Home MTA Construction Inside the new South Ferry terminal

Inside the new South Ferry terminal

by Benjamin Kabak

Shiny Station

Sometime next month, the MTA will, for the first time in twenty years, open a new subway station in New York City. The new terminal at South Ferry — the first post-9/11 redevelopment project to open in Lower Manhattan — features a fully ADA-compliant two-track station with wide platforms and state-of-the-art engineering. It will offer up a connection to the R and W trains at Whitehall St. and will serve as the station of the future, a prototype of sorts for the three stations planned along Second Ave., and it looks great.

Yesterday, Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, led a group of reporters and photographers on a tour of the not-yet-completed facility, and I was lucky enough to get an invite. Let’s take a tour of the new station. (All links go to my flickr photo set of the tour. The slideshow is embedded below.)

South Ferry First, let’s set the scene. The current station at South Ferry is more than a bit decrepit. It’s a tiny station with room for five cars, and since it’s on a steep curve, it employs movable platforms. Somehow, it also serves six million passengers a year bound for Staten Island, Lady Liberty and all points in between. When the federal government offered up a large grant to redevelopment Lower Manhattan, the South Ferry stop along with the tortured Fulton St. hub were chosen for funding.

The new station, when it opens next month, will carry with it a $527 million price tag, including $420 million from the feds, approximately $107 from the MTA’s coffers and the remainder from the city for the plaza that will one day surround the entrance.

So what can you get for $527 million these days? Well, for starters, we get 1800 feet of total construction. Of that, 1200 of those feet are a part of a brand new tunnel with the remainder serving as the station.

Instead of just one track, we now have two ten-car tracks. The station will serve as a bona fide terminal. As such, according to the MTA, the potential capacity along the 1 line will increase from around 17 trains an hour to up to 24, and the easing of the Lower Manhattan bottleneck could shave six minutes off of a trip from 242nd St. to South Ferry. The station is also equipped with signals ready for computer-based train control, if and when the MTA gets that program off the drawing board and into the tunnels.

But beyond the technicalities of the track, the station itself is chock full of modern amenities. It features various escalators including some of those new smart escalators that slow down and speed up as passenger demand increases. The platform itself is very wide. While my pictures don’t quite capture how wide they are, this double-sided staircase leads down to the tracks with room on both sides.

More impressive is the cooling technology in place. The new South Ferry terminal features tempered air. As best as I can tell, the system is an underground air conditioned that kept the station positively balmy on a cold December day and will, according to Horodniceanu, ensure that the station “won’t be as hot in the summer” as some of the others. Air conditioned subways! Who knew?

The mezzanine level is by far the nicest in the station. While it does feature the ubiquitious security cameras, it is an expansive and gleaming entry way to the station. Most noticeable is the artwork. The MTA Arts for Transit program spent $1 million on station decorations, and according to Sandra Bloodworth, the director of Arts for Transit, did so to tie the station into its surroundings. “The idea,” she said, “was to bring the park into the station.”

Past the turnstiles, the station features glass panels depicting trees, and outside, the security gates are beautifully designed to evoke the park instead of the MTA’s usually jail-like appearance.

Lower Manhattan The jewel of the station is a mosaic map of Manhattan. Designed by the Starn Twins, the map is a 20-foot wide view of Manhattan from the Battery north. The first layer is a topographic map from 1640 and overlaid on that is a modern view of the city complete with the subway system. I snapped a detail of the map’s depiction of Lower Mahattan, and you can read more about the Starn brothers’ vision for the station at their website.

Beyond that, the station also features the 350-year-old Battery wall that held up construction when workers came across it a few years ago. When completed, it will connect to the BMT at Whitehall St. and feature a canopy entrance evocative of the DC Metro. Sadly, I doubt that the turnstiles will remain without arms for much longer.

The station looks great, and while it looked very much like a work in progress, Horodniceanu says it will open in January. Considering the engineering work that went into it — the station is built underneath the current South Ferry loop and the East Side IRT’s Joralemon St. Tunnel — it will stand as an impressive accomplishment in the painfully slow redevelopment of Lower Manhattan.

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Tom S December 12, 2008 - 7:11 am

The map of Lower Manhattan doesn’t show any subway stops on Cortland St, on either the IRT or the BMT. Is the MTA trying to tell us that they’re never going to repoen?

Jerrold December 12, 2008 - 9:15 pm

Both of those Cortlandt St. stations are supposed to reopen when the construction of the new World Trade Center has progressed to a certain point. The new Cortlandt St. station on the #1 line is going to be part of the “Transportation Hub” that they keep talking about. That “Hub” is also frequently referred to as the “Calatrava Station”.

Samuel B. Shear July 11, 2010 - 11:31 am

I think that since the older station at South Ferry with the curved platform could become a Manhattan branch of the New York City Transit Museum if the MTA wanted to do so, although the platform extensions would have to be removed in order to accomodate the older subway cars that are 10 feet wide. That would allow the cars that are stored in places other than the Transit Museum in Brooklyn to be moved inside and be displayed to the public.

mayra March 22, 2009 - 10:08 pm

i think after they finish with the world trade center

construction Worker Mitchell July 19, 2009 - 10:10 pm

In other words, they will never open.

paulb December 12, 2008 - 7:52 am

It looks much better thought out and nicer aesthetically than the “new” 60s/70s design stations for the 63rd st tube and Archer Ave. in Queens.

Has this replaced the old station completely? or does it form part of the new station?

Marc Shepherd December 12, 2008 - 9:17 am

It looks much better thought out and nicer aesthetically than the “new” 60s/70s design stations for the 63rd st tube and Archer Ave. in Queens.

Yeah, unfortunately the stations built and/or rehabbed during that period were designed purely for utility. It wasn’t until about the mid-1980s that the MTA realized that a subway station could be beautiful too. The photos look terrific. I think the only aesthetic mistake is the very plain-Jane “South Ferry” lettering on the platform.

Has this replaced the old station completely? or does it form part of the new station?

The new station and the old station are not physically connected. When the new one is ready, the old one will close. It will remain in existence, as the space is landmarked, and 5 trains still need the loop to turn around when they don’t go to Brooklyn. They might use the loop as layup space. However, the public won’t have access to the old station any more, except when the transit museum runs special tours, and so forth.

Benjamin Kabak December 12, 2008 - 10:16 am

Ah, yes. I forgot to address this.

The new station itself will be closed, but the loop — both the inner and outer tracks — will remain open. The MTA has two plans for that loop.

1. Storage. They estimate they can keep at least two and perhaps three trains laid up in the loop and can put those into service quickly at rush hour.

2. The East Side/West Side connection. The loop has a switch that allows trains to go from the West Side IRT tracks to the East Side and vice versa. They use that switch for planned service diversions and will continue to do so.

Marc Shepherd December 12, 2008 - 9:19 am

As such, according to the MTA, the potential capacity along the 1 line will increase from around 17 trains an hour to up to 24, and the easing of the Lower Manhattan bottleneck could shave six minutes off of a trip from 242nd St. to South Ferry.

This claim of saving 6 minutes appeared in the environmental impact statement, but I never understood the math. Trains have to slow down to enter the loop, but they don’t take 6 minutes doing it. What’s more, trains will also have to enter the new station slowly, because the tracks end in bumper blocks. I just don’t get it.

Gary December 12, 2008 - 11:41 am

Well, color me jealous. Thanks for sharing this Ben, I’ve been looking forward to seeing inside this station for a long time.

Judge December 12, 2008 - 12:07 pm

This being so nice just brings to mind the awful rendering the MTA gave for the station rebuild on the Culver Viaduct rehab. I hope that rebuild in half as nice looking as this station.
South Ferry gives me faith in the appearance of the coming stations for the 7 and Q (the renderings never being wholly interesting to me).

Kid Twist December 12, 2008 - 3:14 pm

Well, it’s very shiny and clean, but to me, the platform-level area looks kind of bland. Maybe it’s more impressive in person. They’re going to cover that duct work on the ceiling, right?

I’m also skeptical about the claim that this increases the per-hour train capacity of the line. In the loop terminal, the train pulled in, the passengers got on and off, and then the train pulled out. Fast and simple.

In the new terminal, the train has to pull in and the motorman has to change ends. That takes more time.

Even if they can turn trains faster at the new South Ferry, they made no changes at 242nd Street. So the capacity of the line is the same as it always was.

Michael December 12, 2008 - 3:57 pm

I took some pictures from Whitehall St

Michael December 12, 2008 - 4:00 pm

Here is the link

Michael December 12, 2008 - 4:01 pm Reply
R2 December 12, 2008 - 5:25 pm

Great pics! I sure wish I could have been on that tour.

As for those 6 minutes, I’d suggest to those w/ some free time to time the 1 train now from end to end w/ a stopwatch, then when this opens to the public, do it again.

Scott E December 12, 2008 - 6:09 pm

I’m sure the six minutes has to do with the speed at which trains enter and leave the (loop) station. That pretty much sets the pace for the entire line, since other trains keep a set distance behind those trains.

With the two tracks, one train can pull in (slowly, yes, due to bumper blocks), but as one is approaching, another has already unloaded its passengers, loaded its new passengers, and is leaving. Essentially, you can have one additional train on the route. If a train approaches the station slowly, that doesn’t mean that the train leaving the station is delayed. It can depart on schedule.

Hang out at the Times Square #7 platform and you’ll see something similar in terms of arrival/departure timing. Only difference, there is some tail-track beyond the Times Square station, so trains don’t need to creep in so slowly.

Now, my question is: where does this extra train come from? Are there extra trains sitting in a yard somewhere? Maybe a train will be taken from the #7 line once the new R188’s make their way there.

Kai December 13, 2008 - 3:47 pm

It also works pretty well on the L-train. Amazing “turn around” (or I guess accurately “back out”) time during rush hours at 8th Ave. Congestion still happens quite often, especially in the mornings, but overall I’m amazed how smoothly that runs.

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » » Weekend service advisories and a Southern Brooklyn update December 12, 2008 - 8:49 pm

[…] 2nd Ave. Subway History « Inside the new South Ferry terminal […]

herenthere December 12, 2008 - 11:32 pm

When that station opens, blog it so I can go and see for myself! Looks AWESOME…with the exception of the platform-I know they’re going for the minimalist design there, but they really should be putting more station names on the walls…and no space for platform screen doors?

Kai December 13, 2008 - 3:50 pm

The platform screen doors idea came out after the design/cost plans for this station were finalized. It will be interesting to see how effectively “air cooling” works with an open tunnel.

rhywun December 13, 2008 - 1:09 am

I was immediately struck by the cheesy, tiny “South Ferry” lettering on the platform walls. Surely that’s just a placeholder…?

Kai December 13, 2008 - 3:53 pm

This station kind of reminds me of how in the 1990s, every few years, K-Mart would open a couple prototype stores in some exotic midwest locations. Usually at the end of the news coverage there would be a sentence like “unfortunately K-Mart can not afford to roll this design out to all its stores”. Hahah… Oh well. If anything, this station shows we need more federal investment in the subway, as the money is surely not going to come from the city or the state.

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » » More on the South Ferry art December 15, 2008 - 12:31 pm

[…] my illustrated tour of the new South Ferry terminal, I talked extensively about MTA’s $1 million Arts for Transit […]

Kevin Walsh December 18, 2008 - 10:34 pm

Not crazy about it…antiseptic and cold; looks like an IPod store, all white and chrome. Will dearly miss the artistic touches of the old South Ferry station, the plaques, mosaic signs.


Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » » Above-ground Fulton St. hub remains in limbo December 22, 2008 - 1:35 am

[…] the press gaggle prior to the tour of the new South Ferry station, the transit reporters gathered around Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital […]

Ed M. December 28, 2008 - 4:15 pm

The new South Ferry Terminal is sterile.
It has all the modern conveneinces for those who are either handicapped or can’t take the weather extremes.
Once the feds give out money, the new station had to be perfect for today, almost like a child’s Lego design.
The old stations character designs should have been incorporated into the new station.
I’ve had enough of the state of the art designs to fill a life time.
Shame on the MTA and Feds!

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Ron Evitts November 28, 2009 - 11:23 pm

surprised that no one has mentioned that the new station requires you to, once again, go out into the elements before entering the Whitehall Ferry Terminal. When we did the new design for the ferry terminal, the integrated 1/9 station was a real improvement and an appreciated amenity. perhaps the canopy arms of Peter Minuit Plaza can be modified to at least provide rain protection for that transfer.

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