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After two years of rehabilitation, the New York Transit Museum reopened Sept. 16 to tell a more complete story of 175 years of urban mass transportation history than ever before.

Located underground, inside the retired IND Court Street station at Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn, all the exhibits are either completely new or refurbished.

The museum was closed on Sept. 1, 2001, so that an economy of scale could be realized through a one-time overhaul instead of a series of several smaller overhauls that would seem endless in time and scope, according to Museum Director Gabrielle Shubert. Even the electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems have been upgraded. Safety and fire issues have also been addressed.

The entire station’s rehabilitation came at a cost of $6 million, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman John McCarthy. The rehab was funded from a variety of sources including the MTA, the borough president’s office the New York City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts. One of the benefits of the speeded up renovation is that the work was completed in time for next year’s subway centennial.

The exhibits that existed in the old museum, such as "rail transit," "fare control," and other historical retrospectives, have been upgraded and are more visually arresting. Plaques that explain historical artifacts have a new, improved and more pleasing presentation. The historic subway cars at the subway platform on the lower level have been spruced up and augmented with a platform extension for the IRT and BMT elevated cars that eliminates the need for the safety poles and gap platforms that previously existed.

The mezzanine level, however, is where the major changes took place.

The old screening room has been dressed up with reproduction photographs and movie posters with scenes depicting the city’s mass transit system.

The holdover "Steel, Stone and Backbone" exhibit still effectively tells the dangerous story of the building of the IRT subway by African-Americans and Italian and Irish immigrants a century ago with just black powder and hand tools. The historical maps and artifacts are still there and help you imagine subway travel at a time before most of us were born. Beautiful scale models by George Rahilly only help reinforce the daydreaming that can happen when you put all of these artifacts and research together.

The most noticeable changes appear in the educational and surface transit areas of the museum. A completely new Sanford Gaster Education Center and Internet research room should go a long way toward helping young students (as well as the young-at-heart) learn new and exciting lessons.

But the learning doesn’t end at the subway door because the upgraded bus exhibit explains some of the various jobs Transit employees perform at street level that the general public doesn’t see.

The stunning new addition to this exhibit deals with how buses are powered, especially the "Clearing the Air" interactive installation which teaches how air pollution is reduced or removed from the air we breathe. The bus display, with facing buses and trolleys, looks like an intersection that makes visitors wonder if they should cross the street with the model "Walk/Don’t Walk" signs.

One could venture a guess that children are not the only ones who will learn something new here.

Joseph M. Calisi is a transportation photojournalist and transportation industry professional who contributes to Railfan & Railroad magazine.


The New York Transit Museum, located at the corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn, is open Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 am to 4 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5 pm. The museum is closed on major holidays. Admission is $5, $3 children ages 3 to 17 and seniors 62 and older. Free to Museum members and children younger than age 3. For more information, call (718) 694-1600 or visit the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Web site at

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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