It was originally named the 8th Avenue Subway, but the 'A' train turns 75 today, having opened September 10th, 1932. Officials are holding a ceremony at the line's northernmost station––Inwood/207th St.––and will be running six antique railcars from the 1930s during the day to commemorate the event. This is more than the Eighth Ave. Subway garnered on its opening day: Back in 1932, just before midnight, transit workers simply dropped chains blocking access to turnstiles up and down the line and riders were free to pay the five cent fare at any of the original 28 stations between 207th St. and Chambers St., a total distance of 12 miles.

2007_09_atrain.jpgToday the 'A' train runs for 32 miles, all the way to Far Rockaway in Queens. It is designated the 'A' train because it was the first line on a new city-owned subway system. Previously, subways were privately owned by the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) Company and the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT), and the city-owned line was known as the IND, for Independent Subway System. Second Avenue Sagas plumbed the archives of the Times and has more details about the opening day, like the first passenger on at 42nd St. and the first customer complaint (which took only minutes to register).

It only took seven years for the original 12 miles of the 'A' train to be built. Another article in the September 10, 1932 edition of the Times had some fun with the numbers associated with the project. Examples:

  • 22 million cubic yards of earth and rock were excavated during the project. Enough to raise Central Park by four feet if spread evenly over its entire area.
  • 1,000,000 cubic yards of concrete were used in the tunnel. Enough to build a highway such as the Bronx River Parkway from New York City to Albany.
  • 150,000 tons of steel was used on the line, or three times as much steel as in the Empire State Building.
  • 750,000 square feet of glazed tiles were used in the construction, or enough to decorate 5,500 average-sized bathrooms. (Would someone figure out how large the average-sized bathroom was in 1932?)

Fun sports fact about the A train's first day: We imagine commuters were reading of a batting explosion by Lou Gehrig, who hit 8

home runs

runs home in nine innings the day before––and the Yankees still lost the game.

Most people around the world who will never ride or never rode the 'A' probably recognize its name because of Duke Ellington, who popularized Billy Strayhorn's song Take the 'A' Train. One A train rider told the NY Times, "There’s no 6 train song or D train song. The A train has a little more cultural significance.”

(the A-train, by insunlight at flickr)