When it was a train: the Culver shuttleBy
Over on Subchat this morning, Newkirk Images posted a photo of the now-abandoned lower level of the 9th Ave. station in Brooklyn. Sitting in the center of the photo is a two-car train that has largely been lost to the history of the New York City subway system. That trainset is the Culver Shuttle.
The Culver Shuttle, as Joseph Brennan details at his Abandoned Stations site, had its origins in the late 19th Century steam-powered railroads that would take vacationing New Yorkers to the seaside resorts at Coney Island. With various elevated lines providing access throughout Brooklyn, the immediate history of the shuttle, says, Brennan is “fairly complex.” He writes:
Up to 1931, 5 Ave El trains provided all the service, and 9 Ave must have been busy with Culver passengers changing to the West End subway trains for a faster ride and access to many more places. The wooden el trains were slow and ran no farther than the end of the Brooklyn Bridge at Park Row, Manhattan.
When the Nassau St loop in lower Manhattan finally opened in 1931, the BMT began operating a mixture of subway and el services to the Culver line. Subway service ran Monday to Saturday, to Kings Highway in rush hours and summer Saturdays, and to Coney Island midday and other Saturdays. El service went to Coney Island rush hours, nights, summer Saturdays, and all Sundays, and otherwise ended at 9 Ave station. Is that clear? The BMT didn’t have enough subway cars for full service, so at rush hours and summers, the el had to pick up the service to the end of the line, so the subway trains could shortline. 9 Ave lower level saw its peak train service in these years, with both el and subway trains, and el trains reversing in the middle track during some hours…
The Transit Authority fulfilled a longstanding Board of Transportation plan in October 1954 when the IND subway was connected to the Culver line at Ditmas Ave station and took over all service to Culver stations beyond that point. BMT Culver service from a single track terminal at Ditmas Ave continued as before on weekdays, but nights and weekends it was a shuttle to 36 St. Ridership dropped, and in May 1959, it was made a shuttle full time, between Ditmas Ave and 9 Ave only.
As the subway system decayed throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the Culver Shuttle keep chugging along. It ran the BMT standard subway cars up through the early 1970s, and Brennan notes how the way Transit didn’t maintain this little-used station echoed the collapse of the system as a well. “The dark, deteriorating lower level at 9 Ave, and the partly dismantled elevated line gave it a mood of decay,” he writes. “There was just one track, the center at 9 Ave and the west side on the el, and one train operated all the service. The end was obviously in sight, but it somehow hung on until 1975.”
That year — 1975 — saw the demise of the Culver Shuttle amidst the now-familiar refrain of budgetary problems. Only 1000 people a day used the shuttle, and most of those were making the round trip to and from work. The MTA estimated it would cost $1 million it didn’t have to rehabilitate the elevated structure, and the shuttle, which once ran into Manhattan via the 4th Ave. line and Nassau St. loop, would be shuttered instead, with residents offered a free bus transfer as a replacement service.
These days, not much remains to remind New Yorkers of the Culver Shuttle. A sealed staircase leads to an abandoned platform, and the platform itself is in terrible shape. The rails too are but a memory as they were demolished in 1984. The rights of way between 9th Ave. and Ditmas Ave. have generally long since been sold to private developers, and houses in Brooklyn now mark the tracks of the old Culver Shuttle. Today, only stub tracks remain, a remnant of this rich history of rail travel in Brooklyn.