Train sleuth to tell ghost-train stories at Transit Museum

Come so far: Transit historian Joe Rasking stands in front of his local subway station and shows off an early rapid transit expansion plan. The lines running today’s F and G trains had not even been imagined yet.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

This transit buff is digging deep to unearth the secrets of New York’s subway system.

To celebrate the system’s 110th birthday, historian and author Joe Raskin will sit down with WNYC’s transportation reporter at the New York Transit Museum on May 13 to talk about the various plans for New York City subway lines that never materialized. The scribe who penned “The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System” gave this paper the rundown on a few paths that never were. First stop on our verbal tour was Downtown, which was once dominated by an elevated train hub feeding into Manhattan.

“It looked like a huge English train station,” said Raskin, who works days at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “But after the elevateds were torn down, the entire landscape of Downtown Brooklyn changed.”

In the early 1900s as now, people did not want to live near the noise, dirt, and darkness the above-ground tracks created. The Independent Subway System Crosstown Line (known more simply today as the G train) was originally designed as an elevated line running along Kent Avenue with a stop at the Domino Sugar factory for deliveries, but local opposition thwarted the plan, said Raskin, who now lives off the line in Cobble Hill.

“Greenpoint and Williamsburg went crazy over having an overhead train,” he said.

Another route that never came to be was a Utica Avenue Line that would have connected subway-starved neighborhoods such as Marine Park and Mill Basin to Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and beyond, with transfers available to today’s 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, M, and Z trains. Transit planners first floated the idea in 1929, but the Utica subway never got funded and now that train has left the station, Raskin said.

The metro maestro said his passion for transit history began in the 1980s when he was working in the Queens Borough President’s office and he stumbled on a map of the proposed 1929 expansion. From there, he tunneled into the past to explore the political and social forces that shaped the city’s transit network, eventually coupling his knowledge with a burning desire to author a book.

“It was an ambition of mine for many years,” he said.

“The Routes Not Taken: An Evening with Joe Raskin” at the New York Transit Museum [Boerum Place at Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 694–1600, web.mta.info/mta/museum/programs.htm]. May 13 at 6:30 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Alternate routes: This proposal from 1929 — which includes several never-built lines — sparked Joe Raskin’s interest in rapid transit lines that never came to be.
Public domain

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