Tunnel Vision

I’ve always wanted to explore New York City’s subway tunnels and infrastructure.  Being a railroad buff, the subway never ceased to fascinate me. What was in those dark, foreboding tunnels, how did the signal system work, what did all the track side signs mean? These were questions that demanded answers.  I was a regular rider on the D train during high school and my constant exposure to the subway just made my thirst for subway knowledge that much greater. I was the kid riding in the first car of the train with my face pressed against the glass on the door which separated me from the answers.

I can’t count the number of times I was tempted to venture into the tunnels as I waited for a train on a sometimes nearly deserted station platform.  Who would see me, who would care? The gate at the tunnel entrance said “Do Not Enter” but to me it said “Come on In.” I tried a few times to get past that damn gate but fear and maybe common sense stopped me in my tracks. Knowledge would have to be acquired by reading books and asking questions.

That all changed one fateful evening when a friend and I decided to throw caution to the wind and enter the darkness. We paid our fare, well at least I paid my fare, and we were now on the Bedford Park Boulevard platform of the IND line.  Through my research, I knew that at the end of the northbound platform there was a spur that led to the Concourse subway yard. The distance from the platform to the yard was perhaps no more than two thousand feet at most. This was certainly doable. With no one around, we entered the tunnel and began our journey. It was everything I expected and more. Cables, signals, track and the occasional rat were within touching distance, no pesky train door to contend with this time.  Since our journey began at 11:30 pm, the chances of encountering a train or a worker were slight. We walked in the darkness, taking care not to step on the energized third rail which provided 600 volts of power to the trains. I had a small flashlight but thankfully the tunnel was lit every hundred feet by a bare incandescent bulb. There was a small river of foul smelling water between the rails and the sound of dripping water could be heard in the distance. It was late November so it was cold and damp in the winding tunnel. At one point, we thought we heard something in the distance, was it a train? No, it was just our imaginations at work.

Our journey lasted about a half hour. During that time, we took in all the sights, sounds and smells that this forbidden world had to offer. We emerged from the tunnel unscathed and ran into the train yard, climbed a fence and adjourned to a nearby ball field where we celebrated our victory with some really bad fortified wine, Thunderbird comes to mind, and Tiparillo cigars. I felt like I just conquered Mount Everest!