Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Hudson and Manhattan Tubes—Now Known as PATH trains

For those not familiar with those terms: the H and M Tubes or more familiarly known as “The Tubes” was a dinky railroad that ran atop and below ground connecting New Jersey and New York City. There are two tunnels under the Hudson River.Map In 1962 the railroad was taken over by the Port Authority of NY-NJ. Thus it became the Port Authority Trans Hudson and quickly was known as PATH. The trackage and the tunnel sizes weren't and still aren’t compatible with the commuter trains in Jersey or the subways of New York. Net-net, I rode the “Tubes” or Path twice a day from 1949 until about 1980. I would ride the Erie-Lackawanna to Hoboken , then on to the Tubes to 34th Street, then walk a mile of take a subway to work (weather sensitive).That was a period of gradual disintegration of the whole transportation system around New York City.

A ride on the Tubes could be fun, or boring, or more claustrophobic than spelunking. It all depended on the time of day and where you got on and off. The most fun was standing up front right next to the engineer’s little cubbyhole. Looking out you could tell when next the train would slam from side to side around curves. You could spot the spooky images of an occasional track walker and knew the engineer was about to give a little toot on the train whistle. The trackwalker would wave his lantern in reply and at the last second, duck into one of those tiny safety alcoves along the track. It made you reflect that you would rather have the job you were going to than his. We never could figure out in advance when, car by car, the lights would go out leaving newspaper readers to find their place again when the lights came on again. And newbies to let out a squeal of fright. The weirdest mystery involved the occasional blue light. On a straight stretch, far ahead, would appear two lights, a reddish purple one and a blue one. As the train approached them, they gradually came closer together and merged into a single blue light as it was passed. Strange.

The few seats were occupied by women and the elderly (or unthinking men who wondered why their feet were so often stepped on while they sat in front of a woman in spike heels.) Standing in the middle of the car could be more intimate than...well, very intimate. Almost once a day someone would get their torso aboard and leave a leg or briefcase outside the closing doors -- leading to a moment of group panic. But the conductor would peek out between cars and look both ways before giving the engineer the go ahead. Seeing anything protruding, he would give the door control a quick open and close, yielding enough time for the human limb to be drawn in to safety. However, often, the human reflex to let go of a briefcase was faster than the conductor and the briefcase contents were strewn over the station platform.

In the later years, I was content to engage in a contest with myself. Sitting or standing, I would fold the NY Times so that only the crossword puzzle was visible. Then, using a pen, the trick was to finish the puzzle before arriving at 34th Street. This was feasible on Monday, most Tuesdays, sometimes on Wednesday, and rarely on Thursday or Friday. Those familiar with the Times puzzle know why.

Two days ago, 9/11, I wondered what the downtown station was called before the World Trade Center was built and what that station is called today. The second question was easy, it is still the WTC station. But I am going to have to research further to jog my memory on the olden days name. In the learning process I read of the $3.1 billion rehab the line is to undergo. Way to go, Port Authority!


OestreBunny said...

I emailed you earlier but i've just figured out how i can leave comments so I'll do that too!

being a track walker would be an awful job...poor folk. makes me glad to stacking shelves in Tesco! - almost.

Have you ever ridden the tubes in london, a truly unique experience if anything.

Keith said...

As a Brit who once took the F train from midtown NY to Chinatown at teatime, I decided this was one thing you should do once, but only once in a lifetime !

Archana said...

New york has an amazing public transportation system. It was so easy to get around once I figured it out!

But I think riding during rush-hour on the local trains in Mumbai (Bombay) is a one-of-a-kind experience i.e. if you recover enough from the shock to tell your tale :-D!