14th Street-Union Square Complex

This complex serves the BMT Broadway N/R/Q/W lines, with the BMT 14th Canarsie L line and the IRT Lexington Ave 4/5/6 lines.  It was renovated in the early 1990’s and offers ADA access to only the BMT lines, because of the gap fillers and the nature of the IRT platforms, there is no ADA access at the Lexington Ave platforms.  The complex was selected as the underground site for a permanent memorial to the victims who died during the 9/11 WTC attacks because 2 officers, who were assigned to Transit Police District #4 by the BMT Broadway side, gave their lives during 9/11 and are immortalized here.  The 1990’s renovation also made the station easier to use, the complex maze of passageways was redesigned and simplified.

Lexington Ave IRT (Union Square East and East 14th Street) Opened 10/27/1904 4 tracks on 2 island platforms, both platforms are curved.  The cure is offset by gap fillers that are triggered by sensors near the station when the train comes to a full stop.  There is a red LED display by the C/R position to let him/her know the doors can open.  Also, a timer signal is set to red until the gap fillers are pushed back and the train can proceed.  There are also sealed platforms against the walls on both local tracks, the northbound “wall” platform is used for utility storage by station cleaners and other personnel while the S/B side remains sealed.  The platforms were extended in the 1950’s; the N/B side was extended at the south end, while the S/B side was extended to the north end.  The station was nearest to the site of the transit systems 2nd worst accident, otherwise called the 1991 Union Square accident.

On 8/21/1991, Train Operator Robert Ray started his evening run from an R62 #4 train from Woodlawn.  Under the influence of alcohol, he already overshot (passed through a station without making the required stop.) Mosholu Parkway and Fordham Road stations.  The Conductor, who was Mr. Ray’s partner on the train, did not question  Mr. Ray’s strange activity so he continued operating his train.  At around 10 PM that fateful evening, Mr. Ray left Grand Central station, and maintained speeds in excess of 40 MPH or greater.  At that time, a work train was idling on the express track at the next stop, 14th Street-Union Square and there were signal timers activated to slow down Mr. Ray’s speeding train (there was a diverge signal, so the required speed limit was not more than 10 MPH when switching from express to local track).  Mr. Ray ignored the signal aspects to diverge (switch over to the local track) and continued speeding, jumping switch and jackknifing the first 6 cars of the train.  The lead car of the 10 car train, #1436, made it through the switch, but the next 5 cars (#1437 through #1440 and Car #1435) were smashed up into the twisting pillars.  Cars were either torn like shredded paper or their steel was twisted in the wreck which claimed 5 lives and injured dozens more people who were inside the runaway train.  The accident closed the entire Lexington Ave line between Brooklyn Bridge and 86th Street for six days while workers raced around the clock to repair the damaged infrastructure and roadbed.  Car #1438 at the front end is the only survivor of the Union Square wreck; all the other front 4 cars were scrapped.  Robert Ray was caught sleeping in Union Square Park, just hours after the accident; he was convicted of multiple counts of First Degree Manslaughter. Despite Mr. Ray’s responsibility for 5 deaths, NY State Law only permits concurrent, not consecutive sentencing, so he is serving only one 15 year term.  It’s sad that lawmakers in Albany refuse to correct this injustice to this day; the problem is drunk driving, which is similar to Mr. Ray’s drunken operation of a train.

BMT Broadway Line (On Union Square West at East 14th Street)  Opened 4/14/1918 Station is 4 tracks on 2 island platforms, platform extensions are to the north end on both sides. The platform walls have the BMT mosaics of a house within a village and appear to be the year 1810 or 1820 on the artwork.  At the far south end, is a down staircase to the BMT L line platform. The elevator is near the south end while upstairs is a full length mezzanine connecting 14th to 16th Streets and the rest of the station complex.  There are 5 stairs to each platform.  The main passageway between the BMT and IRT sections has a downhill; the grade of this hill was eased during renovation to allow wheelchairs to navigate it more easily and to conform to ADA requirements.

BMT Canarsie Line (on East 14th Street between University Place and 4th Ave) Opened  9/21/1924 The L line stops here and is the deepest part of the complex, it contains 1 island platform on 2 tracks.  There are 2 stairs to the P/T booth at the north end (due west) and has a free transfer passageway to the BMT Broadway line when open.  The middle 2 staircases are L shaped and lead to the BMT Broadway line, one for each platform.  The rear 3 staircases are used for direct access to the IRT level, along with the elevator located here.  The BMT mosaic is the standard “U” representing Union Square. There are overhead fans along the entire station platform that provide some relief from the hot summer months where the air is tight.

The fare control areas are as follows:  F/T areas are at East side of 14th St and Union Square East/4th Ave; it serves the IRT side and has 2 street stairs, a set of escalators and an ADA elevator.  Inside the mezzanine and behind the present ADA elevator to the L line platform, is a dummy elevator shaft or a vent chamber.  Looking down at the vent chamber you can see the L line platform all the way downstairs.  The second F/T area is at Union Square West and 14th Street, facing the park.  It contains 1 street stair and is ideal to use if you want the BMT Broadway or 14th Street lines.  The P/T areas are at south side of 14th Street near University Place, and directly serve the L line with free transfer passageway to the BMT Broadway line with 2 street stairs, East 15th Street at Union Square East and is closest to the north end of the Uptown IRT platform (1 street stair and was a new construction), and East 16th Street at Union Square West, it is located at the north end of the BMT Broadway side (2 street stairs).  The ghost booths (and HEET areas) are at 14th Street-Union Square East and the south side of 14th St and 4th Ave, behind the L line elevator.

Artwork “Framing Union Square” (1998) by Mary Miss, uses bright red frames along over 100 different locations throughout the entire complex . You can identify the artwork by the big red borders. Some of the red frames highlight the  preservation of the the Dual Contracts directional mosaics through the BMT side of the station complex, some areas are sealed (see below).  Also, several “lost” 14th Street eagles (similar to the 33rd St/IRT Eagle) are lined up along the mezzanine passage above the S/B IRT platform.  In another interesting display done by Mary Miss, the eagle mosaic gets “eaten” as you pass by or view each mosaic. Even other areas of artwork are barely noticeable, such as the trio of “14” car markers along  both local track walls of the IRT platform area, or even along the passageway above  the IRT platforms have a message taken from a subway car and is hidden inside the frame (You have to look inside the borders for the messages) the During the 1990’s renovation, the eagles were suddenly rediscovered, along with other long lost parts of infrastructure throughout the station, particularly the IRT side.  There are 2 sealed passageways, one linking as a shortcut from across the 14th St Union Square East HEET entrance (next to the Uptown BMT Broadway staircases and against the wall), through the L line platform to the IRT side, while the other is through the side passageway and closed staircase to the L line platform only.  The complex was so confusing to use, a one point just before the renovation, wall maps of the entire station grid were installed to guide riders through this maze.  Along the BMT Broadway mezzanine and next to the Police District, is a memorial to the World Trade Center 9/11 victims.  Each tile along the mezzanine wall, from 14th to 16th streets contains one name for each tile, and a complete list of names is on a banner against the wall and in front of the NYPD bureau entrance. This site  extends our sympathies to the families and loved  ones of those lost in the 9/11 disaster in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC area .

For the walking tour, start at 16th Street and the West side of Union Square Park (across from McDonalds.). Enter system and walk down the mezzanine, gazing at the tiles with the 9/11 names (a sobering moment for most of us to see.), at the 14th St F/T mezzanine, you can go in a full circular motion by using either the IRT passage to your left, or the L line passage to you right at the corner. In the IRT way, you make a left and walk downhill, passing by one sealed transfer passageway to you right. Go to IRT side, and bear right so you can look at the eagles in reverse chronological order. Then go to the ADA elevator to the L platform and make a right before you get to the elevator. Go to the black grating area behind the elevator and peer down at people way below you, which is the L line platform. Once you are finished, turn around and visit the IRT platforms and note the end walls on the local tracks, this area is mostly sealed, but if you are on the Downtown side, you may see an opening at one location. Go back upstairs and follow the staircase across from the L line elevator (where the grating is located), to the L line platform and you will see more sealed passageways before you get downstairs. Finally, finish up your visit to this complex by walking back upstairs at the opposite end of the L line platform and you will see another closed staircase.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *