If you ever spot a gaggle of confused-looking tourists close to the Jay street-Borough hall station, chances are that they are looking for the New York Transit Museum. The museum’s principle entrance is as unpretentious as many other subway entry – it is simply a set of stairs leading to the subterranean.
Once below, the tourist finds an original subway station from the first half of last century. This station was active for a decade, between 1936 and 1947, when a shuttle ran between the Court Street and Jay Street stations, in Brooklyn.
The most amazing thing about the station is that it is still fully functional. The third rail is powered and all the subway cars on display are lighted and whizzing thanks to MTA power. A switching room (called a ‘switching tower’ for anachronistic reasons) at one end of the station features a great functioning light board. Little bulbs show the presence of trains on the A and C line actually running out to the Nostrand Avenue station.
The trains, which are also functional, range in age from nearly young (well, the sixties) to over a century. Though they have been gussied up for their career as exemplars, they are in their original condition, replete with worn wicker cushions and threadbare straps. Original advertisement adorns many of the cars.
The oldest train in Court Street Station was built in 1903 when New York transit systems were still mostly above ground. The ‘BRT elevated gate trains’ were retired after they ferried passengers out to the world fair in Queens, in 1939-40.
The most impressive train has to be the ‘BMT standard’ that was introduced in 1915 and which stayed in regular service until the late sixties. (Just imagine, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lou Reid could have been riding the same train after all)
The museum also runs special fan tours with some of the exhibit trains. Finding the schedule for these one-of affairs is pretty difficult as the museum’s website is not kept up to date, but rumor has it that the old ‘BMT Triplex’ (1922 – 1960’s) will be running on the V line between Long Island City and lower Manhattan this Sunday between 1 – 5.