Home Subway History Remembering the 9 train twenty years later

Remembering the 9 train twenty years later

by Benjamin Kabak

75px-NYCS-bull-trans-9.svg 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.

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Alon Levy August 27, 2009 - 9:59 am

I would add that skip-stop never really made sense. Skipping a station saves about 40 seconds on average – you can compare schedules of local and express trains. Even on the J/Z, which skip lightly used stations and which run skip-stop for longer than the 1/9, the total time savings from skip-stop is 5 minutes for people going from Jamaica to Manhattan.

Marc Shepherd August 27, 2009 - 11:08 am

It made sense given the demographics at the time, and the fact that it allowed them to run more trains. Saving 40 seconds was not really the driving force behind it. Obviously, as the demographics of the area changed, it no longer made sense, which is why they stopped it.

Alon Levy August 28, 2009 - 1:39 am

The fact that skipping a station saves 40 seconds means that the ability to run more trains is negligible. Skipping 3 stations in the peak direction would cut the round-trip time from two hours to 1:58, allowing the MTA to shorten headways from 3 minutes to 2:57, which is not useful to anyone.

Marc Shepherd August 28, 2009 - 10:08 am

No…incorrect. You can read the quote. Skip-stop enabled more trains to run.

Andrew August 28, 2009 - 6:57 pm

I don’t know what happened in 1989. But in 2005, when skip-stop was eliminated, the (combined) level of service remained the same, and I don’t think train requirements increased.

(Actually, I thought that alternate trains terminated at 137th Street prior to the 1989 introduction of skip-stop. So, from the passenger’s perspective, it was a win-win – every stop got at least as much service as it previously had, and trains were less crowded, and running times were a bit shorter. But I could be misremembering.)

Mike Nitabach August 27, 2009 - 8:20 pm

I was a grad student at Columbia in the 1990s, and I loved the fucking 9 train! To be honest, I had no idea it was gone…

AlexB August 28, 2009 - 10:40 am

The only drawback I can think of related to skip stop service is if someone’s starting point and destination are both along the portion of the line where the service is skip stop. Even then, there is only about a one in three chance that the train will skip your destination, and it only lasts a small portion of the day. How many people really commute from 238th st to 207th st, or some similar combination?

I’ve ridden the 1 uptown before, but never all the way, and it seems to stop everywhere and take forever. According to the schedule, it currently takes 25 minutes to get from 96th st to the end of the line at 242nd st. If I were traveling from up there, I would much prefer to get to 96th st in 22 minutes if someone gave me the option.

If you look at the track map for the 1 train north of 96th, there is a third track the MTA could use to skip 10 stops during rush hour (238, 231, 225, 215, 207, 137, 123, 116, 110, 103), saving about 6 minutes. No one complains when the 5, 6, or D run like that. Maybe that would be a better option, at least for a couple hours a day in the morning and afternoon, peak direction. With the large number of 1 trains they run, devoting 8 or so to the middle track would still provide pretty good servive to the purely local route. Combined with the 2/3, it would get you from 242nd st to Chambers in under 40 minutes.

Andrew August 28, 2009 - 7:19 pm

The main disadvantage of skip-stop is that people going to or from skip-stop stations have to wait twice as long for a train – which generally more than offsets the reduced running time (especially near the southern end of skip-stop, where reduction in running time is small or zero). By eliminating skip-stop in 2005, total travel time (wait time plus ride time) for the average rider went down. Also, skip-stop makes it difficult to recover from delays – for instance, if a northbound 1 has a door problem somewhere in Midtown and a 9 bypasses it on the express track, there will be two 9’s in a row, followed by two 1’s in a row, increasing wait times even more.

The end-to-end running time on the 1 is about an hour – I think a few minutes less. And virtually no one rides the line from end to end.

Your express idea has two major flaws. First, there isn’t one continuous middle track; there are two. That’s two opportunities for an express to catch up with a local and delay one or the other (or both). So I don’t think the express would save nearly as much time as you claim. Second, your express bypasses some incredibly busy stations while serving several lightly used ones. When everything runs smoothly, the result will be a lightly loaded express followed by an extremely overcrowded local (which, at local stops, is picking up a double load). And when things aren’t running so smoothly…

I say we leave the 1 as is. People who want an express can transfer at 168th Street to the A (or start out on the A in the first place) or at 96th Street to the 2/3.

Alon Levy August 28, 2009 - 8:19 pm

No, in Upper Manhattan the 1 has longer interstations. From 116 to 242, it averages a stop every half mile. From 145 to 207 it makes the same number of stops as the A and takes a more direct route. It also has enough room on the train to keep short dwells; when I rode it off-peak, the average speed would be on the order of 6-7 blocks per minute, on a par with the rush hour 2/3.

wayne's world August 28, 2009 - 1:07 pm

This is a great post. Lyricism about the 9 train is something I would never have anticipated. Asto Alex B’s good comment, that raises an ancillary issue for me. There are way too many stops on the 1 line. They should simply close 28th and 18th street for example. 18th street is only 4 blocks from the northern entry to the 14th St station. Anyone taking the train can manage that.The 28th street entrance is only four blocks from the 32nd entrance to the 34th St stop. If I recall correctly, when you are at Canal Street, you can see the train in the station to the south of it. And I am sure there are more examples of this.

Andrew August 28, 2009 - 7:22 pm

There already is a train that bypasses those three stops. It’s called the express.

Those stops are pretty well used. Your suggestion would inconvenience everyone who uses them and probably overload the entrances at the adjacent stops in either direction.

Gil September 2, 2009 - 9:14 am

I still don’t get the 18th street stop.

That said, an e-mail to Benjamin some time ago asking if he knew why the 18th street stop had remained open prompted a reply where he noted that the stops in downtown Manhattan are much closer, it’s just that nobody notices it because the streets are not numbered.

It took a few months of working on Maiden Lane and Williams Street to realize that the closest 2/3 stop to me was not 2 blocks north to Fulton Street, but rather a little less than a block south to Wall Street stop’s north entrance inside the Chase Manhattan Plaza.

Manuel September 9, 2009 - 5:38 am

“the stops in downtown Manhattan are much closer”
True: there’s even a few stations downtown where the platforms are longer than the space between the platforms.
But that doesn’t take away the fact that the stops on the 1 in Chelsea are very close to one another as well. I sometimes refer to the 1 as the “Chelsea Local”.

Rhonda January 20, 2010 - 3:51 pm

I feel so old. I was in junior high when the 9 train came along. It sucked if like me you lived on 145th, and had to wait for the 9 train and maybe 50 1 trains go by. How many days did I just end up walking from 137.

ADRIAN RODRIGUEZ March 11, 2011 - 9:13 pm


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angoe June 6, 2012 - 7:39 pm

I was 10 when the 9 train made its last trips but I loved that train because it was quick and got you were u needed to go. I remember making my mom wait till the 9 passed by. Rip 9 train

Steve s December 30, 2013 - 6:58 pm

Loved those elevators at 168 and 181 o the smell

tex June 21, 2014 - 9:18 pm

West side needs an express above 96th street.
You have a middle track in two segments. Use them

John December 23, 2022 - 8:21 pm

You can’t. They aren’t long enough.

Gerald Rivera August 4, 2014 - 10:51 pm

The 1 line needs a 9 train to run from south ferrtly to van courtlandts park so that the 1 train stops at south ferry and 137th Street and I would like to see the 9 train go to express in the afternoon and the 1 train going local just like the D train runs express and the b train running local

Roger Crane August 22, 2015 - 4:10 pm

Benjamin, it sounds like you went to Horace Mann not too long before I did – I’m not sure if our time there overlapped at all – and I grew up by 96th and Broadway as well, so everything you say resonates with me. I found your article because I saw a train stop at 96th last night displaying the 9. I thought it was an accident, but then I noticed what you were saying about the “anniversary” of the 9, and I realized that someone probably set the bullet up on purpose to commemorate it.

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Shaun D December 30, 2015 - 5:24 pm

Reading this article hits a special place in my heart as growing up on the UWS (79/bway) I felt the same way as the author about the 9… The 1/9 was very much a part of my life growing up in NYC but those days spent trekking up and down the west side of Manhattan, seeing a 9 train pull into the station always put a smile on my face.


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