Collecting every historical map I could find, using GIS data, satellite imagery (both current and historic), YouTube videos of fan trips, my own observations looking out the window of trains through tunnels, and talking to retired track workers I was able to draw what I believe to be the most accurate track map of the NYC Subway ever.
Anyone who rides the subway is familiar with the standard subway map, a cartoon version of the real thing which is designed to aid the rider through their travels. The geography of the subway is such that there are places where many lines are close together which would clutter an accurate map which results in subway maps expanding these areas. The inverse is true in the outer boroughs where lines can be spaced further apart taking up extra space on a map so subway maps often condense these areas. Because of this designed distortion the subway map as we know it is more of a diagram: the important information like the color of lines and stations are there but the non essential details are distorted or removed. The subway map just has a simple line to indicate a train when in reality lines consist of a pair of tracks or more if there is express service; there are also crossover tracks so trains can switch tracks. Stations usually consist of multiple platforms, sometimes in odd configurations. But the simple subway map condenses this information to show subway lines as simple single colored lines and stations as simple dots.
To show a system map as it truly exists you need to find a track map. A track map is exactly what it sounds like, a map showing the individual tracks, crossovers, and station platforms as they really exist. Track maps are often drawn as simple schematics with straight lines for rails and boxes for station platforms. Most people would never have to use one and in fact their primary use is in control towers to display where trains are and which switches are thrown (therefore showing the route of a train). Because the control tower only needs to know where trains are and where they are going the track maps are even simpler than subway route maps.
For the subway buff there has been one track map that is considered dogma: Peter Dougherty’s system maps first published in 1996 (having since been updated by others) and available at nycsubway.org as well as in print. Additionally Robert Marrero designed his own map called 472 Stations, 850 Miles with a cleaner design ethos using 90 and 45 degree angles. In my monk-like research into all things unbuilt I have also found may fan sketches of sections of the subway to show proposed lines. But all of these maps left me wanting; they are still diagrams that have no accurate geography to understand where the trains, tracks, and stations really are.
As I am always tinkering with ideas to expand the subway I found these inaccuracies too limiting and set out to draw my own track map as accurate as possible. Collecting every historical map I could find, using GIS data, satellite imagery (both current and historic), YouTube videos of fan trips, my own observations looking out the window of trains through tunnels, and talking to retired track workers I was able to draw what I believe to be the most accurate track map of the NYC Subway ever. Features I’ve added to the map are all provisions for future expansion and abandoned sections with a notes section explaining each one as well as an exploded view for the more complex stations and areas obscured by overlapping tracks. I’ve elected to remove all streets as not to clutter the map and also not to imply that specific sections (such as crossovers) are perfectly aligned to the street grid. While the map is geographically accurate at this scale tracks had to be spaced far enough apart to read correctly so lines are not perfect aligned with the widths of the streets. Also some train yards have been truncated to fit within the geographical boundaries of the map.
Click here to download the PDF version of the map.
As I’ve striven to be as accurate as possible given what I can find any additional corrections or insight is welcomed. Please leave me a comment here or email me at [email protected]