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Confusing Subway Symbols


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Why do they use letters on some lines and numbers on others?



First off, each of those circles with the number and colors coorespond to the route. The inverted ones on the online line maps mean that its a part time transfer. The inverted J is because on the weekends the J ends two stops early, the S inverted on the Times Square Shuttle is because it doesn't run overnight.


The <6> and <7> are express versions of the 6 and 7, since they are just rush hour express runs, it didnt make sense to come up with a whole new number. On older maps the diamond symbols were meant as rush hour only routes, and many werent signed on the trains themselves, they had a <A> for the express in brooklyn but it was never on the trains or station signs.


The letter and number scheme was because of the different companies that ran the subway before they were unified. The Independant Subway company had A thru G. the IRT had 1 thru 7, the BMT used numbers but in the 1960s when new connections opened up, they changed it to J thru R. S was always used for Shuttles everywhere.

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Why do they use letters on some lines and numbers on others?



Numbers are used to denote the A Division - the former IRT Lines. On these lines, trains are shorter and narrower, since the dimensions of the IRT tubes/tunnels are short and narrow.


Letters are used to denote the B Division - the former BMT and IND lines. On these lines, trains are longer and wider, since the dimensions of the B Div. tubes/tunnels allow for such specs. A B Division train cannot run on the A Div b/c it is too long and wide - it wouldn't fit! Similarly, A Div trains can run on the B Div but cannot pick up passangers b/c the gap between the train and the platform would be very dangerous.


This YT video from the (MTA) should clear up and questions you might have.


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Thanks everyone I think I've got the hang of it now.The YT video was good.Here in London all the lines have names and colours. Central,Northern, Piccadilly, etc. There are certain lines here that are train specific. The old deep level tunnels from the original tube cannot take standard size trains.

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Think of it this way. The District line operates 5 disinct routings, Ealing broadway to upminster, Richmond to Upminster, Wimbeldon to Tower hill, wimbeldon to edgeware road and the Olymipia- High street Kensington shuttle.


What New York does is identify each service route seperately, even though they share thier main line. One could be marked A, one C, one E and one G


On the Met, Amersham could be B, Chesham could be D, Watford could be F and Uxbridge could be H.


The orginal idea behind the letter system was to tie branch and trunk routes for the IND lines.


The system used A-H. single letters were for express trains, double letters for locals.


A and AA 8th ave trunk, Washington heights branch (207th street for expresses, 168th street for locals)


B and BB 6th ave trunk, Washington heights branch


C and CC 8th ave trunk, Grand Concourse Branch (205th Street for expresses, Bedford Park Blvd for locals)


D and DD 6th ave trunk Grand Concourse Branch


E and EE 8th ave trunk Queens branch (opened in stages, idealt 179th street for expresses 71st/Continetal for locals)


F and FF 6th ave trunk Queens Branch


GG Brooklyn Queens Crosstown (does not use manhattan)


HH intened as fulton street Brooklyn local. Only ran as a shuttle due to WWII related work stopages. only ran from 1936 to 1946.


When they reconfigured the subway in 1967, the city planed ahead and imposed the letters before hand on the old BMT lines.


J for Jamaica


L for Canarsie


M for Myrtle ave


N for Sea Beach


Q for Brighton


R for the fourth ave-95th street.


T for the west end.


An inter divisonal route was also created and given the letter K


The BMT's routings were not as clear cut as the IND, so it lead to some odd combos


MJ, RJ, QJ, QB (brighton via manhattan bridge) QT (Brighton via Montegue street tunnel) and the really unqiue NX.


There was also the ever present problem of trains being local in one spot and express in the other. and express or local at diffrent times of day and going in diffrent directions, express one way and local the other.


in 1985, the MTA chucked using two letters and have had one per line since then. to denote express services of lines that would otherwise be runing local, the MTA started useing the diamound shaped logos. This grew to incudled rush hour extensions. in the mid 2000s, diamounds were droped except for the <7> and <6>, which denote express trains from their local counterparts. part time line extensions were then on noted with dashed lines, currently seen on the map for the 5 (238th street trains) D (Bedford Park Blvd trains) and A (Rockaway Park trains)

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Not to mention, the renaming of lines was a way to make the system easier to navigate through. This included new subway maps (The design you see today was first used tin 1979), new subway signage (The MTA tried that as early as 1966 with the signage being an inverted version of today's signage [black type on white background]), simpler colors (From every line having their own color to grouping them by trunk line).


That resulted in the current color system and similar routing system (Double letters still existed). It wasn't until 1987 that double letters were eliminated and new signs reached every part of the system, that the system became truly easy navigable.

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