Happy 88th anniversary to the NYC Transit A Train

Sept. 10, 2020
At the time of its opening in 1932, the A Train was considered state of the art with rattan seats, metal straps and overhead fans.

On Sept. 10, 1932, service started on the A train, which originally ran between 207th Street in upper Manhattan and Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan.

This was the first city-owned and built independent (IND) subway line. At the time, it was considered state of the art with rattan seats, metal straps and overhead fans providing speedy service. The subway cars were so well built, many ran more than 40 years into the early 1970s. The basic design of these cars served as the foundation for future generations right up to the present day. IND stations on the A line were built to accommodate up to 11 car lengths. During the 1930s, New York City began building and financing construction of the new IND lines (today's A,C,E,F and G lines). This new municipal system, completely subsidized by taxpayers dollars, would provide direct competition to both the privately-owned IRT (Interboro Rapid Transit - today's 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7 lines) and BMT (Brooklyn Manhattan Transit - today's B,D,J,L,M,N,R,Q and Z lines).   

The original base fare of five cents was established in 1913. Municipal government forced both the BMT and IRT into economic ruin by denying them fare increases in future decades that would have provided access to additional and badly needed revenues. Big Brother, just like the Godfather, eventually made them an offer they couldn't refuse. The owners folded and sold out to City Hall in 1940.

The A train became famous in the 1940s when jazz musician Duke Ellington performed "Take the A Train." The A line was extended in 1936, which was known as the "Fulton Street branch," running thru Brooklyn and terminating at Lefferts Blvd in Queens. When the Long Island Rail Road abandoned the Rockaway Beach Branch in the 1950s, the A line was extended to provide new service to the Rockaways which began on June 28, 1956.

In 1953, the old NYC Board of Transportation passed on control of the municipal subway system, including all its assets, to the newly created New York City Transit Authority. Under late Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in the 1960s, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was created. The governor appointed four board members. Likewise, the mayor four more and the rest by suburban county executives. Not one elected official controlled a majority of the votes. As a result, elected officials have historically taken credit when the MTA or any operating subsidiary, such as New York City Transit, would do a good job.

When operational problems occurred or fare increases were needed — everyone could put up their hands. Don’t blame me, I’m only a minority within the board. Decade after decade, NYC mayors, comptrollers, public advocates, city council presidents, borough presidents and city council members would all play the same sad song — if only we had majority control of the board, things would be different. All have long forgotten that buried within the 1953 master agreement between the city of New York and NYC Transit is an escape clause. The city has the legal right at any time to take back control of its assets, which includes the subway and most of the bus system. Actions speak louder than words. If municipal elected officials feel they could do a better job running the nation's largest subway and bus system, why not step up to the plate now and regain control of your destiny.

Many are too young to remember that up until the 1970s, NYC Transit extended E line service, which ran express in Brooklyn providing supplemental service to the A line during rush hours to the Rockaways in Queens. Riders up until the early 1970s, had to pay an extra fare when traveling beyond Broad Channel to any other station in the Rockaways. For off peak and late night service, there was the old HH local shuttle from either Rockaway Park or Far Rockaway to Euclid Avenue Station which was the first stop in Brooklyn.


Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City Transit bus and subway, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, MTA Bus and NYC Department of Transportation.

About the Author

Larry Penner

Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously served as a former director for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office of Operations and Program Management. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for New Jersey Transit, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, NYC Transit bus, subway and Staten Island Railway, Long Island and Metro North railroads, MTA Bus, NYCDOT Staten Island Ferry along with 30 other transit agencies in New York and New Jersey.