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V and W trains join a long list of routes that have bowed out of the subways

(Photo courtesy John Landers)

The NYC Transit graveyard is getting mighty crowded.

When the V and W trains are eliminated later this month, they will join the KK, NX and about two dozen other lines that have pulled out of the station for the last time.

“There hasn’t been a lot of stability to be perfectly honest,”said Glenn Lunden, a transit agency director for planning.

Changing demographics, budget issues and big construction jobs force planners to perpetually tinker with the subway routes, said Lunden, an MTA veteran. The train names have always been a work in progress. Back in the 1930s, NYC Transit first start assigning letters to the lines, picking roughly in alphabetical order. Local routes were given double letters and an express a single one, like the “A” and “AA” running along Eighth Avenue. The numbers were first added in the 1940s, but it took 20 years to fully phase them in, Lunden said.

At its peak in 1967, the MTA was home to 34 different routes, including such confusing lines as the MJ, QJ and six different “SS” shuttles.

“It was all very complicated,” said Kevin Walsh, editor of the Forgotten New York website.
During the budget crisis in the 1970s, the MTA gradually eliminated unpopular lines, like the KK to Jamaica, the above-ground No. 8 train in the Bronx and a Brooklyn shuttle. The double letter terminology was dropped in 1985, Lunden said.

“They didn’t mean much by that time,” said Robert Olmstead, a former MTA planner, who recalls that a transit “beautification committee” set up in the 1970s particularly abhorred the double letters.

The system became a lot simpler, but lines still hopscotched around. The “wandering D” train, as Lunden called it, ran along three different lines in the system. The N and the R were switched in Queens in 1987, meeting popular outcry.

“People get attached to a letter,” Olmstead said.

Recent route deaths include the axing of the unpopular No. 9 train on the west side of Manhattan and the Q diamond in Brooklyn. But when the V and W bow out of the system on June 27, it will be the first time the MTA has killed off subway lines because of budget woes since the 1970s. Their loss will not go unnoticed.

“It’s a very sad termination,” said Jonah Levy, co-producer of an event on June 25 to commemorate the V train with a New Orleans-style funeral and a party going until sunrise. “There is nothing to replace it.”

Rules for choosing a subway name:

Recycling: Letters have sometimes been recycled. The K was introduced twice into the system, only to bow out. The T was used before, and could come back for the Second Avenue Subway.

Diamonds: Were used for some express routes during rush hour, but by 2004 no one understood them anymore and they were eliminated except on the No. 6 and 7 lines.

I, O: Looks too much like numbers to use

P, U, Y: Also no-no’s, as they sound like words

X: Has been used as a placeholder for lines under development. Was considered for a line from Sixth Avenue to the World Trade Center, but the route never surfaced.

Source: Glenn Lunden, NYC Transit Operations and Planning


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