Railroad Heaven

Beautiful railcars

Museum in a train station.

Tucked into an abandoned subway station two floors below downtown Brooklyn, you will find the most amazing museum that tells the history of New York through its public transit systems, from buses to trolleys to subways.

The museum has assembled subway cars from the earliest days to the present. It is so interesting to see the subtle and major changes made throughout the years. In addition to the actual cars, turnstiles, and maps through time are on display. I still recall the token turnstile and hanging on to leather straps, unable to move. It’s possible the cars I once rode are preserved in the museum today.

The transit system has always been run from a nondescript building nearby. An impressive special exhibit at the museum focuses on how it plans for disaster recovery. Given the levels of destruction, it is amazing that the transit system recovers within days from the likes of 9/11, the New York blackout and Hurricane Sandy. The exhibit here is a nice supplement to the 9/11 Museum, another favorite.

Each railway car — beginning with the first in 1904 — is meticulously labeled with an explanation of its manufacturer and importance.

Labor strife in building the system is explained. Illustrated, also, are the techniques used to engineer, plan and construct the system.

The museum is perfect for children because of the large number of hands-on exhibits. When I visited with my grandson, he jockeyed with other children for a chance to drive the mock buses on display. He also loved making believe as he was riding the old railcars.

Science enthusiasts will enjoy hands-on exhibits explaining alternative fuel technologies being investigated by the transit system, while history buffs will be drawn to the museum’s narrative timeline posters. The old train cars preserve the advertisements of the time. Even I loved seeing the old ads for S&H Green Stamps, among others. I learned that the subway was a driving force behind the massive growth of New York, allowing people in one neighborhood to work in another, creating a whole new way of life from the way New York had developed before the subway.

The museum has scheduled activities for children. A large lunch area exists for the many New York City public school children that make field trips here. But no food is offered, so bring your lunch and snacks. I’d suggest going on a non-school day to avoid some of the school crowds. Adults will enjoy the museum as much as the children. But if you visit with a child, don’t expect to have time to enjoy more than chasing your children around. I suggest a separate trip. Since the museum is in an old subway station, cell phones don’t work inside, so plan accordingly if you are expecting a call.

Some of the things that are particularly interesting to adults are the old photos scattered throughout the museum reflecting life in New York during the growth of the transit system.

Leave a Reply

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