The New York City subway system is one of the most fascinating curiosities in a city full of mysteries. Miles of underground track shrouded in darkness, littered with abandoned stations and secret passageways — it’s a common object of desire for the urban explorers among us.
And, occasionally, New York City acknowledges the delightful mystery surrounding its 24-hour transportation system. The annual “Holiday Nostalgia” train line is a perfect example of this:
The train line, consisting of eight vintage New York subway cars from several different eras, runs for a few weekends each year — from the Sunday after Thanksgiving to the end of the year, only on Sundays. It costs the same $US2.75 as any subway ride.
So what’d we do? We got on the train and took a ride, of course! This is what it’s like.
I got on at the Second Avenue stop in Manhattan -- in 2016, the train ran between the Second Avenue stop in Manhattan and the Queens Plaza stop in Queens.
In 2017, the holiday train is running on the F line between 2nd Av and Lexington Avenue / 63rd Street, and via the Q line between Lexington Avenue / 63rd Street and 96th Street on the Upper East Side.
As you can see from last's year schedule, the train runs throughout the day starting at 10 a.m. and concluding at about 5 p.m.
The schedule is slightly different for 2017 due to the two different lines the line is running on. According to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the train 'departs from the 2nd Avenue subway station on the F line at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. and from the 96th Street subway station on the Q line at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m..
Even though we arrived at 12:30, there were already a bunch of people waiting -- some were clearly tourists; others were clearly New Yorkers.
A ton of people on the train were dressed in period-appropriate clothing. Of note, these are not paid actors.
The gentleman here in the white hat told me that he and his crew were going to a party afterward at Webster Hall, an event space/concert hall in Manhattan's East Village.
But you're here for the train, right? So was I! It arrived about 10 minutes ahead of its 1:03 p.m. departure time -- plenty of time for photos!
There's no running to the train given that no one's using the vintage subway line like an actual subway line. Subways in NYC don't usually stand in a station for longer than a minute or two, but this one stops to pose for photos for at least a few minutes.
Just like any NYC subway, the 'Shopper's Special' (as it was called in 2016) rolls into the station at high speed:
Since the vintage subway line runs during the holidays, it's festooned with Christmas wreaths on the back and front:
While the train was stopped, people dressed in anachronistic clothing posed for photos next to the antique train cars:
Many of the advertisements on the first train car were from the 1940s, such as this advertisement for war bonds:
The cars are near-perfectly restored, from the metal 'straps' to hold onto, to the yellow-orange seats.
The lightbulbs have all been replaced, and the ceiling fans are all running (pushing air out of the vents along the top of the car).
This car was built in 1932 by the American Car and Foundry company, so it's assuredly gotten some love in the past 80 years.
In addition to restoring the lighting and ventilation systems, the MTA also restored the station ID placard. Remember how there weren't always screens everywhere?
A lot of the fun is in the details. I couldn't stop gawking at every old advert, like this adorable Wrigley's ad:
There's something inherently more classy about calling it the 'City of New York' instead of just New York City, isn't there?
Nearly 100 years later, and the New York subway is still running ads for New Yorkers (and tourists!) to visit Coney Island.
Some of the ads are for events long passed, like this 'I Am An American -- Citizenship Day' -- an apparently free event in Central Park.
And yes, Citizenship Day is a real American holiday that you've probably never heard of (I certainly hadn't).
It takes place on September 17 every year and serves to commemorate the signing of the US Constitution (on September 17, 1787). The holiday was originally called 'I Am An American Day,' which was celebrated during the 1940s; it became 'Citizenship Day' in the early 1950s. Probably not a bad idea considering America's history as a nation of immigrants.
To the next car! The line keeps the doors between cars open, so you can freely walk through its eight cars:
This is not a bathroom -- this is for subway operators, despite looking like some sort of nightmare prison:
The sliding doors were far less safe on these early trains. If you got caught in between, it felt as if two metal doors were closing on you!
Despite the subway car being from the 1930s, advertisements in this car started erring toward the 1960s:
This older car looked a bit worse for wear -- the metal 'straps' were extra worn, and the fans were worryingly close to riders' heads:
And our friends dressed in vintage clothing made another appearance, classic photography gear in-hand:
The next car was far more modern, but that's not because it was built much more recently than the other cars:
The 'straps' were much newer, as was the lighting and the seats. This looked the closest to the modern New York subway:
These cars ran through the 1970s -- some of the riders were discussing when they used to ride on these trains in New York:
For the final car, another throwback to the 1930s (though the decoration on the interior is from the 1940s):
My final look into the train was perfectly representative of the bizarre mash-up of antique train cars with modern life: a woman, dressed in antique clothes, listening to music on her smartphone.
We arrived at the Queens Plaza stop not long after boarding at Second Avenue in Manhattan. Here's the Shopper's Special antique train line as it rides away, with one of the many passengers posing for a final pic:
The Holiday Nostalgia train line runs every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., starting on November 26 and ending on December 24.
Rides cost the same $US2.75 that all subway rides cost, and you can take the train as many times as you'd like. But hurry up and do it sooner rather than later! It's only running for a limited time, after all. Check out more info straight from the MTA right here.
And if you miss it, don't worry too much -- the entire subway line is normally on display at the New York Transit Museum.