BMT Culver Line
R-160A train near Bay Parkway (22nd Avenue) on the BMT Culver Line. Photo by David Tropiansky, May 2012.
Andrew R. Culver (1832-1906), the man for whom the line was named, wanted to create a one seat ride from downtown Brooklyn to Coney Island, and to this end founded the railroad known as the Prospect Park and Coney Island (PP&CI). Operated with steam engines, this at-grade railroad began service on June 19th, 1875 between Prospect Park (at 9th Ave. and 20th Street) and Gravesend Avenue and Neck Road. On July 27th of the same year, the steam line reached Cable's Hotel (later known as the Ocean View) in the West Brighton section of Coney Island at Culver Terminal, the predecessor to today's Stillwell Avenue (its original location was on the surface at Surf Avenue and West 5th Street approximately where the Brightwater Towers stand today). In 1879, the railroad leased the New York and Coney Island Railroad, and service began between Culver Terminal and Norton's Point, the very westernmost tip of Coney Island. Connections to steamboats to/from New York City were made at Norton's Point.
Andrew Culver's plans to extend the railroad to downtown Brooklyn ended with his poor health, and he sold the PP&CI to the Long Island Rail Road in 1893. The PP&CI was electrified in 1899; LIRR steam passenger service ended at this time and some of the BRT surface lines started using the PP&CI for through service to Coney Island. LIRR operation continued until the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Co. was reorganized into the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Co. The BRT leased the PP&CI and operated it directly until 1912, when control was passed to the South Brooklyn Railway, a BMT subsidiary.
In 1919, the current elevated structure was built over the South Brooklyn Railway right-of-way between 36th and 37th Streets from approximately 10th Ave. to McDonald Ave, and over McDonald Avenue from approximately Ditmas Ave. to Kings Highway, and then later to Avenue X. By 1920, this elevated structure was extended to the present-day connection with the Brighton Line at West 8th Street, thus finally achieving Andrew Culver's goal for the PP&CI. Service was run via the BRT 5th Avenue El into downtown Brooklyn.
Subway service via 4th Avenue (Brooklyn) to Chambers St began in May, 1931. In non-rush hours, 5th Ave. El trains terminated at 9th Ave. and the 4th Ave. Subway trains ran to Coney Island. In rush hours, 5th Ave. El trains ran local to Coney Island, and the subway trains ran only to Kings Highway due to a shortage of steel subway cars. (As a result of the Malbone Street BRT disaster of November 1st, 1918, wooden cars were not permitted to run in the subway). The rush hour subway trains ran local in the peak direction (inbound AM, outbound PM), and in the off-peak direction, ran non-stop from Kings Highway to 9th Ave. via the express track.
After the 5th Ave. El was torn down in 1940, rush hour subway trains still terminated at Kings Highway, and local/shuttle service using wooden El cars ran rush hours from 9th Ave. to Coney Island. However, during this period, the subway trains ran express in the peak direction, stopping at 18th Ave., and local in the off-peak direction. This service continued until the D train was through routed in 1954.
On October 30th, 1954, a connection was made from south of the IND Church Avenue subway station, and the portion of the Culver El south of Ditmas Ave. was transferred to the IND division, eliminating the connection of BMT trains from 9th Avenue. IND "D" trains began running from 205th St and the Grand Boulevard & Concourse to Coney Island via 6th Avenue (Manhattan) and the IND Crosstown/Jay-Smith Street subway. The BMT Division continued service between Ditmas Ave. and Chambers Street, but in 1959, this service was cut back to a shuttle between Ditmas Avenue and 9th Avenue using the Coney Island-bound track. The Ditmas Ave. station was later "enhanced" with a 4th track on the Coney Island-bound side to allow the Shuttle to terminate with a cross-platform transfer to Coney Island-bound IND subway trains.
The shuttle ran until May 11th, 1975 and was replaced with free transfers to the B-35 bus that ran along 39th Street. The structure between Ditmas Ave. and 9th Avenue was torn down in the late 1980's and the free transfer to the B-35 bus was eliminated in the early '90s. (However, the MetroCard fare collection system once again offers a free bus transfer.) The back of the southbound Ditmas Ave. canopy was "filled in" with the MTA-standard corrugated steel windscreen wall and only a glimpse of the fourth track structure is visible from the front, rear, or below the station remains. Photos of the Demolition of the Culver Shuttle are available.
On November 26th, 1967, as part of the opening of the Chrystie Street connection, D service was rerouted in Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge and down the Brighton Line. F service replaced D service between West 4th St, Manhattan and Coney Island via Smith/9th Street (the IND South Brooklyn Line) and the Culver El. The name "Culver" persists to this day; the R46-type trains that serve the line indicate that the F train is a "Culver Lcl / Queens Express".
Service patterns over this stretch of El varied through the years; however, a constant that ran into the 1980s was that trains terminating at Kings Highway ran local on the Culver El during rush hours and trains terminating at Coney Island ran express between 18th Ave. and Kings Highway during rush hours, a practice dating back to the 5th Ave. El and the lack of enough steel subway cars for the 4th Avenue subway! In the early 1990s, the double crossover just south of Kings Highway enabling trains from Coney Island to switch to the express track was removed and now all F trains now run local on the Culver line. Some trains still terminate at Kings Highway in the evening rush hour.
Beneath the Culver El, PCC cars ran on McDonald Ave. until October 31st, 1956. The South Brooklyn Railway continued freight operations along the line into the '70s. These trolley tracks were used to deliver new subway car equipment to the Coney Island Yards through and including the R-44 order. In the early '80s, McDonald Ave was reconstructed with a new concrete base, yet the trolley tracks of the South Brooklyn Railway remained intact. In the late-80s, the trolley tracks were paved over and the connection to the Bay Ridge Line was severed. The section of the SBK between 37th and 38th Streets still has some evidence of the right of way in the avenues that cross it in the form of visible railway tracks and faded railroad crossing paint here and there, but this right of way is now giving way to a row of new townhouses and condos along. Some of the ROW is used by an auto-salvage company and a gas station. The concrete ramp from the elevated structure into the lower level of 9th Avenue still remains nearby the corner of 38th St. and 10th Avenue (visible from 37th Street), but the tracks are long gone.
The Culver Line, although not by this name, is referred to in a Bob Dylan song from 1966. In the song "Visions Of Johanna" from the album "Blonde On Blonde," the lyric is: "And the all night girls they whisper of escapades out on the "D" train." He could have been referring to escapades at Coney Island, and the D train did use the Culver Line until 1967.
- 1878 19 June: Opened as the Prospect Park and Coney Island Railroad
- 1878 27 June: Extended to Coney Island
- 1879: Leased New York and Coney Island RR, service to Norton's Point
- 1893: LIRR ownership begins; BRT leases line from LIRR.
- 1899: Electrification of surface route
- 1900: Through service to Coney Island from 5th Ave. El begins.
- 1912: Control transferred to South Brooklyn Railway.
- 1917 30 May: Ocean Parkway-West 8th St. rebuild opens (BRT)
- 1919 16 Mar: Culver El built to Kings Highway from 9th Avenue.
- 1919 10 May: Extended to Ave. X from Kings Highway.
- 1919 29 May: West 8th St.-Stillwell Avenue upper level rebuild opens (BRT)
- 1920 1 May: El extended to Brighton Line at West 8th Street.
- 1923: BRT reorganized into BMT. LIRR ownership ends.
- 1931 May: Service to Chambers Street via 4th Ave. (Brooklyn) subway.
- 1940: Abandonment of 5th Avenue El
- 1954 30 October: IND connection to Ditmas Ave. from Church Ave. opens; connection to 9th Avenue severed. D train begins service from The Bronx. Shuttle trains run between Ditmas Ave. and 9th Avenue.
- 1967 26 November: Chrystie Street connection opens. F trains replace D trains on Culver El.
- 1975 11 May: Culver Shuttle service discontinued at 12:01am.
- Mid-1980s: Shuttle El structure torn down.
The structure from 9th Avenue is a short tunnel that now leads out into the 36th St yard as a wye enabling trains to reverse into the yard. The former BMT ramp to the Culver Elevated is a concrete structure, but not much can be seen given its current use as a dumping area for an auto-salvage operation. The El from Ft Hamilton Pkwy to Ditmas Ave. was torn down in the 1980s but was a typical BMT era 3-track El with side platforms and a center express track, built similarly to that of the Astoria line in Queens. Ninth Avenue had a lower level which was used for the Culver line and shuttle.
Ditmas Ave. is the standard 3-track station with side platforms. The southbound platform used to be the terminus for the Culver Shuttle, which terminated on the outermost track, giving the platform the feel of an island platform. The back of this platform used to be open until the early '90s, when the canopy was rehabilitated and the steel walls erected. Looking up from the street, evidence of where this shuttle once stopped can be seen.
Track Map of the Culver Shuttle, 1975.
18th Avenue and Kings Highway have center-island express platforms between the single center express track and the outer local tracks. Neptune Avenue is an island platform. All other stations are local-only stations with side platforms. Stillwell Avenue has center island platforms, one each for B (West End) approaching from the north, F (Culver) and D (Brighton) approaching from the east, and N (Sea Beach) trains approaching from the north.
The El structure between Ditmas Avenue and Avenue X is the standard Dual Contracts variety found on most Brooklyn and Bronx elevated lines, containing a center express track and solid girders. The El structure between Ave. X and Neptune Ave. is a two track El structure that is unique to the entire system, with "X" (lattice) type support girders instead of solid steel. It is similar to the old Fulton El.
The stretch of the Culver Line between Neptune Avenue and Avenue X provides a good view of the Coney Island yards. The "museum fleet" is usually stored on the tracks closest to the Culver Line. In addition, some cars ready for scrapping are usually stored on the short tracks adjacent to Shell Road, and these cars can usually be seen very well from the Coney Island-bound Ave. X platform.
The approach from Neptune Avenue into West 8th Street and Stillwell Avenue is also fun to watch, except that all the R-46s have full-width cabs and most of the time, they are covered with the back of an advertisement to prevent viewing through the front door.
Photo opportunities abound from Avenue X to Stillwell Avenue, as well as along Bay Parkway, just southwest of the Bay Parkway station. A panoramic view is possible at this location because of the unobstructed visibility in the middle of Washington Cemetery!
The northern end of the Culver Line has the lower portion of the 9th Ave. - 39th St station, which has been unused in passenger service since May 11th, 1975. However, it is locked and not accessible to railfans. Fan trips sponsored by the New York Transit Museum or other organizations, such as the ERA's Farewell to the R-30 fantrip held in May 1993, occasionally enter this area.
The southern portion of the Culver Line has Stillwell Avenue, which offers many varied opportunities for photos and should not be missed. The north end of the station has a pedestrian crossing over all 8 tracks, and the view from the West End side looking north towards Manhattan is the best. Looking south, photos can be taken with the Cyclone rollercoaster or the parachute jump (a New York landmark that used to be part of the 1939-40 World's Fair) in the background. Exit the station at Stillwell Avenue and yet more opportunities are available to you along Stillwell Avenue on the west, Surf Avenue on the South and Neptune Ave. on the north sides of the station. (West End and Sea Beach trains depart in a northerly direction over Neptune Avenue. Culver and Brighton Line trains depart in a southerly, then easterly direction along Surf Avenue).
Another excellent place for photos is West 8th Street from the street. Specifically, a perch on the pedestrian bridge leading to the New York Aquarium right over Surf Avenue gives you the opportunity to photograph Brighton Line trains leaving at the top of a double-El structure, and Culver Line trains from the lower level of the structure.
In the mid-1980s, the Belt Parkway bridge over Coney Island Creek and the Coney Island Yard was rehabilitated. In order for two-way traffic to be maintained at all times, a temporary roadway and bridge were built adjacent to the current bridge, on the north side. When the structure was complete, the temporary roadway and bridge were dismantled. However, remnants of the temporary roadway leading to the bridge still remain, and this has become another employee entrance into the yard. The portion of the roadway starting from Shell Road until the bridge approach is a public area, and if you get a good angle, many good photos can be obtained through the barbed wire fence protecting the cars stored in the yard.
|BMT Culver Line
Demolition of the Culver Shuttle
|9th Avenue · Fort Hamilton Parkway ·13th Avenue · Ditmas Avenue|
By Mark S. Feinman, Peggy Darlington, David Pirmann, and Ed Sachs.