It’s easy to get tunnel vision at the New York Transit Museum, which takes up a whole block underground in a disused subway station.
At street level, it looks just like any subway station in New York City. But venture down these stairs at 99 Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn Heights, and you’ll find yourself in a subterranean world stocked full of vintage trains and transport trivia.
The New York Transit Museum, housed in the disused Court Street subway station, is a temple of transportation, and a must-see for curious commuters or train enthusiasts visiting NYC.
Court St station opened in 1936, but due to its proximity to so many other downtown Brooklyn stations and the fact that it was reachable only by transfer, it had little use and was closed in 1946.
The station reopened to the public for the first time on July 4, 1976, housing The New York City Transit Exhibit, a temporary exhibition that proved so popular the museum became a permanent fixture.
The museum now has a vast collection that includes close to one million objects.
Head down two flights of stairs and turn right, and you’ll see the ticket booth and station masters office where you queue for a ticket. Adult entry costs $10 and children (aged 2-17) cost $5, while MTA employees enter for free.
On the main concourse, you’ll find numerous transit treasures, including archival photographs and videos, old subway signs, and wooden turnstiles and ticket booths from another era.
“Ticket to Ride” highlights the evolution of fare collection on New York’s transport system down the ages, with its many turnstiles, ticket booths and fare boxes.
“No Spitting on the Platform” is an exhibit that features historic railway and subway signs, emblems and etiquette reminders for commuters while using the subway.
“On the Streets: New York’s Trolleys and Buses” tells the story of road transport from the early 1800s to the present. Here’ll you’ll find a 12-seat city bus, a “fishbowl” bus cab that kids can climb in, traffic lights, parking meters, fire hydrants, and various other interactive street furniture.
“Bringing Back the City” shows how transit works plan for and respond to manmade and natural disaster that disrupt the transport network, with a focus on 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
There’s a series of audio and video exhibits, as well as photographs and other objects throughout the gallery.
While the concourse collection is fascinating, the showstopper is downstairs at platform level.
Down there you’ll find the ghosts of trains past: vintage carriages dating back to 1904, sitting at the platform with their doors open, as if awaiting passengers to rush for cane seats and enamelled poles.
The oldest trains are from the first subway, operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. It’s a modern reminder of how people used to travel on the subway system, minus the leaky ceilings, smelly trash and big, fat rats you’d have to sidestep.
The carriages are decked out with vintage seats and handle bars, along with replicated ads and posters of the time. In the early 1900s, wooden armrests lined springy, cushioned seats covered with rattan, a material similar to bamboo.
By the 1950s, the rattan on many seats was replaced with Velon, a type of plastic fabric, and in terms of comfort, it was mostly downhill from there. These days the seats are a hard, unappealing, contoured plastic.
All of these old cars are fully functional, and some even travel through the subway system during the holidays when the museum offers Nostalgia Rides on a vintage train for just the swipe of a MetroCard.
Each March, to mark the first home game at Yankee Stadium, the museum rolls out its 102-year-old IRT Lo-V train for baseball fans.
The Yankees Express runs from 42nd Street Grand Central to 161st Street Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, a trip that takes around 25 minutes.
Before leaving the New York Transit Museum, be sure to stop by the retail store on the level one concourse.
Here you’ll find a variety nicknacks including T-shirts featuring your favourite metro line, subway-themed tote bags, coffee mugs, train sets and an obligatory mousepad with a map of the iconic New York subway system.
The Transit Museum also has a gallery annex and gift store at Grand Central Terminal, next to the station master’s office.
How To Get To The New York Transit Museum The Transit Museum is located in a decommissioned subway station at 99 Schermerhorn Street Brooklyn, near the corner of Boerum Place. From Manhattan, take the 2, 4 or 5 train to Borough Hall station. Walk along Joralemon St and turn right onto Boerum Place. It's a five minute walk to the museum. It is open Tuesday-Friday from 10am-4pm and weekends 11am-5pm. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children and $5 for seniors. If you’re an MTA employee, entry is free.
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