BMT Canarsie Line

From nycsubway.org


BMT Canarsie Line at Atlantic Avenue, R-143 no. 8201 on "L". Photo by John Dooley, October 2010.


There are four distinct phases of development of what is today's Canarsie Line, also known as the 14th Street Line, also known as the "L" line. Before becoming a BRT subway line in 1906, the Canarsie line operated as a steam railroad between East New York and the area around Canarsie Pier/Canarsie Beach Park (terminus may have been near present-day Canarsie Road and Skidmore Avenue). The BRT began train service in 1906 between Canarsie and Williamsburg, with the trains using trolley poles for power in the ground-level section. This line ran at grade level from the Canarsie Pier terminus to a point north of the East 105th Street station, after which it became elevated. It then connected with the Broadway El at Eastern Parkway station, with service continuing west along Broadway to the now-vanished Williamsburg terminus. At Atlantic Avenue station, there was a connection to the Fulton Street (Kings County Electric railroad) line. The easternmost platform of this station is a remnant of this line. The Atlantic Avenue station was rebuilt under the Dual Contracts, and reopened in 1916. When fully operational, it served Fulton Street trains, Canarsie line trains and Broadway trains.

In 1924, at what is now the other end of the line, a subway line was opened running beneath 14th Street in Manhattan and extending under the East River, through the Williamsburg neighborhood to Montrose and Bushwick Avenues. Four years later, in 1928, this line extended further east beneath Wyckoff Avenue and then south paralleling the New York Connecting Railroad, to a new station at Broadway Junction, above the existing Broadway-Eastern Parkway elevated station. This route was then extended south, connecting to the 6-track Atlantic Avenue BMT station.

In 1931 an additional station was opened at 8th Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan, connecting the Canarsie Line to the newly-opened Eighth Avenue Independent Subway. This station was built to look like the other IND stations. At this point, the Canarsie Line's route took the shape that it still has to this day.

In the early 1940's the subway line discontinued the use of the Canarsie Pier terminal, terminating instead at Rockaway Parkway. The Canarsie Pier line maintained trolley service until that was replaced by the B42 bus and the right-of-way abandoned and built over. For the record, this right-of-way ran between East 95th and East 96th Streets as far south as Seaview Avenue.

The corridor for the segment of the line to the pier is mostly built up and can no longer be resurrected. In the streets around Rockaway Parkway station are remains of tracks leading out of the station into this corridor. It was a bit raised above the surrounding terrain which accounts for the curious hump in the cross streets between East 95th and East 96th Street. There were high hopes for this line for cargo in World War I. The plan was to relocate the City's shipping industry to Jamaica Bay. The Bay would be hollowed and built out into a gigantic harbor for overseas ships. There would be a canal in what is now Van Wyck Boulevard and Flushing Meadow Park joining this harbor to Long Island Sound. The rail line from East New York would be the cargo carrier for the piers along the shore. Only one was ever built, Canarsie Pier itself. This is much overbuilt for a inland bay. It was intended for seafaring ships.

Canarsie Line Service

Service patterns over the Canarsie Line varied little through the years; initially trains ran over the Broadway Line from Williamsburg, through Atlantic Avenue and on to Canarsie, then when the subway opened, two services ran from Manhattan - one to Canarsie and one to Lefferts Boulevard (in the rush hours) on the eastern leg of the Fulton Street El. The route was given BMT marker "16", although trains running to Lefferts Boulevard usually were marked as "13". When the Fulton El was torn down, some rush-hour Broadway trains ran through from Eastern Parkway to Canarsie on the "flyover". These were marked as "14". In 1967, when all BMT lines were given letters, the Canarsie line was designated as "LL". The rush-hour Broadway service was designated "JJ", and ran until 1968 when it was replaced by the "KK" which did not run through from Eastern Parkway to Canarsie. The flyover connection has not been used for revenue service since then.

Trains on the Canarsie Line

The BMT Canarsie line subway started operating in 1924 with BMT Standards. The elevated portion of the line may have seen gate car service prior to that. The line continued to operate with Standards until 1969, when the Standards were put out to pasture. BMT odd cars like the Multi-Section units and Bluebirds appeared alongside the Standards. When the Standards were retired, they were replaced by IND R7 and R9 cars, which served until the late 70's. These were replaced briefly by R16 cars, then R27's and R30's. A few R42 cars, delivered in 1969, also made up part of the fleet. These same R42's, along with their brethren and a group of R40 and R40M's held down the Canarsie Line's fleet for many years in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s. The new R-143 displaced the R40/R42 cars in 2002-2003, in preparation for the line's conversion to CBTC signalling. Some of the R-160 fleet has been converted to CBTC and operates the Canarsie line as well.

In 1924, subway cars were delivered by a temporary ramp located near the Montrose Avenue station. See BMT Canarsie Line Car Delivery for more information.


  • 19th Century - 1906: Operated as a steam railroad between Canarsie Pier and East New York
  • 1906: Opened for BRT service between Rockaway Parkway and Williamsburg, via the Broadway El.
  • 1908: Through train service to Canarsie Pier begins.
  • ca. 1916: Atlantic Avenue station rebuilt under Dual Contracts
  • 1920: Through subway service to Canarsie Pier ends; track loop is added at Rockaway Parkway and service to Canarsie Pier is replaced by trolley. Connection to Rockaway Parkway/Wilson Avenue trolley line is added.
  • 1924: First underground segment opens, between 6th Avenue- 14th Street and Montrose Avenue
  • 1928: Second underground segment opens, between Montrose Avenue and Broadway Junction. Connection to Atlantic Avenue established. Canarsie Line assumes its current shape.
  • 1931: Third and final underground segment is opened, to 8th Avenue and 14th Street.
  • 1942: Trolley service via the East 95th/East 96th Street right-of-way ends, and the track is abandoned. The trolley line begins operation to Rockaway Pier via Rockaway Parkway.
  • 1951: Trolley service to Canarsie Pier ends, and is replaced by the B42 bus.
  • 1956: East end of Fulton El is closed.
  • 1963: New Lots Avenue station burns. Reopened in 1964.
  • 1967: Route designation "LL" is adopted.
  • 1968: Through service between Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway ends.
  • 1969: First air-conditioned cars (R-42) arrive. BMT standards are retired and replaced with R-7 and R-9 cars
  • 1973: Grade crossing at E.105th Street eliminated. Station entrance and platform are rebuilt.
  • 1977: Last of the R-7/R-9 cars are retired. R-16 cars take over.
  • 1984: Rebuilding of Rockaway Parkway station is completed.
  • 1985: Route designation "LL" is changed to "L", sign color changed from black to grey.
  • 1988: R-42/R-40M fleet is put into service.
  • 1994: Slant R-40's make their debut.
  • 1996: Decision to go forward with CBTC (Communication-based train control) is finalized.
  • 1999: Union Square station renovation is completed after two years of work., 8th Avenue station is renovated.
  • 2000: Reconstruction of Broadway Junction station begins
  • 2001: First R143 cars arrive
  • 2001: Flyover to Broadway Line closed in preparation for track realignment
  • 2001-2002: Construction of new box girder elevated structure for new northbound tracks begins over Van Sinderen Avenue
  • 2002: Slant R40 cars are reassigned to Coney Island as R143 cars displace them.
  • 2002: Sutter Avenue station is re-lighted and the original 1906 lights are removed
  • 2002: Demolition begins on unused portions of Atlantic Avenue station
  • 2003: R143 cars now comprise almost all of the "L" fleet


The section from Rockaway Parkway/Glenwood Road to Van Sinderen Avenue and East 108th Street is a two-track, grade level railroad. A storage yard with at least eight tracks is located just east of the the Rockaway Parkway station.

The East 105th Street station was the site of the only grade crossing in the New York transit system. The grade crossing was not removed by separating the level of the train and road-- the road was deleted in the area of the station!

The line rises to a low elevated structure running down the center of Van Sinderen Avenue, dividing it into two one-way streets. This elevated structure is approximately 20 feet above street level at New Lots station, rising to about 25 feet by Sutter Avenue. This section was constructed in the early 1900's, as part of the BRT system, opening in 1906.

On the section from New Lots Avenue to Wilson Avenue, the line parallels the LIRR Bay Ridge line. In the 1960s the Rockefeller scheme for new transit would have relocated the Canarsie line in the LIRR corridor and added a branch along that railroad to Nostrand Junction, where the IRT Nostrand Avenue line ends.

The section between Broadway Junction and Morgan Avenue was opened in 1928. Broadway Junction station features BMT/BRT Contract Three el station architecture, with shaded lamps and arched pillars. The underground stations are similar, with highly ornate mosaic bands adorning the walls, even at island platform stations. In 1924, the original underground section opened between Montrose Avenue, Brooklyn and Sixth Avenue and 14th Street, Manhattan. These underground sections were also built under BMT/BRT Contract Three. The architecture of the 1924 and 1928 sections is similar, except in the 1924 section, at island platform stations, the mosaic bands are up higher, and separated by iron girders.

In 1931, a final station was opened at Eighth Avenue and 14th Street. This station does not resemble a BMT station at all, rather it looks very much like the IND station with which it shares a connection, although a 1999 renovation added Dual Contracts-style mosaic friezes to the walls.

The entire Canarsie Line is two tracks, with the exception of a third, center layup between Myrtle Avenue and Halsey Street.

The Canarsie Line Mosaics

title_ny_canarsie_mosaic1.jpg title_ny_canarsie_mosaic2.jpg

Few places in the NYCT system have mosaics as beautiful as some of those found on the Canarsie Line. These mosaics were created in the "arts and crafts" style, and contain various geometric shapes: squares, rectangles, oblongs, diamonds, right and isosceles triangles and hexagons. Each station between Sixth Avenue and Bushwick-Aberdeen has a different color pattern. Most of these are constructed of cut ceramic tile, with the exception of Montrose Avenue, Wilson Avenue and Bushwick-Aberdeen, which are made of cut porcelain, highly glazed. The bands are 18.5" high and run the length of the station wall. Hexagonal icons measuring approx. 11.5" wide by 16" high are spaced at approx. 13.5' intervals. The hexagons are not equilateral, rather their top and bottom angles are 36 degrees and their corners are 72 degrees, giving them a slightly flattened shape. Each hexagon bears a single character denoting the station's initial or numeral. Three vertical bands are spaced roughly 4 feet between each icon. These also appear on either side of the icons. Near the top and bottom edges of the band are rows of 2" square tile, with varying colors. Above the vertical bands are 4" x 2 1/4" rectangular tiles, each with a diamond of a different color embossed on them. A single 2" square tile is below each of the vertical bands. A right triangle is located above and below each icon's corner. In the center section of the tile band are irregularly cut tiles of between three and ten different colors, depending on the station. Some of these tiles are square, others are rectangular, and still others triangular. They have no set pattern, the tilesmiths who created them left to their own devices as they were made. Among the most vivid color patterns are those found at Montrose Avenue, Wilson Avenue and Myrtle Avenue. Other stations have more neutral colors, but are handsome nonetheless. Some stations also have slightly smaller tile bands in the station's entrances and mezzanines. These are somewhat similar to the bands at platform level, especially with respect to color, but are only 8 1/2" high and have smaller cut tiles. Stations that do not have mezzanines (3rd Avenue, Graham Avenue, Grand Street and Halsey Street) lack these decorations.

An anomaly among all these exists at Halsey Street station's Covert Street exit on the southbound side; here, the original tile has been replaced with a simple 17" wide blue band, devoid of any ornamentation. Let's hope that this is just temporary. The Wilson Avenue station's lower-level trackside wall is bare, but once had tiles with a band matching that of the platform-side wall. It is thought that water damage necessitated the removal of these tiles. Also, the Union Square station's mezzanine has been redone with new tile not matching the original, but two sections of the old tile have been lovingly preserved inside red metal frames.

The Canarsie Line's Serpentine Route

Nothing like a good, sharp curve excites some subway buffs and annoys the daylights out of everyday riders. The Canarsie Line is full of them. Especially interesting is the track route between Bedford Avenue and Broadway Junction. This section was bent into a serpentine in order not to tunnel under some sections of Williamsburg and Bushwick. Basically, the subway line stayed under the area streets instead of cutting crosswise beneath them. The line starts off in Brooklyn beneath North Seventh Street in northern Williamsburg, then turns onto Metropolitan Avenue just west of Lorimer Street station. It then continues east to Bushwick Avenue, where it turns sharply southward. South of the Montrose Avenue station, it turns east onto McKibbin Street, then at Bogart Street it veers slightly right then left and onto Harrison Place. At Harrison Place and Flushing Avenue, it turns again southeasterly onto Wyckoff Avenue, running a mile and a half to Moffat Street, where it turns southwest then due south before emerging from its tunnel. At this point, the tracks run east of the streets, parallel to the NY Connecting Railroad. Ride up in the front car of the train to observe this fascinating track layout. And watch how the train leaps out of its tunnel and up a steep ramp as it enters Broadway Junction station.

Route Map



BMT Canarsie Line

8th Avenue · 6th Avenue · Union Square · 3rd Avenue · 1st Avenue · Bedford Avenue · Lorimer Street · Graham Avenue · Grand Street · Montrose Avenue · Morgan Avenue · Jefferson Street · DeKalb Avenue · Myrtle Avenue · Halsey Street · Wilson Avenue · Bushwick-Aberdeen · Broadway Junction · Atlantic Avenue · Sutter Avenue · Livonia Avenue · New Lots Avenue · East 105th Street · Rockaway Parkway

Page Credits

By Wayne Whitehorne.

Copyright © 1995-2012 www.nycsubway.org.
nycsubway.org is not affiliated with any transit agency or provider.