Opening Day on the Second Avenue Subway

Its not funny; its art.

How can a major infrastructure project open decades late and also right on time? Welcome to the new Second Avenue Subway line in New York City.

Three new stations opened for service on New Year’s Day to great fanfare. The stations were packed with long-time locals and tourists alike, all happy to be a part of history. The opening was not without drama but the trains are rolling and the stations are (mostly) ready to handle the initial influx of passengers with significantly easier access to the rest of the city now via the Q line.

The new station platforms are still clean!
The new station platforms are still clean!
Semi-still life in the new station
Semi-still life in the new station

The first full run on the new line pulled out of Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue station at 11:09 on Sunday morning. The passengers were mostly typical riders, unaware that the ride was anything particularly special. And it was not the first service to reach the new stations; that honor went to a set of cars that rolled from 57th Street-5th Avenue, not the full Q run. And the crush of inaugural riders slowed service a bit initially as the trains were delayed in stations for photographs. But the service launched and just over an hour after departing from Coney Island the 11:09 train pulled in to 96th Street, completing the first transit of the new line.

Inside the Stillwell Avenue station before the trip up to 96th & 2nd
Inside the Stillwell Avenue station before the trip up to 96th & 2nd

After the ride we spent some time exploring each of the three new second avenue stations. They are functional, with wifi and cellular service installed and even a couple USB ports on the platform at the 96th Street station. They are also aesthetically appealing, with art lining the walls at the concourse level above the tracks. But there are lots of little and not so little things that are still not quite right. The new stations are functional but they do not appear to be complete.

Eventually these tracks will carry trains further north on Second Avenue

The USB charging points are a great example. We spotted 2 USB plugs on a single sign on the 96th Street platform. The sign is adjacent to benches. The plugs are on the side away from the benches rather than being in a place where a rider can sit and recharge a device.

Technically there are USB charge points on the platform. But not really in a useful place nor quantity.
Technically there are USB charge points on the platform. But not really in a useful place nor quantity.

The art concourse at each station is also an interesting choice. It is unclear why the MTA chose to build the extra concourse level in each station. It serves no purpose I can discern other than to house the art work. And some f the art is amazing, but those are incredibly expensive galleries to build underground. And it also means more elevators and escalators that can break and larger areas to maintain. Similar concourses do exist elsewhere in the system; I know that 14th Street-8th Avenue has one. But that space is also used for offices and retail shops. It does not appear that the new Second Avenue Line concourses are provisioned for such.

Exploring the 96th Street station on New York City's new Second Avenue Subway
Exploring the 96th Street station on New York City’s new Second Avenue Subway

Looking closely at the construction it appears that the final details were rushed or skipped in some areas to reach the opening deadline. Little things like the emergency exits not being able to lock, for example, will obviously need to be addressed at some point, though not a deal-breaker for launching service.

Someone is always watching on the new Second Avenue Subway line in New York City

And at least one station escalator was out of service on the first day.

No doubt that the new stations and service will ease the lives of countless residents and visitors. I lived in the area for just over a year when I first moved to New York City and having this train available would have significantly changed my day-to-day experience for the better. But there is still plenty of work to be done. And the new budget for the next phase is even higher than the just opened section. Ouch.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I was on the inaugural train from 57th today – Was exciting – I’ve never seen so many people smiling – Amazing it took this long! The Art work is great, the stations are great with lots of art work – I agree with you, the stations were rushed and need more work – Thats why the trains aren’t running in the evenings for the next week or so – Regarding the escalator – They had more construction/electrical/escalator people on staff – I’d be surprised if it wasn’t fixed already – This line will transform the Upper East Side

  2. And to follow up Ben, the person posing with the self portatit is doing a self portrait of this blog.

  3. Concourse levels serve an important purpose at crowded stations with more access points,, getting people off the platform quickly, allowing new people to access the platform for the next train. I don’t know if the 2nd Ave subway is set up this way.

    1. It is entirely possible this is the reason for the design. That said, the main platforms is very wide so I’m not sure it was necessary. But I can see how that would be advantageous.

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