I grew up three blocks away from the West Side IRT station at 96th and Broadway. For the first six years of my life, I learned the subway from the front windows of the 1, 2 or 3 trains. The 2 — the old red birds — were my favorite until one day in 1989 when the MTA introduced the 9 train.
Six-year-old Benjamin was smitten. It was a brand new subway train that would stop at his home station and skip some far-away stations in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx in which I as a child never set foot. I was disappointed when I realized that the 9 trains were just 1 trains with a different bullet, but to me, that 9 always looked like a big grin. It was a welcoming child.
In high school, I came to enjoy the 9 train. During my junior and senior years, I would take the subway from 96th St. north up Broadway to 242nd St. before walking up Post Road to my school on 246th St. Each day, I would hope for a 9 train because, in my mind, it was faster. The 9 train skipped four stops north of 125th St. while the 1 skipped only three. It was simple subway math.
After high school, the 9 train faded from my subway conscious. On Sept. 11, 2001, the MTA suspended 9 train service as they had to change a slew of routes to accommodate for the damage to the subway system in and around Ground Zero. While the 9 returned a few days after the one-year anniversary of those terrorist attacks, it was but an afterthought. Less than three years later, it would be wiped from the map, a victim of the northern Manhattan population boom that continues to this day.
Last week, I missed an anniversary of the 9 train, and today, I’d like to revisit the origins of this train. The first nine train rolled off the line Monday, August 21, 1989, twenty years and six days ago. Donatella Lorch reported on this service addition for The Times:
The new service provides ”skip-stop” service between 6:30 A.M and 7 P.M. on weekdays, freeing the old No. 1 local to skip four stops between 137th and 242d Street. The purpose, says the Transit Authority, is to provide a faster and less crowded ride for people in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan. Not everyone believes this will happen. Some passengers say they will spend more time on platforms, transferring or waiting for the right train to come along…
”It slows me down because I have to change trains for no good reason,” complained Frank Gary as he waited yesterday evening at 137th Street for an uptown train to 157th Street. ”I knew about it this morning so I did not get confused.”
Jared Lebow, a Transit Authority spokesman, said the new line would save up to three minutes on a ride from South Ferry to 242d Street. That’s not much, he said, but cumulatively, over the course of a day, enough time is saved to get more use out of the trains. He also said that a total of 28 No. 1 and 9 trains would now run during each rush hour, instead of the 25 that used to run on the No. 1 line.
For 16 years, residents of northern Manhattan complained about the 9 service. While those of us passing through enjoyed the luxury and perceived speed of the seat-saving skip-stop service, people in Marble Hill, Inwood, Washington Heights and Harlem felt slighted by the MTA.
By 2005, the need for this service had greatly diminished. In fact, as the skipped stations had grown in ridership, Transit had to restore full-line service to Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, and 12,000 per day experienced more frequent service when the 9 was axed. “Skip-stop service on the 1 line is an idea which today doesn’t make sense for our operations or our customers,” Lawrence G. Reuter, the president of New York City Transit at the time, said to Sewell Chan in 2005. “By eliminating skip-stop service, the majority of riders along the 1 line will benefit from shorter travel times and will no longer have to stand on platforms as trains pass them by during rush hour.”
The last 9 train rode up and down the West Side IRT local tracks on May 31, 2005, and it passed quietly into subway lore. Twenty years ago last week, it debuted, and now it is but a memory in the minds of New Yorkers, a fleeting part of straphanger past.