Note: Service began at 57th Street prior to 1989
|Northern end||21st Street–Queensbridge|
|Southern end||Howard Beach–JFK Airport|
|Stations||12 (9 until 1989)|
|Started service||September 23, 1978|
|Discontinued||April 15, 1990|
The JFK Express, advertised as The Train to The Plane, was a limited express service of the New York City Subway, connecting Midtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK Airport). It operated between 1978 and 1990. It primarily used R46 subway cars. For most of its history, the JFK Express operated along the IND Sixth Avenue Line, IND Fulton Street Line and IND Rockaway Line between its northern terminal, 57th Street in Manhattan, and its southern terminal, Howard Beach–JFK Airport in Queens where passengers had to transfer to shuttle buses to actually reach the airport itself. During the JFK Express's last six months of operation, it was extended northward along the IND 63rd Street Line to 21st Street–Queensbridge, also in Queens. Passengers paid extra, premium fares to ride JFK Express trains. Its route bullet was colored turquoise and contained an aircraft symbol.
The premium fare for the JFK Express was collected by train conductors on board, who punched the tickets that passengers had to purchase prior to boarding. In addition to the conductors, there were transit police officers aboard to provide protection for travelers. The initial fare was $3.50. On July 3, 1981 the fare was raised to $5 from $4. When the service was discontinued in 1990, the fare was $6.75.
The JFK Express used R46s exclusively for most of its existence, although near its end R44s were used when the R46s began midlife overhauls. The trains were initially three cars long or 225 feet (69 m) in length. They later were four cars long or 300 feet (91 m) long, half the length of a typical B Division train. The cars featured luggage racks for airport-bound passengers.
In June 1978, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced plans for an "experimental" subway–bus service between Manhattan and JFK Airport. The JFK Express began operation on September 23, 1978 with a three-car train originating at 57th Street. The MTA created several 30-second long television commercials to promote the new service. Trains ran daily from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. on 20 minute headways. The route began at 57th Street and ran express on the IND Sixth Avenue Line to West Fourth Street–Washington Square, where it switched to the IND Eighth Avenue Line and ran express to Jay Street–Borough Hall in Downtown Brooklyn. From that point on, it ran non-stop on the IND Fulton Street Line and IND Rockaway Line to Howard Beach–JFK Airport.
Within a few years of its inauguration, the service was being criticized as a poor use of resources. The JFK Express proved to be unsuccessful, seeing low ridership in part because the service did not actually serve any airline terminals, but rather transferred passengers to a shuttle bus service that was several hundred yards from the station. In May 1980, the MTA executive director, John Simpson, recommended that the express train be discontinued, stating that ridership on the line stabilized at 1.3 million yearly riders, and the yearly deficit rose to $2.5 million. In June 1980, members of the MTA board voted to make the JFK Express a permanent service, stating that a mass transit link to JFK Airport was necessary.
In June 1983, the New York City Transit Authority, along with other service changes, planned to change service on the JFK Express. The JFK Express would have been extended to Rockaway Park–Beach 116th Street, and the $5 fare and the special guard would be eliminated, making it like any other subway line. Trains would be 8 cars long instead of 4 cars long, and the headway between trains would be 18 minutes, instead of 20 minutes. The proposal was still being reviewed in January 1984; it never came to fruition.
At times, regular passengers were allowed on the trains and no fares were charged due to disruptions on other services; this included the 1988 closure of the Williamsburg Bridge, when trains on the BMT Nassau Street Line and BMT Jamaica Line were rerouted. Between December 11, 1988 and October 29, 1989 on weekday evenings between 9:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., passengers were allowed to ride the JFK Express between 57th Street and 47th–50th Streets–Rockefeller Center without paying the extra fare as it was the only service running between these two stations during those times. Some passengers paid the extra fare to get to Aqueduct Racetrack during racing days, when the JFK Express would stop at Aqueduct Racetrack station.
In October 1989, the NYCTA proposed eliminating the JFK Express, citing that it had not attracted enough passengers. At the time, 3,200 people were using the train per day, down from a high of between 4,000 and 5,000 riders that used it at the beginning of the service's operation.:3.14 The executive vice president of the NYCTA, George Miller, said that eliminating the service would save $7 million a year and free 144 transit workers and 12 subway cars for more cost-efficient subway runs. It was determined that 47 percent of the riders of the JFK Express were commuters from Howard Beach and the Rockaways who were willing to pay for the premium service. Trains were running every hour by this point.
On October 29, 1989, the IND 63rd Street Line opened and the JFK Express was extended to 21st Street–Queensbridge, skipping Roosevelt Island. This extension was short-lived as service was discontinued on April 15, 1990, due to low ridership, with as few as 3,200 riders per day. The bus service, connecting the Howard Beach–JFK Airport station and the airport proper, continued after JFK Express service ended, and was the only link between the airport and the Howard Beach station at the time.:15 Passengers preferred the A train, which was cheaper and ran more often. Ridership on the A to the airport increased after the discontinuation of the JFK Express; in 1995, about 1 million passengers used the A to the Airport.:3.14
Since the discontinuation of the JFK Express, the A train has continued to serve the Howard Beach–JFK Airport station. The JFK shuttle bus service remained in operation until the AirTrain JFK, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey-operated people mover system, replaced it on December 17, 2003. The AirTrain JFK also connects with the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica, and with the E, J, and Z trains to Manhattan at Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue.:3:5 A proposal, referred to as the Lower Manhattan–Jamaica/JFK Transportation Project, would provide express train service between JFK Airport and Lower Manhattan through Brooklyn. This would be similar to the JFK Express except that the service would be an extension of AirTrain JFK and operate via the LIRR's Atlantic Branch, providing a one-seat ride to the airport terminals.
The following lines were used by the JFK Express service:
|IND 63rd Street Line||full line||all|
|IND Sixth Avenue Line||north of West Fourth Street–Washington Square||express|
|IND Eighth Avenue Line||south of West Fourth Street–Washington Square||local|
|IND Fulton Street Line||Jay Street–Borough Hall to Euclid Avenue||express|
|Euclid Avenue to Rockaway Boulevard||local|
|IND Rockaway Line||north of Howard Beach–JFK Airport||local|
|Station service legend|
|Stops all times except late nights|
|Time period details|
|Station is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act|
|↑||Station is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act|
in the indicated direction only
|Elevator access to mezzanine only|
|21st Street–Queensbridge||new terminus after completion of IND 63rd Street Line; opened October 29, 1989|
|Lexington Avenue–63rd Street||opened October 29, 1989|
|57th Street||original terminus before IND 63rd Street Line opened|
|47th–50th Streets–Rockefeller Center|
|42nd Street–Bryant Park|
|34th Street–Herald Square|
|West Fourth Street–Washington Square|
|Jay Street–Borough Hall|
|Howard Beach–JFK Airport||transfer to Port Authority shuttle bus to airport terminals|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to JFK Express.|