Home View from Underground Spotted: A 13 train on the 1 line

Spotted: A 13 train on the 1 line

by Benjamin Kabak


Every now and then, the roll signs indicating a subway route are wrong. I often see an Orange Q, a remnant of the Manhattan Bridge work, instead of a Yellow Q bullet as the trains head past me. That is, generally, the most egregious of minor errors.

Earlier this week, Second Ave. Sagas reader Jeffrey P drew my attention to the above sign on a Manhattan-bound 1 train. The 1, which shares rolling stock with the 3 and 4, was mislabeled but not as a train in service. It was bulleted as a 13 train. It certainly piqued my curiosity.

In the annals of New York City subway history, the only train designated by the number 13 was the pre-1967 BMT 14th St./Canarsie Line, now better known as the L train. At no point did the IRT lines — today’s current numbered lines — make use of a 13. Maybe one day, the future holds a red 13 for New York City straphangers.

Jeffrey sent me this picture via Twitter. For another view of this mysterious 13 train, click here. Be sure to check out and follow Second Ave. Sagas on Twitter if that’s your thing.

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Jerrold May 29, 2009 - 12:26 pm

In the 1960’s, wasn’t the Canarsie Line the LL train?

I know that the old BMT trains had numbers before they had letters,
but didn’t the numbers change to letters sometime in the 1950’s, or maybe even the 1940’s?

Benjamin Kabak May 29, 2009 - 12:27 pm

It was. I’m not sure of the exact date of the switch from BMT numbers to letters. All I know is that sometime before unification/MTA streamlining in 1967 the BMT line was referred to as the 13.

Rhywun May 29, 2009 - 1:05 pm

I think the higher numbers on IRT rollsigns were meant to represent service variations. The “13” would represent some variant of the 2 or 3, I guess. There’s a purple “11” and some other ones too. I wish I could find the link where I read this–it’s interesting stuff.

Erik May 29, 2009 - 1:20 pm

BMT routes were assigned letters in 1960, but the nomenclature was pretty haphazard between 1960 and 1967 — some trainsets still used numbers, some used letters, and some of the older Standards weren’t equipped to display anything at all.

When the Chrystie Street Connection opened in 1967, everything went over to letters and (for the IRT routes) numbers as the primary route designator. That’s not to say that on old BMT routes you still didn’t see some traincars with their old route numbers now and then.

Kai May 29, 2009 - 1:20 pm Reply
Jerrold May 29, 2009 - 2:12 pm

Later on the “whole story” came back to me.

Until the “Chrystie St.” changeover in 1967, the BMT trains were primarily referred to by NAMES, not letters or numbers.
On maps and on station signs, the trains were Sea Beach, West End, Brighton, etc. People would use those names when referring to any BMT train in their conversations.

So it was in 1967 that the 14th St.-Canarsie line officially became the LL. Many years later it became the L when all of the double-letter names were abolished.

Kid Twist May 29, 2009 - 2:21 pm

Actually, BMT No. 13 was the Fulton Street El. The 14th Street-Canarsie Line was 16.

And yes, from what I’ve heard, the extra numbers on the current rollsigns are there in case they add variant services or decide to eliminate some of the confusing splits, like 5 trains that run to two different places in the Bronx or the 7 express and 7 local. Maybe 13 is for something like a Seventh Avenue-Dyre Avenue routing.

Kris Datta May 29, 2009 - 8:06 pm

Nice find, but what do you mean by the 1 “shares rolling stock with the 3 and 4”? The 1 runs the same cars as the 7, but it doesn’t share yards with other train lines.

Benjamin Kabak May 30, 2009 - 1:14 am

That was a bit inaccurate of me. The car models are the same as the 3 and some of the old 4s. The stock comes from a different yard. The 1 trains park up near 242nd and the 7’s out in Flushing.

Robert Distefano June 1, 2009 - 11:49 pm

The use of the number 13 shows that MTA planners are not superstitious. There is even a 13th floor at 370 Jay Street.

Transit plans Bronx express 4 service :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog June 4, 2009 - 12:01 pm

[…] is succesful, the MTA will consider making it a permanent service. While I doubt this is what the 13 bullet rollsign was all about, it’s worth noting that the MTA has four unused green bullets in its arsenal […]

When it was a train: The Grand St. shuttle :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog July 27, 2009 - 3:01 pm

[…] the end of May, a loyal Second Ave. Sagas reader sent me a picture of the 13 train. The photo was one of an erroneously rolled roll sign on the 1 train. The 13, we discovered, was […]

Kevin Xie July 30, 2009 - 3:51 pm

The #13 is just an error.Same with the old J and Z cars.You could hardly tell if it’s a J or Z train.

Mystery Subway: 13 Train Spotted On The 7 Line! « WHATYOUWRITE.COM August 14, 2011 - 10:47 am

[…] around in the switching yards. The 13, which used to be on the BMT Fulton Street Line, and was a precursor to the L (14th St./Canarsie Line) for some time, has not been in use since 1956. But here’s […]

James M November 8, 2011 - 2:49 pm

I also have seen a red circle 13 train sign and a green circle 12 train sign on the FRONT car of two different trains that were sitting in a yard a few years ago. Even stranger, in 2001 I remember one of the new #4 train cars being carried on the back of what looked like a flatbed truck. Even then, I thought I wasn’t really seeing that. Has anyone else ever seen such a thing?

FirestrikeZeppelin December 27, 2013 - 9:09 pm

I saw a green 12 rollsign on a 7 R62 a few days ago. Surprised me quite a bit XD.

I believe the story was that the MTA decided to rename it’s 7 Express and 6 Express services as the 11 and 12 respectively. No idea about the 13 though.

Jason December 21, 2014 - 12:18 am

My idea is that the MTA should get rid of these peak directions diamond rollsign and replace them with 8 for 6 express, 11 for 7 express, 12 for 5 express, and 13 for the former 9 skip-stop service. 8 can run express from Pelham Bay Park to 3 Avenue (instead of 6 express being local from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park). Then, the 8 can proceed to Brooklyn Bridge via Lexington Avenue Express. 11 can be unchanged from the 7 express route. 12 can run express from Dyre Avenue to 3 Avenue 149 Street via Dyre Avenue Express and White Plains Road Express (with the rush hour 5 still run to Nereid Avenue via the central express track and regular 5 on the Dyre avenue local tracks). Then, the 12 can proceed to Utica Avenue via Lexington Avenue Express and Eastern Parkway Express (skipping Nevins Street by the MTA reinstalling the 5th middle track). But, what about the 13 line you may ask? Well, the 13 line can be different from the 9 train. The 13 train can run express from 242 to Dyckman Street and 157 to 96 Street by the central express track. Finally, the 13 line can at last proceed to South Ferry via Broadway-Seventh Avenue Express. This is what I call for strong improvements on the IRT subway system! Hopefully, these unusual bullets can be use for my ideas in the future!!! 🙂

The 10 train and an appreciation of soon-to-be-extinct rollsigns :: Second Ave. Sagas December 9, 2015 - 12:50 am

[…] 8 or 12, also indicating potential route designations for Lexington Ave. service. There’s a red 13 out there and, of course, the dearly departed 9 train should the West Side need extra route numbers […]


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