

  2. New York City Subway Lines by Date of Operation

    For information on how to navigate the subway and ticket prices, visit Subway in New York City.

    Division Service Line Boroughs Date of Launch
    B (BMT) L Canarsie Line Manhattan, Brooklyn October 21, 1865
    B (BMT) B, Q Brighton Line Brooklyn July 2, 1878
    B (BMT) S Franklin Avenue Line Brooklyn July 2, 1878
    B (BMT) J, M, Z Jamaica Line Brooklyn, Queens February 2, 1885
    B (BMT) M Myrtle Avenue Line Brooklyn, Queens December 19, 1889
    A (IRT) S 42nd Street Shuttle Manhattan October 27, 1904
    A (IRT) 1, 2, 3 Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn October 27, 1904
    A (IRT) 4, 5, 6, <6> Lexington Avenue Line Manhattan October 27, 1904
    A (IRT) 2, 3 Lenox Avenue Line Manhattan November 23, 1904
    A (IRT) 2, 5 White Plains Road Line Bronx July 10, 1905
    A (IRT) 2, 3, 4, 5 Eastern Parkway Line Brooklyn January 9, 1908
    B (BMT) J, M, Z Nassau Street Line Manhattan September 16, 1908
    A (IRT) 7, <7> Flushing Line Manhattan, Queens June 22, 1915
    B (BMT) D, N, Q, R, W Fourth Avenue Line Brooklyn June 22, 1915
    B (BMT) N, Q, W Sea Beach Line Brooklyn June 22, 1915
    B (BMT) D West End Line Brooklyn June 24, 1916
    B (BMT) N, W Astoria Line Queens April 21, 1917
    A (IRT) 4, 5 Jerome Avenue Line Bronx June 12, 1917
    B (BMT) N, Q, R, W Broadway Line Manhattan September 4, 1917
    A (IRT) 6, <6> Pelham Line Bronx August 1, 1918
    B (IND) F, , G Culver Line Brooklyn March 16, 1919
    A (IRT) 2, 5 Nostrand Avenue Line Brooklyn August 23, 1920
    A (IRT) 2, 3, 4, 5 New Lots Line Brooklyn November 23, 1920
    B (IND) A, B, C, D, E Eighth Avenue Line Manhattan, Brooklyn September 10, 1932
    B (IND) B, D Concourse Line Bronx, Manhattan July 1, 1933
    B (IND) G Crosstown Line Brooklyn, Queens August 19, 1933
    B (IND) E, F, , M, R Queens Boulevard Line Manhattan, Queens August 19, 1933
    B (IND) B, D, F, , M Sixth Avenue Line Manhattan, Brooklyn January 1936
    B (IND) A, C Fulton Street Line Brooklyn, Queens April 9, 1936
    A (IRT) 5 Dyre Avenue Line Bronx May 15, 1941
    B (IND) A, S Rockaway Line Queens June 28, 1956
    B (BMT) J, Z Archer Avenue Line Queens December 11, 1988
    B (IND) E Archer Avenue Line Queens December 11, 1988
    B (BMT) N, Q, R 63rd Street Line Manhattan October 29, 1989
    B (IND) F, 63rd Street Line Manhattan, Queens October 29, 1989
    B (IND) N, Q, R Second Avenue Line Manhattan January 1, 2017

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