The Lexington Avenue Line (also known as the East Side Line) is one of the lines of the IRT division of the New York City Subway, stretching from Downtown Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan north to 125th Street in East Harlem. The portion in Lower and Midtown Manhattan was part of the city's first subway line. The line is served by the 4 5 6 8.

The line is also known as the IRT East Side Line. For a long time, it was the only line in Manhattan to directly serve the Upper East Side and East Midtown; this four-track line is the most used rapid transit line in the United States. Its average of 1.3 million daily riders is more than the combined riderships of the transit systems of San Francisco (452,600 weekday passengers), Chicago (772,900 weekday passengers), and Boston (569,200). In 2007, its ridership also exceeded that of the entire Washington Metro, and in part spurred the construction of the Second Avenue Subway that year.

Four stations along this line have been abandoned. When platforms were lengthened to fit ten cars, it was deemed most beneficial to close these stations and open new entrances for adjacent stations. The 18th Street station was abandoned because of the proximity to both 14th Street–Union Square and 23rd Street. In addition, the City Hall and Worth Street stations were both very close to the Brooklyn Bridge–City Hall station's Brooklyn Bridge and Duane Street exits, respectively, so both were abandoned. Finally, South Ferry is within walking distance of Bowling Green, and is right next to the corresponding station on the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line.

Extent and serviceEdit

Services that use the Lexington Avenue Line are colored apple green. The following services use part or all of the Lexington Avenue Line:

  Time period Section of line
Rush hours
and middays
and weekends
Late nights
4 express local full line
5 no service full line (weekdays)
north of Bowling Green (evenings & weekends)
6 local north of Brooklyn Bridge–City Hall
<6> local no service
8 local

The Lexington Avenue Line begins in lower Manhattan at the inner loop of the abandoned South Ferry station. North of the station is a merge with the tracks of the Joralemon Street Tunnel from Brooklyn, which become the express tracks. These run north under Broadway and Park Row to Centre Street. At the south end of Centre Street, directly under New York City Hall, is the City Hall Loop and its abandoned station, which was the southern terminus of the original IRT subway line. The loop is still used to turn 6 <6> 8 service; the Lexington Avenue local tracks, which feed the loop, rise up to join the express tracks just south of Brooklyn Bridge–City Hall station.

From Brooklyn Bridge, the line continues northward in a four-across track layout under Centre Street, Lafayette Street, Fourth Avenue, and Park Avenue South until 42nd Street. At this point, the beginning of Metro-North Railroad's Park Avenue tunnel in Grand Central Terminal forces the Lexington Avenue Line to shift slightly eastward to Lexington Avenue; its Grand Central–42nd Street station is located on the diagonal between Park and Lexington. Just south of Grand Central, a single non-revenue track connects the IRT 42nd Street Shuttle to the southbound local track; this was part of the original IRT subway alignment.

Under Lexington Avenue, the line assumes a two-over-two track configuration, with the local tracks running on the upper level and the express on the lower, although it briefly returns to a four-across layout between 96th Street and 116th Street. 125th Street returns to this two-over-two layout, although here the upper level is used by all northbound trains and the lower level by southbound trains.

North of this, the line crosses under the Harlem River into the Bronx via the four-track Lexington Avenue Tunnel, where the line splits into the IRT Jerome Avenue Line on the western two tracks (4 5) and the IRT Pelham Line on the eastern two tracks (6 8).


Construction started on the first IRT line in 1900. A 1902 explosion during construction seriously damaged properties just above the line. The part of the line from City Hall to just south of 42nd Street was part of the original IRT line, opened on October 27, 1904. A 0.3 mile extension to Fulton Street opened at 12:01 a.m. on January 16, 1905. Only the northbound platform opened at this time. The next station, Wall Street, was opened on June 12, 1905 as well as the southbound platform at Fulton Street.

The first revenue train on the South Ferry extension left South Ferry at 11:59 p.m. on July 9, 1905; the extension of the IRT White Plains Road Line to West Farms opened just after.

The first train ran through the Joralemon Street Tunnel to Brooklyn about 12:45 a.m. on January 9, 1908.

The original plan for what became the extension north of 42nd Street was to continue it south through Irving Place and into what is now the BMT Broadway Line at Ninth Street and Broadway. Contracts awarded on July 21, 1911 included Section 6 between 26th Street and 40th Street; at the time, the IRT had withdrawn from the talks, and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) was to operate on Lexington Avenue. The IRT submitted an offer for what became its portion of the Dual Contracts on February 27, 1912, and construction was soon halted on Section 6.

The rest of the line, north to 125th Street, opened on July 17, 1918. However, until the evening of August 1, 1918, it ran as a shuttle on the local tracks only, terminating at 42nd Street and at 167th Street on the IRT Jerome Avenue Line (where the connection from the elevated IRT Ninth Avenue Line merged). On August 1, service patterns were changed, and the Lexington Avenue Line became a through route. The IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line also switched from shuttle operation at that time, and the IRT 42nd Street Shuttle was formed along the old connection between the sides. Due to the shape of the system, it was referred to as the "H system". The first section of the IRT Pelham Line also opened to Third Avenue–138th Street on August 1, 1918.

On April 13, 1948, the platform extensions to accommodate ten-car trains at 23rd Street, 28th Street, and 33rd Street were opened for use.

On November 15, 1962, the express platforms at Lexington Avenue–59th Street opened to reduce transfer congestion at Grand Central–42nd Street, and to allow transfers between the express trains and BMT trains to Queens. Even before the express platforms were added, this station was the busiest on the line. Construction for the express station began on August 10, 1959. Along with the new express platforms, a new mezzanine was built above it to connect it to the local station, and the Broadway Line station. Two high speed escalators were added to connect the local and express platforms. Two additional high speed escalators were built to connect the local platforms with the new mezzanine. The express station opened three months prior than originally planned. As part of the plan, the local platforms were extended to accommodate 10-car trains. In addition, new entrances and booths were added to the 59th Street ends of the northbound and southbound sides. The whole cost of the project was $6,500,000.

On April 28th, 1973, the 8 was extended to the Lexington Avenue Line, creating two locals and two expresses on the busy lines. Around this time, late night local service was added onto the 4 and cut 6 and 8 service to south of 125th Street. By the late 1990's, 8 service returned to Brooklyn Bridge.

On August 28, 1991, an accident with a 4 train on the express track just north of the 14th Street–Union Square station killed five riders and injured 215 others in the worst accident on the system since the 1928 Times Square derailment. As a result of the crash, new safety protocols were put in place and there was a partial implementation of automation of the New York City Subway.

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