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book review

Tracks of the New York City Subway  
by Peter J. Dougherty

Reviewed by Paul Matus  Page 3



For clarity, Dougherty gives us two views of Broadway Junction on the BMT, so we miss none of the detail. Tracks of the New York City Subway 

But Wait! There's More!
If you need even more convincing that the paper copy is worthy of consideration, Dougherty piles on additional goodies for the interested reader.
     His introduction gives a basic primer of the New York City subway system and a short outline of its history, touching base on the two largest events to impact the system in the last 60 years, "Unification," in which the City of New York took over the private systems, and "Chrystie Street," the lower Manhattan track connection that integrated large parts of the old BMT and IND systems.
     Dougherty explains how track numbering is done, and how directions are determined on the system. In a separate section, he explains how "chaining" works. Chaining is the system by which locations on the system are described with accuracy. The letters and numbers you see on a plate attached to each signal on the system can actually tell you what line you're on and how far you are from a fixed location, known as "chaining zero." Not to leave the reader to up in the air, Doughery provides a listing of all the chaining letters on the system, where the zero points are located, and the differences between BMT/IND and IRT signal coding methods.
     If you're one of the folks who likes to listen in to know the "secret" doings of the system, Dougherty includes the radio frequencies of each division, police frequencies, the meaning of the "12" codes used in radio conversion (e.g., "12-12" is a disorderly passenger) and the interpretation of the train operators' horn or whistle signals.
     There's also a glossary of the most common jargon. What's that striped board called that hangs over the platform, visible from the track side? (It's a Conductor's Board.) What's OPTO? And when is a train "foul"?
     A few extra curiosities round out the book. A track map of the Bronx portion of the 3rd Avenue el, closed in 1973, another of the Culver Shuttle, closed in 1975. The track plan of the South Brooklyn Railway's freight connection to the Cross Harbor Railway. And for those with an eye to the future, the track plan of the new 63rd Street tunnel line and its connection with the IND Queens Boulevard Line.
     And just for good measure, there are simple track plans of the Staten Island Rapid Transit line and of the underground portions of the Port Authority's subway-like PATH line to New Jersey, the former Hudson & Manhattan Railroad.

So What Isn't in the Book?
After describing all the detail is this unusual work, you might wonder what could possibly be missing.
     Most obvious is that there is no service guide. Though each station is keyed with the letters or numbers of the usual services at that station, there is no unified description of routings and times of service. A possible reason to not provide this information is that service changes can be fairly frequent (if minor) and might unnecessarily obsolete a particular edition of the book. Also, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's official map (called The Map) is detailed and easy to use and is a good companion to this book. It's also available free and updated frequently, and is probably one of the best free transit maps in existence, covering the commuter lines as well as the subways.
     It would be nice to have color coded tracks, to make the complex junctions even more readable, as well as to emphasize in-service and not-in-service tracks. It is a good guess, though, that the extra cost of color might make the cost of the book prohibitive.
     Finally, there is a personal favorite I would like to see included. Dougherty includes the track numbers, helping us follow different routings. As previously mentioned he explains the "chaining" system, but he doesn't include the chaining measurements at key points, such as at switches and stations. These numbers would be an invaluable resource for the understanding of distances and locations on the system, as well as a useful research tool.

Is this Book for You?
By this point in the review you've probably answered the question for yourself. If the level of detail presented makes you wonder why anyone would want to know that much about the New York City subway system, you won't be a buyer. But if you can picture yourself spending happy hours tracing tracks and routes, the book is a "must-have."

Illustrations in this review are 1999 by Peter Dougherty.

Links to Route Maps:

Joseph Brennan's NYC Area Subway/RR/Rail Transit Diagram
Joseph Brennan's Geographic NYC Area Map
Official MTA NYC subway map at MTA site.

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Last updated April 15, 2000