Atlantic Cities

Resurrected Train Alert: New York's H Is Back

Resurrected Train Alert: New York's H Is Back
Svgalbertian/Wikimedia Commons

The MTA's response to Hurricane Sandy has been, by all accounts, remarkably efficient. Days after the worst disaster in the New York subway system's history, some lines were running again. Two weeks later, parts of all lines were back in action. 

For nerds of subway nomenclature, there is an added bonus: the MTA has reintroduced the H Train

The reincarnated H will run, for free, along the Rockaway Peninsula from Beach 90th Street to Far Rockaway, where a bus will take commuters around Jamaica Bay and into Manhattan. That stretch of track usually belongs to the A Train, but Sandy wiped out the Broad Channel tracks that bring the subway onto the Rockaway Peninsula. It could be months before the cross-bay tracks are back in action. 

In the meantime, there's the H. 

There has been a shuttle train in the Rockaways since 1956, usually running from Broad Channel to Rockaway Park, towards the end of the peninsula. That train is currently called the S, like the other two New York City shuttle trains, but it was once known as the H -- in the '80s and early '90s -- and previously, as the HH, back in the 1960s. (Apparently the MTA still refers to it as the H internally, to distinguish the route from the S trains of Times Square and Franklin Avenue.)

This helps explain a small mystery that may puzzle outside observers looking very, very closely at the way the New York City subway system is named. About a third the subway system -- lines formerly part of the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit Company) -- is designated with numbers, running 1-7. 

The other parts of the subway, formerly the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) and IND (Independent Subway System), are now split into letter names. But there are a number of letters missing even from the beginning of the alphabet, like H and K. (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, J, L, M, and N are all accounted for, as are Q, R, S, and Z.) 

The K train, like the H train, is a ghost of subway past -- it replaced the AA when the MTA abolished double letters, and ran as a West Side local until it went off the rails in 1988. The W and V are more recent casualties, but as a former W rider, I have to say: good riddance to them. I and O were never particularly good candidates because of their similarity to 1 and 0.

And since we now nearly have the whole alphabet accounted for, let's wrap it up. The T train is another ex-train, a former BMT route, as well as the presumptive name of the Second Avenue Subway, currently under construction. X is used as a place-holder; Y, U and P have been discounted due to their homophones "why," "you," and "pee." (I realize that there are already a number of homophones in the system; this logic comes from Glenn Lunden, NYC Transit Operations and Planning, via AM New York.) 

If that's not enough on subway nomenclature for you, check out the Wikipedia Page for "Unused New York City Subway service labels." Our ancestors also rode the NX, the QJ, and the 16.

Top image: Svgalbertian/Wikimedia Commons.

Keywords: New York, H Train

Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at The Atlantic Cities. He lives in New York. All posts »

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