Home Asides The PATH stinks

The PATH stinks

by Benjamin Kabak

While we know full well that the New York City Transit subway system can, at various points and places, smell pretty bad — 2nd Ave. on the F, anyone? — the city’s other subway ain’t exactly wine and roses. The PATH trains might not exude human waste quite as frequently as our city’s system does, but they have a certain odor to them. Today, Christine Haughney of The Times tries to get to the bottom of the odor, and the culprit seems to be mold or mildew.

Haughney spoke with PATH officials and rode the trains with Larry Sunshine, a so-called odor mitigation specialist, to determine the source of the smell. PATH representatives say the aroma is one of new cars, but I’m skeptical. New subway cars smell great while the PATH has an earthy nose to it. Sunshine believes the aroma is one of mildew and plastic chemicals and the general smell of a subway system all wrapped up into one. I sure am glad The Times got to the bottom of this underground mystery.

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17 comments

ferryboi June 7, 2011 - 3:59 pm

At least it doesn’t smell like piss, which is more than can be said for the NYC subway, especially the IND for some reason. Maybe the PA keeps the stations cleaner and doesn’t allow folks to PISS on the platform? Maybe?

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pete June 7, 2011 - 4:35 pm

Half of it is leaking sewers into the subway tunnels, other half is any column or corner is a bathroom, and the station washers with their pressure washes do a shitty job. The solution is to install a wall-less privacy-less toilet in public at each station. The pre WW2 IND subway bathroom toilets are already privacy-less and wall-less but are hidden in walled rooms. The french has zero privacy urinals on public streets.

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ferryboi June 7, 2011 - 4:41 pm

Then wouldn’t some of those leaky sewers make their way to PATH platforms also? If so, the PATH train would smell a bit pissy while the IND would reek of a homeless guy’s underwear (which, BTW, it does).

I think the PA does a much better job of keeping the PATH clean than the MTA ever did. Remember back in the ’70s and ’80s, when NYC subway cars were covered in graffiti? The PATH cars were spotless, and even today the station floors literally shine. Add to the fact that most PATH riders are middle-class commuters as opposed to pissy, smelly, chicken-bone-spitting slobs, and I think you have your answer.

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tacony palmyra June 8, 2011 - 11:41 am

Hmm, I’d be interested in seeing the demographics of PATH riders vs the MTA subway. PATH serves a pretty diverse, urbanized area of North Jersey with somewhat similar demographics to the City (Hoboken could be Murray Hill; Newark could be East New York; Journal Square could be Jackson Heights). I think most of the middle class commuter market is just taking NJ Transit trains to Penn Station or buses to Port Authority. The PATH never really comes anywhere near big suburban single-family homes.

I much prefer the PATH smell to the MTA funk.

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ferryboi June 8, 2011 - 3:53 pm

Demographics are fine, but chew on this: when was the last time you saw a pissy homeless guy begging for change on PATH? Or someone eating half a chicken and throwing the bones on the floor?

I’ve been on PATH about 200 times since 1983 and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like that on the trains.

Al D June 9, 2011 - 9:17 am

Isn’t taht really thoug a function of visbility and size? What I mean is that there are so few PATH stations, and they are not he easiest to find. In addition, it’s not as if you think of PATH in the city, unless you actually have a need for it. Plus, the subway has far more riders to beg from (to?) The subway is just a more ubiquitous ‘target’, if you will.

Al D June 9, 2011 - 9:24 am

PATH is head and shoulders above NYC Transit in the cleanliness dept. A few years back, I was a regular at 14 St and Newport-Pavonia. 14 St. was just so-so, but far cleaner than the corresponding station on the F V and L, both of which are terrible.

Newport-Pavonia however seemed to have at least a part time dedicated station cleaner, a contractor, and he had the tools to do it. He had a Zamboni style floor cleaner, and he was continually buffing the wall tiles.

Perhaps though as I write this post, this station cleaner was paid for by the community business group there?

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Steve June 7, 2011 - 4:12 pm

I’m glad you mentioned 2nd Avenue on the F. Everyday I take the train and the doors open there, it just reeks. It has to be the worst. I also checked out Court Square transfer and it’s great (as ist the Jay-MetroTech). Can’t wait for Bway-Lafayette-Bleeker St transfer.

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Erik June 7, 2011 - 4:33 pm

I have wondered this for AGES.

The most recent occurrence happened when I had to get on the F at 23rd St. and entered from an entrance adjacent to the PATH. Once I got to the bottom of the first stairs descending from the street, there was a set of stairs leading down to the PATH. From up the PATH stairs came a strong whiff of PATH

As I continued to the F platform (and while I waited, and waited), the enormous difference between the MTA subway smell and the PATH smell ate at my brain. Why should they smell so different? They are literally feet apart and air can circulate between the two systems in numerous locations.

I have ridden on many subways across the world. Some have smelled better than others (I’d rank NYC as about 3/4 of the way down), but at least those rankings occur on a common axis from “fine” to “bad”. The bucket of “bad” smells is the same; the variation is in intensity and combination. But the unique smell of the PATH stands in its own musty, mildewy universe. It always reminds me of an octogenarian’s basement, which isn’t an unpleasant odor for an underground train system.

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SEAN June 7, 2011 - 4:39 pm

When I’ve taken PATH I have noticed some kind of oder, but it really doesn’t bother me all that much. A slight mustyness, but I come to the conclusion that it is far better than the MTA in the smell department.

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Phil June 7, 2011 - 5:10 pm

I think part of it is that PATH is built in cast iron tubes on the river floor, so moisture accumulates and creates an interesting smell. Perhaps the most striking example is walking from the street level at Hoboken down to the PATH platforms; it’s an instant change.

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Robert June 7, 2011 - 6:37 pm

I’ve long noticed a very distinctive smell associated with the PATH, but I wouldn’t really say it was unpleasant. In fact, I kind of grew to like it. I used to go to school across from a PATH station, and whenever a train pulled in I could always catch a whiff of it, even across the street. It’s certainly not from the new cars, though, if they’re talking about the same smell as I am (and it’s very distinctive) — I’ve been smelling it since I can remember, back in the ’90s.

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Son of Spam June 7, 2011 - 9:32 pm

The tunnel smell is one thing, but the smell within the new, ‘high tech’ cars is bothersome.

It’s unmistakable, smells a little like sitting next to a homeless guy, or maybe a penn station bathroom. I’ve been waiting for it to go away for months now, it still lingers. Maybe they should run all the new cars with their doors open for a while. :O

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Cap'n Transit June 8, 2011 - 12:14 am

This was the latest in a series of really lame articles from Haughney. For whatever reason she didn’t get much information from him on the really curious smell, so she stuck that at the end and filled the article with pointless commentary on a bunch of unrelated smells.

The PATH smell is kind of interesting, and it’s very frustrating that Haughney actually got some kind of smell expert down there, but he doesn’t seem to have spent much time on the smell.

Incidentally, there’s a similar mystery smell on the Paris RER between Ch√Ętelet and Auber, which I believe has been attributed to tunneling through old sewers or cemetaries.

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Benjamin Kabak June 8, 2011 - 12:16 am

This was the latest in a series of really lame articles from Haughney.

I’m glad someone picked up on my subtle snark here.

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Jonathan R June 8, 2011 - 8:48 am

Yes, just another reason to pay for the Times online: the possibility that their local reporting may someday reach the level of quality regularly achieved by AMNY.

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John-2 June 8, 2011 - 1:55 am

To me, it’s always had a bit of an iron-oxide smell, which would be consistent with the cast-iron tubes reacting to air and water and slowly rusting away (which brings up the future question of what happens when the rusting finally hits critical mass at a key point in the tubes, but that will probably be taken care of the same way the Department of Transportation handled the rusting problem on the West Side Highway … once the roadbed collapsed at 12th Street).

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