Inside an MTA Substation

We still didn’t quite understand what a substation was after the tour but it was still cool. After some googling, we have our answer: “It coverts High Voltage AC current into the DC current used by the New York City subways.” Quoted from


MTA blacked out windowed brownstone in Brooklyn Heights – air vents.

We joined the NY Transit Museum so we could go on the City Hall Station Tour (We’ve been waiting a long time to see the old restored station.) We booked the substation tour out of curiosity. It was a large group and there wasn’t enough time to linger and take pictures.


The substation building around the corner from the brown stone.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is the largest regional transportation system in the Western Hemisphere. The MTA and it’s affiliates move more than 8.5 million customers per day. It covers 12 counties in NY and 2 in Connecticut. They employ about 65,000 employees.



Originally, public transit routes were privately owned. In 1827 Abraham Brower established the first public transit route ran from Battery to Bleecker Street by 12 seat coach and was called Accommodation.


The first subway was created by Alfred E. Beach. It was a 312 foot tunnel that ran under lower Broadway. The subway was operated by pneumatic pressure which is basically being blown by a giant fan.



Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) was the original private underground NYC subway line that opened in 1904 as well as elevated and other public transports. The city purchased the IRT in June 1940. The current number lines are the old IRT ones. On October 27, 1904the first IRT ran from City Hall to 145th Street and Broadway.




Substation #21 at 21 Willow Place in Brooklyn Heights is a delight. You see modern day equipment and relics of the past. The old machinery is still there, during modernization things had to keep running so you have old and new equipment.  This substation has been active since 1908.


The IRT was a frugal group. They often reused equipment and building new substations was policy.




We take the train all the time. This tour made me really appreciate the sheer size of the MTA. We have a massive public transportation system in the tri-state area. A lot of native NYer’s are handicapped. A lot never learn to drive and a lot of the ones that do hate it. Our mass transit system is the lifeblood of the city. We would be crippled without it.




15 thoughts on “Inside an MTA Substation

  1. I agree with you, I think the NY subway system is terrific! I wish my hometown in CA would get with it and develop a real train system, not the little one we have now which just zips back and forth on one line, north and south. (Too bad if you live in the east and west sections of town!) I envy New Yorkers, even if they gripe about the schedules and the breakdowns. I’d love to give up my car and hop on a train to go to work, or one of the museums, or even the beach!

    1. Ha! Love our train system too but it’s so bad for us. Being a non driver – it’s so hard to plan trips. Vic finally learned to drive and he hates it! We found out that car service doesn’t mean taxis everywhere. That trip was a disaster.

  2. that’s interesting, I never thought how much equipment you need behind the scenes…and it’s impressing to see the numbers of customers and employees. Many thanks for sharing your adventure with me :o)

    1. We still have to check out the Transit Museum itself! We’re waiting for it to cool down. There’s no ac in there. Pretty interesting stuff. Can’t understand a lot of it. Maybe we should drag our engineer friend so he can explain everything in layman’s terms.

    1. It’s was so cool. Didn’t realized we have substations around the city. Always knew it was a big network but didn’t realize how much manpower and effort, etc. We went on the old City Hall Station tour this past weekend. That was really cool too. That tour really felt like a special secret chamber below City Hall. I’ll post about it in a couple days.

  3. Loved this tour, something about seeing the ‘heart of the action’ where the equipment and juice to power up whatever it is takes place. Great shots and experience.

    1. It was a cool tour. So tempted to go again next year and drag our friend that’s an engineer to translate all the technical talk. Our guide worked for the MTA for 40 years and now volunteers at the museum. It was neat hearing his story about how he started as maintenance and worked his way up to something to do with switches and some of that equipment in the pictures. The transit museum tours feel like we’re been given the keys to the city for the half hour-hour we get to roam around. The tickets sell out within 20 min. of going on sale. Victor had a conference call at work and put them on hold to buy the substation tickets. Next year, one of us should take the day off and buy tickets to all the tours next year.

      1. When I grew up, one of my grandfather was an electrician and I think that is where my curiosity and fascination of equipment, wires and the power behind so much started. So cool 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.