October 10, 2009

Photo Essay: MTA Substation #13 (Open House NY)

For the last seven years, I've looked forward to one special weekend out of the year: Open House New York. Its all-access ethos has fueled my inner urban explore, has given me much fodder for photography and blogging, and has taught me a lot about New York City.

Every year, OHNY provides limited, reservation-only tours of an MTA substation in Brooklyn, and I can never get in.

This year, they moved the tour to Manhattan, and didn't require reservations.

Which meant I finally got in. I just had to wait in line with a bunch of irate retirees, who couldn't understand why they couldn't just leave and come back and get in.

waiting in line

story of my life

Substations take high voltage AC electricity and convert it to DC to power the subways. As I noted during my live tweeting from the tour, they used to be manually operated, and still contain huge machinery for it, relics featuring switches and nobs and alarms and cables and wires, much of which is out of commission, now that a lot of the work is done automatically and by remote control from a few blocks away.

our tour guide

rotary converter

Still, especially upstairs, the substation is alive with electricity, buzzing in your ears. As we approached the loudest area upstairs, our tour guide told us, "Don't touch anything that looks like copper," so we shoved our hands in our hoodie pockets and peered wide-eyed at the equipment around us.

This is what powers the dreaded and deadly third rail. Zzzzt.

Regular substation tours are available through the Transit Museum, whose membership is totally worth it for access to special programs and tours of the abandoned City Hall station.

To become a fan on Facebook, click here.

Bookmark and Share


  1. Cool... will have to try to see this next year. And great pics. I got shut out of a couple of OHNY events, but did get into the tour of the old abandoned hospital on Ellis Island... glad I saw it.

  2. I went there 2 yrs ago, that one is awesome. You can see my pics in the archives here: