Home Subway History When it was a train: the Culver shuttle

When it was a train: the Culver shuttle

by Benjamin Kabak

The 1964 subway map shows the Culver shuttle's connecting the 4th Avenue lines with the 6th Avenue lines well north of Coney Island.

Over on Subchat this morning, Newkirk Images posted a photo of the now-abandoned lower level of the 9th Ave. station in Brooklyn. Sitting in the center of the photo is a two-car train that has largely been lost to the history of the New York City subway system. That trainset is the Culver Shuttle.

The Culver Shuttle, as Joseph Brennan details at his Abandoned Stations site, had its origins in the late 19th Century steam-powered railroads that would take vacationing New Yorkers to the seaside resorts at Coney Island. With various elevated lines providing access throughout Brooklyn, the immediate history of the shuttle, says, Brennan is “fairly complex.” He writes:

Up to 1931, 5 Ave El trains provided all the service, and 9 Ave must have been busy with Culver passengers changing to the West End subway trains for a faster ride and access to many more places. The wooden el trains were slow and ran no farther than the end of the Brooklyn Bridge at Park Row, Manhattan.

When the Nassau St loop in lower Manhattan finally opened in 1931, the BMT began operating a mixture of subway and el services to the Culver line. Subway service ran Monday to Saturday, to Kings Highway in rush hours and summer Saturdays, and to Coney Island midday and other Saturdays. El service went to Coney Island rush hours, nights, summer Saturdays, and all Sundays, and otherwise ended at 9 Ave station. Is that clear? The BMT didn’t have enough subway cars for full service, so at rush hours and summers, the el had to pick up the service to the end of the line, so the subway trains could shortline. 9 Ave lower level saw its peak train service in these years, with both el and subway trains, and el trains reversing in the middle track during some hours…

The Transit Authority fulfilled a longstanding Board of Transportation plan in October 1954 when the IND subway was connected to the Culver line at Ditmas Ave station and took over all service to Culver stations beyond that point. BMT Culver service from a single track terminal at Ditmas Ave continued as before on weekdays, but nights and weekends it was a shuttle to 36 St. Ridership dropped, and in May 1959, it was made a shuttle full time, between Ditmas Ave and 9 Ave only.

As the subway system decayed throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the Culver Shuttle keep chugging along. It ran the BMT standard subway cars up through the early 1970s, and Brennan notes how the way Transit didn’t maintain this little-used station echoed the collapse of the system as a well. “The dark, deteriorating lower level at 9 Ave, and the partly dismantled elevated line gave it a mood of decay,” he writes. “There was just one track, the center at 9 Ave and the west side on the el, and one train operated all the service. The end was obviously in sight, but it somehow hung on until 1975.”

That year — 1975 — saw the demise of the Culver Shuttle amidst the now-familiar refrain of budgetary problems. Only 1000 people a day used the shuttle, and most of those were making the round trip to and from work. The MTA estimated it would cost $1 million it didn’t have to rehabilitate the elevated structure, and the shuttle, which once ran into Manhattan via the 4th Ave. line and Nassau St. loop, would be shuttered instead, with residents offered a free bus transfer as a replacement service.

The abandoned 9th Ave. platform as seen in 2002. Photo via NYC Subway.

These days, not much remains to remind New Yorkers of the Culver Shuttle. A sealed staircase leads to an abandoned platform, and the platform itself is in terrible shape. The rails too are but a memory as they were demolished in 1984. The rights of way between 9th Ave. and Ditmas Ave. have generally long since been sold to private developers, and houses in Brooklyn now mark the tracks of the old Culver Shuttle. Today, only stub tracks remain, a remnant of this rich history of rail travel in Brooklyn.

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John August 20, 2010 - 12:58 pm

I love abandoned stations. I was in NYC last week and found myself at the Chambers St. station and walked up and down the platform a few times looking across at the long-closed side platform. (http://www.columbia.edu/~brenn.....mbers.html)

I can’t imagine how busy that station must have been to necessitate separate exit and entry platforms!

Jay August 20, 2010 - 1:40 pm

I too love the Chambers Street station. I wish Ben could do a complete expose on it as there is so much history within. Did you know that the local track where they tore down the side platform elevates because the plan was to have it swing over the Brooklyn Bridge?

This station is like no other in the system, reminds me of being in some sort of gothic catacomb. If the SAS should ever make it downtown, this would be a great terminal and/or connecting station as it has tons of capacity if it were ever properly repaired.

The more you know 🙂

Jay August 20, 2010 - 1:50 pm

Also, i always thought it would be really cool and definately unique if the MTA removed the wall that seperates the BMT and IRT stations where the western side platform once was. It would be an immense view to look across from the eastern side of the BMT station all the way to the west side of the IRT. Thats like 8 tracks in sight!

That wall cant possibly be for support services, the original huge columns that support the muni building do the job and the tile work is not original so there’s nothing worth saving.

I admit, i love the station, esp. since i work in the building, i was able to gain access to the abandoned north mezz thats now part of our basement. All the original tilework and mosaics are still there and in pristine condition. It really is something to see.

Sorry for my rant

John August 20, 2010 - 2:02 pm

Is that mezzanine where the closed side platform stairs go up to?

Scott E August 20, 2010 - 3:31 pm

Or even more fascinating is that according to Forgotten NY, the Long Island Rail Road used to run here between 1913 and 1917. And today we only dream about a downtown LIRR connection! I’d love to find out more about that one.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying I love Chambers St. station though. It’s hard to love something that looks as decrepit as it does today. Someone with an artistic vision could certainly turn it into a grand structure, though

Bolwerk August 21, 2010 - 4:52 pm

It’s pretty amazing that what is essentially the welcome mat to all the major municipal services looks so shitty.

Bolwerk August 20, 2010 - 4:33 pm

I’m sure it was busier at one time, but I think the platform arrangement has to do with how it used to terminate trains from both directions. I believe this practice survived into the 1980s.

Peter August 23, 2010 - 10:33 pm

Before the Nassau Street loop was severed, with the construction of the Chrystie Street Connection, there was more definitely more service, though I have no doubt even then, the station had been ‘too big’ for a long time.

Also, about a dozen years ago, the TA consolidated the track usage at Bowery and Chambers, so that 2 abandoned tracks (and platforms) didn’t separate uptown/downtown service.

I write some more about the Chambers Street station here on my blog.


Jerrold August 20, 2010 - 1:16 pm

And the subway keeps changing.
THIS sentence on the site linked to in that message
is now out of date:

“Touring: J M Z trains to Chambers St.”

Bolwerk August 20, 2010 - 4:34 pm

Shortly after the changeover, I was on a downtown M that (apparently accidentally) went to Chambers instead of Forest Hills.

I guess even motormen and dispatchers get set in their ways.

Jerrold August 20, 2010 - 10:40 pm

I seem to remember that a confusing incident took place (I’m not sure if it was the first day of the new routes or shortly afterward).
Because of a track fire, some morning rush hour M trains were sent SOUTHWARD, over their old route, instead of NORTHWARD over the 6th Ave. line. I can understand how the passengers on those trains must have been going nuts trying to figure out what was going on anyway.

Bolwerk August 21, 2010 - 2:54 pm

Maybe that was it, though I heard no (audible) announcement.

Jerrold August 20, 2010 - 1:27 pm

Something strange that I just noticed about that 1964 map:

The use of “6 Ave. Line” for the el over McDonald Ave.

“Culver Line” would have made more sense, and “Culver Shuttle”
could have been used for the shuttle.

Mike August 20, 2010 - 1:55 pm

If you watch the last scene of Crocodile Dundee, it claims to be Columbus Circle, but I believe it’s actually the lower level of the 9th Ave station.

Max S. (WilletsPoint-SheaStadium) August 20, 2010 - 4:42 pm

I think there is one last remnant that often gets neglected. At the Ditmas Avenue station on the (F) there still remains the old yellow caution line where the current wall is where the shuttle used to pull in: http://www.nycsubway.org/perl/show?89328

ferryboi August 21, 2010 - 4:05 pm

Amazing how clean the 9th Ave station is in the 1964 photo. Can’t remembre the last time I saw a station that spotless.

MaximusNYC August 22, 2010 - 12:55 pm

I use the Ditmas Ave. station every day, and have always been intrigued by the spur of elevated track, to the north of the platforms, that curves away toward the old Culver shuttle route.

publicadm031568 March 27, 2012 - 6:16 pm

why could the MTA rehabilate this line in 1975, and tear down the Franklin Shuttle instead? At least the Culver Shuttle ran through a populated area.

publicadm031568 March 27, 2012 - 6:17 pm

(CORRECTED POST)why couldn’t the MTA rehabilate this line in 1975, and tear down the Franklin Shuttle instead? At least the Culver Shuttle ran through a populated area.

MTA IG report highlights deferred maintenance, inspections :: Second Ave. Sagas May 9, 2013 - 12:47 am

[…] The other explanations follow suit. We know there are issues with vaulted ceilings as we’ve seen them collapse. We know New York City’s bridges are structural deficient because it’s been in the news for years. One aspect of the report, though, struck me as particularly short-sighted, and that area concerns the former 9th Ave. terminal of the Culver Shuttle. […]

Alan May 9, 2013 - 7:50 pm

There is no shortage of population along Franklin Avenue.

publicadm031568 May 14, 2013 - 2:35 pm

just a shortage of fare-paying passengers: consider that the dean st station was removed because most people were jumping the turnstyles. i don’t believe that was a problem on the culver shuttle in 1975. the culver shuttle could have been instrumental in establishing express service on the culver line in 2013.


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