BMT Sea Beach Line
BMT Sea Beach Line at New Utrecht Avenue. R-46 train on an R put-in service. Photo by: Zach Summer, October 2011.
The Sea Beach Line began service on July 18th, 1877 as a steam railroad called the New York and Sea Beach between the 64th Street pier and Bath junction (approximately where 62nd Street & New Utrecht Avenue intersect today). In 1879, the steam line reached the Sea Beach Palace Hotel in Coney Island and terminated at Sea Beach depot, located between the West End and Culver depots. The current stations are placed on the sites of the old New York & Sea Beach ones but were given from the start street names. The railroad stops had placenames like Bath Junction, Woodlawn, Hubbard Creek, and so on. Some of these names are preserved in the names of businesses around the stations.
In 1896, the railroad was reorganized into the Sea Beach Railway Company. In 1898, the line was electrified with trolley wire and in 1903, the BRT began through service between Bath Junction and Coney Island. This was done by coupling and uncoupling Sea Beach cars to/from 5th Avenue - West End trains at Bath Junction. Trolleys ran west of Bath Junction to the pier and later to a ramp near 3rd Avenue. In 1910, Sea Beach trains began terminating at West End depot.
Between 1913 and 1915 as part of the Dual Contracts, the Sea Beach line as we know it today was built between Coney Island and the 4th Avenue Subway at 59th Street. This was looked upon as a significant line because the Sea Beach would provide passengers with the fastest express route to Manhattan then available in New York City. Also, the BRT planned on debuting the 67' Standard subway cars on this line when it opened. The 4 track Sea Beach route, virtually all open cut, had no express stops between Coney Island and 59th Street.
In 1913, the junction with the West End Line at Bath Junction was broken, because the new Sea Beach line under construction passed directly underneath. During construction, service was provided using a mix of trolleys, buses and even single subway cars.
The new Sea Beach Line began revenue service in 1915 and connected into the 4th Avenue subway and Manhattan Bridge to Chambers Street. This was the first subway service made available in the 4th Avenue subway and the first on the Manhattan Bridge. Sea Beach trains began using the new Stillwell Avenue - Coney Island terminal on May 30th, 1919. Sea Beach trains ran as far north as Union Square in 1917, and then to Times Square in 1918.
It should be noted that the tracks on the Manhattan Bridge were ready for service shortly after the bridge's opening day (December 31st, 1909). However, they were not connected to any tunnel routes on either side of the bridge, because none existed! In 1912, the Manhattan Bridge Three Cent Line, a trolley company, began running trolleys over the subway tracks on a temporary basis until 1915, when the trolleys were moved to the upper roadways and the BRT subway opened. The trolleys ran over the Manhattan Bridge until 1929, when the auto won out over the streetcar.
Starting in 1915 and lasting into 1951, "sunny summer Sunday" expresses ran from Chambers Street over the Manhattan Bridge, the 4th Avenue subway and the Sea Beach Line to Coney Island. Trains ran express from 59th Street to Coney Island. The Brighton Line also had a similar type of run, leaving Franklin Avenue to Prospect Park and then running express to Brighton Beach.
In 1967, the "NX" express from Brighton Beach to 57th St - 7th Ave made its debut. It started in Brighton Beach and made all stops to Stillwell Avenue. For the NX service the Sea Beach express tracks were completely rebuilt, the first and only major fixup of these tracks. Once at 59th Street it made limited express stops to its Manhattan terminus via the 4th Avenue subway, Manhattan Bridge and Broadway subway. There were only three or four runs in each rush hour. It was discontinued in 1968 because of lack of ridership, probably because it wasn't as fast as one might have thought. North of Stillwell Avenue station, a two-track bridge hopped over Coney Island Creek and was used by West End, regular Sea Beach, and yard trains. This was a major point of congestion on the line. In the 1970s a separate creek crossing, about 20m east of the original one, was built to segregate West End trains from the Sea Beach trains but it was too late for the NX.
Other than the two above services and the rare reroute of trains due to track work, the Sea Beach express tracks were not used in revenue service. They were used to test new equipment and to store laid up trains. Over the years, the express tracks between Kings Highway and 8th Avenue have fallen into neglect. In 1998 track E3 (downtown express) was removed between 8th Avenue and near Kings Highway stations. The remaining express track will have reverse signalling for a possible 'third track' service. The full four tracks are kept from Kings Highway to 86th Street, which the NYCT still uses to test new equipment.
- 1877: Opened as the New York and Sea Beach Railroad
- 1896: Reorganized into the Sea Beach Railroad Company
- 1912: Merged with the Brooklyn Union Elevated Railroad Company and the Canarsie Railroad to form the New York Consolidated Railroad of the BRT
- 1913: Construction of Sea Beach Line under Dual Contracts begins. Junction with West End served near 62nd St.
- 1915 22 June: 4 track open cut (current Sea Beach line) opens.
- 1923 15 June: Control transferred to BMT (New York Rapid Transit Corp)
- 1940 1 June: Unified into the New York City transit System.
- 1967: "NX" express debuts providing non-stop service between 59th St and Coney Island during rush hours.
- 1968: "NX" discontinued due to lack of ridership.
Upon leaving the 4th Avenue subway at 59th Street, the Sea Beach Line starts somewhat below grade but is not really an open cut until after 8th Avenue. Upon passing Ft Hamilton Pkwy station, the line resembles the open cut built for the Brighton Line between Church Avenue and Prospect Park. It remains that way until 86th Street, where the Sea Beach Line is reduced from a 4 track railway to 2 tracks, and they slice the Coney Island Yard diagonally. Then the line crosses Coney Island Creek and rises again before entering Stillwell Avenue.
All stations in the open cut are local stations with platforms sitting on the outside of the line built into the sides of the open cut. 8th Avenue is somewhat built on top of the LIRR Bay Ridge branch and looks more like a side elevated station than an open cut station. 59th Street / 4th Avenue is a 4 track express stop with two island platforms. The Sea Beach stations are overly long for a BMT line. The full length train swims in them. The typical platform length is 650-700 ft., whereas the trains are no longer than 600 ft.
Despite the fixup on the entire line in the 1980s the station houses are pretty shabby. Expect to see a tired uninviting entry hall. The 2005 capital plan announcement includes some Sea Beach station renovations.
Other than Stillwell Avenue, the Sea Beach Line doesn't have much going for it in terms of photo opportunities. As far as a ride from the head end goes, it falls somewhere between a ride on a true elevated and a ride underground. If done at night, there's really nothing to see at all. Going for it however is the run through the Coney Island yards, but even that over the years has had some of its glimmer taken away, as car washes now sit directly next to the tracks, impeding the view of the yards themselves. There is a photo op at the Eighth Avenue station from the crossover at the Seventh Avenue end. Other ops are at the road crossings of the line at every avenue. However, in some places, due to recent rebuilding of the LIRR overpasses, the new crash walls are too high too see over.
|BMT Sea Beach Line|
By Mark S. Feinman, Peggy Darlington, and David Pirmann.