Home PANYNJ An alternate subway but only for a mile and a half

An alternate subway but only for a mile and a half

by Benjamin Kabak

PATH's limited service in Manhattan doesn't make it a viable subway competitor.

Had the tunnel construction held up in the late 1870s, today’s PATH system would be the region’s oldest subway. But a series of construction mishaps, including a few fatal tunnel blowouts in 1880, shelved the plans for a New Jersey/New York underground train until work resumed in 1902. By 1911, the system as we know it today was in place, and for all intents and purposes, the New York City end of the PATH system has remained unchanged for 99 years.

Today, PATH is a small but vital part of the region’s transportation network. Its popularity seemingly peaked in the years before the Holland Tunnel opened as a transportation competitor, but the little railroad still carries over 250,000 passengers a day, most of whom are bound for the World Trade Center stop or one of the stations underneath 6th Ave.

The stations themselves resemble an alternative subway in New York City, and the vast majority of the city’s straphangers rarely have the need or opportunity to ride PATH. The routing in Manhattan after all covers just 1.4 miles and already runs where the subways go. (As a historical side note, the PATH tracks along 6th Ave. are in between the IND local tracks and above the express tracks. New York City had to build the independent 6th Ave. line around the preexisting PATH infrastructure.)

Yet, in today’s Times, Michael Grynbaum wonders if more commuters would be willing to turn to the PATH system come 2011. Why? Because of the fares. As Grynbaum relates, one trip on the PATH train costs just $1.75 while a pay-per-ride swipe of the MetroCard will cost over $2 even with the bulk discount next year. Those few folks riding from the village to Chelsea should imply take the PATH, he writes.

To the uninitiated, a ride on the PATH train might seem like stumbling into a Bizarro World subway. The familiar wooden benches of the subway station are replaced by curvy seats made from silver plastic. The ubiquitous security warning — “If You See Something, Say Something” — is rendered in PATHese: “You Call It In, We Check It Out.” The signage has a less graceful version of the subway’s Helvetica, and the Corinthian columns are painted an oddly vivid blue.

But regular riders say that PATH trains are more frequent, cleaner and quieter than subway trains. “Significantly less screeching,” said [Greenwich Village resident Casey] Smith, who, like many converts to PATH, stumbled upon the railroad months after moving into his neighborhood. In two years of daily rides on PATH, he said he had never waited longer than five minutes for a train.

It is difficult to measure how many PATH passengers ride the train solely within Manhattan, and officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the railroad, say that those customers have traditionally made up a small percentage of the railroad’s New Jersey-centric ridership. Dozens of riders can be spotted boarding Midtown-bound trains on weekday mornings at the PATH stations in Manhattan. With the price of a monthly MetroCard going up to $104 next year, longtime PATH riders say they expect to see more riders coming through the turnstiles of that railroad, where a 30-day pass costs $54.

New York City Transit officials were rightly dismissive of PATH’s potential competitiveness. “I don’t believe it’s ever been a concern,” MTA spokesperson Charles Seaton said to The Times.

It is romantic to think of a better-funded and somewhat more monder competitor to the MTA’s subway service, but the real problem is that the trains simply don’t go anywhere. “Dozens of riders” at one station represent just a fraction of the people who rely on the more extensive subway system, and by and large, people commuting from the village to West 33rd St. simply walk anyway. This isn’t a high-demand route. Now, if we want to talk about better integration between PATH and NYC Transit, that’s a different story altogether.

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Matt Garland November 3, 2010 - 2:17 pm

Interestingly, last weekend we took the PATH to Jersey City, and I commented that it was like an “alternate universe”. Now I see talk of “alternate” subway and “bizarro world” down there. Very timely!

Al D November 3, 2010 - 2:28 pm

I think that NYT editorial board must require its reporters to write about this every time the subway fare goes up.

Anyway, it is useful for what it does and enabled the “Gold Coast” of NJ to be what it is today. When I worked in Pavonia-Newport, it was the best way to get across. In effect a 2 fare zone for me because I had to first take the subway.

Scott E November 3, 2010 - 2:31 pm

Has anyone here ever ridden the new Path trains? (I haven’t) Is it just like riding the R142s on the IRT, or are there real noticeable differences?

Unfortunately, when the subway raises fares, the PATH usually follows suit to keep the difference at about a quarter. And without real transfers to other subways, I wouldn’t expect ridership to jump up that quickly.

JoshKarpoff November 3, 2010 - 2:38 pm

When the Fulton Street Transit Center and the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub are complete it will be easier to transfer between the two systems. Granted, you’ll have to practically walk the width of Manhattan at that point, but it will all be connected underground via corridor.

tacony palmyra November 3, 2010 - 4:21 pm

The lighting in the new cars is very bright. Too bright for my taste. And they have video screens which display a specially-branded (I think it’s NBC content?) mix of quick news, weather, and ads.

PATH actually enforces its ban on eating and drinking in the cars, so the cars are much cleaner. Clean, new cars with bright lights? It doesn’t feel like New York at all.

SEAN November 3, 2010 - 2:57 pm

My favorite place to go on PATH is Pavonia Newport do to thegreat views of Manhattan from the waters edge. Also I enjoy walking amung the highrise complexes in the neighborhood.

ajedrez November 3, 2010 - 3:07 pm

I wonder how many passengers take the PATH from Lower Manhattan to Midtown Manhattan to save $0.50, in addition to those going within Manhattan on 6th Avenue.

Benjamin Kabak November 3, 2010 - 3:12 pm

You can’t take the PATH from Lower Manhattan to Midtown Manhattan without taking a lengthy and circuitous route through New Jersey. It’s not worth saving what in reality is less than $0.50. And the MTA and PATH say that a de minimus number of people travel within Manhattan on 6th Ave. The train really only goes from Christopher St to 33rd St.

Gil November 3, 2010 - 3:34 pm

I’ve considered taking the path from WTC to 33rd street before as I have an unlimited Path card, but I’d still spend the $2.25 or so to save what might be more than a half an hour of time. Plus, the walk into the north end of the WTC path entrance seems to take forever.

Josh H November 3, 2010 - 5:06 pm

“The train really only goes from Christopher St to 33rd St.”

True, although if you live west of Hudson Street (especially if you’re between, say, Bank and Houston), grabbing the PATH at Christopher Street is a pretty decent way to get to Midtown.

Think twice November 3, 2010 - 4:01 pm

I’m always amazed that New Jersey and/or the Port Authority hasn’t pushed for expansion of PATH within Jersey itself over the decades. As opposed to building and bankrolling entirely different rail infrastructure like HBLR and Newark/Liberty AirTrain (another PA baby no less).

Andy November 3, 2010 - 4:47 pm

PATH should be extended the 3 miles from Newark Penn to EWR. There is plenty of space at the EWR train station for extra tracks. A PATH extension to the airport would save 30-45 minutes over the 62 bus from Newark Penn. Well worth the $5 Airtrain fee.

PA could use the money it had pledged to ARC for this purpose, it will take many taxis, sedans and super shuttles out of the Hudson Tunnels, will provide a two-seat ride from Lower Manhattan and bring NYC almost on par with airports around the world.

BrooklynBus November 3, 2010 - 5:53 pm

I don’t think it could handle more riders.

kvnbklyn November 3, 2010 - 6:02 pm

I totally agree. HBLR would have much higher ridership if it had been built as an extension of PATH instead. Trains that terminate at Journal Square could have been extended along the existing right of way to Bayonne (and possibly on to Staten Island). Trains that terminate in Hoboken could have been extended in a new subway up Washington Avenue to serve the center of Hoboken and then connect with the existing tunnel under the Palisades. Instead we have a light rail line that doesn’t go anywhere useful in Hoboken, costs an additional fare and requires a transfer to get to Manhattan. No wonder HBLR ridership is a tenth of PATH’s even though it’s almost twice as long.

Max S. (WilletsPoint-SheaStadium) November 3, 2010 - 6:03 pm

Speaking of PATH extensions, imagine if it were possible to extend the WTC path line into downtown brooklyn to connect to the LIRR and all the subways down there. It would really help connect Long Island to EWR. But, it’s totally far-fetched; it would probably just make more sense for them to extend the LIRR to WTC (as proposed, but will it ever happen?!)

Josh H November 3, 2010 - 4:58 pm

“As a historical side note, the PATH tracks along 6th Ave. are in between the IND local tracks and above the express tracks. New York City had to build the independent 6th Ave. line around the preexisting PATH infrastructure.”

Huh, you know, as many times as I’ve been on all three of those sets of tracks, I was never aware of that.

Max S. (WilletsPoint-SheaStadium) November 3, 2010 - 5:55 pm

I always thought the interesting part of that too was how the Sixth Avenue Local platforms at 23rd street are on the “local transfer” side of the train, while the platforms at 14th street are on the “express transfer” side of the train. Perhaps they were thinking ahead of time that it would be easier to create a transfer to the BMT that way?

Adam November 3, 2010 - 11:48 pm

I have no idea why they built the 14th Street station that way. Anyway, at that point, the PATH tracks are above the local tracks, too, I believe. Notice how you have to go upstairs from the F tracks and then down a short ramp to get to PATH? That to me says the F tracks are below the PATH at that point (they’re only level with each other at 23rd), and then the downtown F tracks go under the PATH tracks going down Christopher Street further south (it would seem to me that the PATH descent to go under the Hudson is actually west of the Morton Street curves)

BrooklynBus November 3, 2010 - 5:54 pm

Wasn’t there once a proposal to extend and combine the #6 line with PATH?

Anon256 November 3, 2010 - 9:18 pm

Yes, see http://www.nj-arp.org/path_lex.html . Would be nice, and maybe even not too expensive, but pretty infeasible politically.

John November 3, 2010 - 10:09 pm

The tunneling logistics distance-wise wouldn’t have been bad — they’re only about four blocks apart. But in terms of elevation between where the PATH loop is at WTC and where the No. 6 train loop is just south of City Hall, it would have been horrifically expensive to burrow in and around the tunnels for the A/C train, turning onto Fulton from Church Street; the R tunnel, switching from Church to Broadway via Vescey Street; and the 2/3 tunnel, crossing City Hall Park from Beekman Street to Park Place.

PATH’s pretty much blocked by the existing subway infrastructure at both its Manhattan terminals from being extended or connected into the existing IRT system (and even if you could, there would still be some comparability issues and a new class of rail car would have to be designed that could navigate both the PATH tubes and the IRT’s original 1904 tunnels).

Alon Levy November 4, 2010 - 2:45 am

The compatibility issue wouldn’t be too bad – PATH is built to IRT standards.

Al D November 4, 2010 - 9:11 am

I’ve always wondered about this. But the PATH cars seem wider than the IRT cars.

Bolwerk November 4, 2010 - 11:52 am

I thought PATH had a slightly different loading gauge.

Jason November 4, 2010 - 7:16 am

Take a look at the track map http://images.nycsubway.org/tr.....wntown.png

Seems like the feasible way would be to use the two stub tracks south of City Hall to make the connection and if this map is accurate, these tracks are below grade of the 2/3 tunnel (which is below the R train tunnel). Can’t tell if it is below or above the IND tunnel for the A/C/E though.

This would be a great idea, a shame it wasnt brought to light for it would truly be a service to all citizens of the metro area

John November 4, 2010 - 10:40 am

A/C would be the wall — it’s dropping south of Chambers to get under the R tunnel at Church and then under the 4/5 J/M and 2/3 tunnels under Fulton, so any PATH/IRT connection would have to navigate that. Then, you’d have to deal with the problem that the line would have to run under Barclay Street to find a street with no other existing subway tunnel to deal with, and then would still have to figure out a way to get it over to the WTC station (unless the plan was to run the train directly from New Jersey to the Brooklyn Bridge station, with no WTC stop, or building a completely new WTC station around Barclay and West Broadway before tying in with the PATH tubes).

Not an easy engineering effort, even though it looks like just a short hop from one train’s terminal to the other (and while the PATH trains do take advantage of the tube dimensions to flair their sides out a little more than your average R-142, coming up with a rail car that could run both there and in the IRT tunnels would be a far easier logistical problem to solve than actually building the tunnel that would make such a rail car necessary).

project junkie November 8, 2010 - 1:16 am

The construction pace @ WTC is rapidly closing any opportunity to do this. Once both the Cortlandt St (1 Line) station – directly above the PATH WTC terminal – and Fulton St Transit center open, the connectivity would greatly improve. The PATH is upgrading to CBTC. Its easier to accomplish on the PATH compared to IRT 7th and Lexington Ave lines due to longer combined length and complexity of interconnections in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.

That said, if funds were more available:
1) Extend PATH at underneath the current to City Hall Lex Ave Line Station. The current low track elevation @ WTC likely allows a level run with a curve onto Park Row, followed by a jog uphill to a 4 track City Hall platform under the current 456 Station.
2) Build a new 6 train platform below the current City Hall along with tracks leading from it to the current Lex Ave tracks north of City Hall. Extend the tracks the same manner as the one above to WTC.

Both would reduce the need for steep grades and allow tunnel boring with some clearance.

In both cases, the PATH WTC station would be part of the western end of the cross Manhattan Fulton St Transit Center. The western end of the station would be near the Cortlandt St 1 Line station, with the eastern end under the E terminal and Cortlandt St R Line Station.

An interesting design would be to link the 1 Line and PATH trackage @ WTC.

Cap'n Transit November 3, 2010 - 10:55 pm

Why yes there was, now that you mention it.

Jerrold November 3, 2010 - 9:54 pm

I’m a little surprised that nobody has yet said what is currently wrong with PATH on weekends. That is the combining of the 33rd St.-Journal Square route and the 33rd St.-Hoboken route.
It’s a ridiculous waste of time when you have to ride the “wrong way” to Hoboken, wait there a little while, and only then proceed on to Journal Square. Going back to Manhattan, the same silly detour takes place.
It’s one thing for them to have done that while some work was taking place. It’s another thing for that routing to have been made permanent.

Cap'n Transit November 3, 2010 - 11:00 pm

It’s all about ridership. If there are enough people riding the trains on weekends to keep the subsidy within reason, they will run the two routes. You might want to talk to Ian Sacs about ways to get more people to take PATH on weekends.

Adam November 3, 2010 - 11:51 pm

Actually, the ridership is there (it’s more than there; look on any PATH train on the weekend and it’s just as packed; only time PATH is empty is for reverse commuting on the lines to 33rd Street). I believe this was done because of WTC construction; in order to speed up construction work, they have to close one of the downtown tubes, severely limiting service into and out of WTC (you can see for yourself by going into the Exchange Place station on the weekends; one of the platforms is going to be closed).

Andrew November 4, 2010 - 10:43 pm

That explains why there’s no direct WTC-HOB service. But why no direct 33-JSQ service? The only advantage I see to the present setup is that WTC-HOB passengers only have to transfer once.

Jerrold November 4, 2010 - 2:19 pm

But Ian Sacs is a HOBOKEN official.

Hoboken riders are not being inconvenienced by this unwise combining of routes.
It’s anybody who is traveling between the Sixth Ave. stations and either Jersey City or Newark who is being inconvenienced.

Jerrold November 3, 2010 - 10:07 pm

“……..and by and large, people commuting from the village to West 33rd St. simply walk anyway.”

About the above starement, how about in bad weather?
What about the elderly or disabled?
Also, what about people going between the Village and Midtown points further north than Herald Square? There must be some people who ride to 33rd St. and then walk to places in the high 30’s or in the 40’s.

Sharon November 3, 2010 - 11:36 pm

IT is funny that path operates without station agents sleeping in booths but the same can not be done at NYCT at similar stations in the same part of manahattan. All of a sudden it becomes a safety hazzard.

Adam November 3, 2010 - 11:53 pm

The PANYNJ actually has a very strong police presence at most stations, and there is usually a security guard right on the platform.

ant6n November 3, 2010 - 11:59 pm

I just rode PATH today for the first time. It’s basically the little known fourth subway system of New York, but wasn’t integrated in the 40ies like the others.

The WTC-New Jersey tunnel with new trains is much smoother than anything I’ve encountered in NYC; the Hoboken-33St stretch on a 80ies train was fairly bumpy and loud.

With ARC canceled, NJ transit should look into connecting PATH better with the NYC subway, to get more riders through there. Forcing people to walk across that long tunnel of the new station is not a good incentive to take it. Plus, the WTC and 33St street stations seem like bottlenecks of the system (like any downtown terminus).

One could connect to the 6, or the C, which terminates at WTC, or the 1, which is just a block away. At 33St there are a bunch of subways around it, going parallel. Surely it should be possible to connect somewhere. This would also allow New Yorkers to connect better to the West Side.

project junkie November 8, 2010 - 2:14 am

If funds were more available, extend the PATH to Central Park, then diagonally to 5th Ave 68st to form a 5th Ave Line to Marcus Garvey Park. There, turn east under Marcus Garvey Park to 125th or 124th street to link up with the 456 and Metro North 125th St stations. Then pass under the Harlem River to Ward/Randall’s Island with a station for the islands’ facilities.
It’ll continue under the East River to Astoria, Queens. Running under 23rd Ave, the line would link up with the Ditmars Blvd (N) station, and then run till hitting the Grand Central Parkway. From there, the line follows the GCP until LaGuardia Airport. There would be a series a stations below and above ground at the airport. Afterward, the line continues above ground to Citi Field/USTA complex, linking up with the 7 and LIRR Port Washington Line @ Willet Pt-Mets Mets-Willets Pt stations. It would then continue along the Van Wyck Expy to Jamaica Station with transfers with LIRR,E,J, and Air Train to JFK.

If you add an extension to Newark Liberty Intl Airport, PATH would connect the 3 big airports and Midtown/Downtown Manhattan together. It also connects north western and central Queens to Harlem and Upper East Side. Additionally, it can allow people to travel between Bx and Queens (and Metro North and LIRR) without using (thus reducing congestion at) Midtown East River tunnels and stations/terminals.


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