How Hot is it on NYC's Subway Platforms? So Hot...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On a day when the temperature outside was 92 degrees, it was 106 degrees on the uptown platform of the 1,2,3 line at Times Square.

On a day when the temperature outside was 92 degrees, it was 106 degrees on the uptown platform of the 1,2,3 line at Times Square.

Every summer, New Yorkers have one more thing to kvetch about: the heat on the subway platforms. You know, that eighth circle of Hell where your clothes turn wet with sweat and you find yourself smelling way too many things you wish you didn't know about.

Thankfully, and without getting all religious about the experience, there is salvation once a train pulls up. All subway cars are air conditioned. And the difference between the heat of the platform and the chill of the train is so striking, you might wonder why storm clouds aren't forming in between.

We wanted to see how big a difference there really is by taking a digital thermometer down to the trains. WNYC web producer Amy Pearl accompanied me. We started at the Houston Street stop of the 1 train, where it was 95 degrees on the platform - about 3 degrees warmer than it was outside. Once we got on the train, the numbers on the hand-held thermometer rapidly fell to 76 degrees. It wasn't as cold as some passengers would have liked. But it was far more comfortable than our next stop.

The uptown platform of the 1,2,3 line at Times Square felt like the blast of a furnace. Amy held out the thermometer and watched in horror as the numbers ticked upward. 'So far it's 94! 95! 96!' she exclaimed. 'It feels really hot, actually. Your hair is looking really frizzy.' It was getting big.

The thermometer appeared to settle at about 101 or 102. But when a train passed by, with a rush of more hot air, it climbed to 106. 'It’s really hot and humid there’s no air in this station, you can’t take it,' one woman told us, looking miserable.

We got on the 2 train with Katherine Guerrera, a 21 year old rider from Westchester. She was wearing a long-sleeved blouse and a skirt. She said she was grateful for the cold air of the subway train. It was 74 degrees at that point. But she said the trains can sometimes get too cold. 'Usually when you have on a skirt or something or even a T shirt after a while it can get a little chilly in here.' The temperature fell to 70 degrees as the express train continued heading to 72nd Street.

Inside a car on the uptown 2 train it was a cool 72 degrees.

Inside a car on the uptown 2 train it was a cool 72 degrees.

When we got off the train at 72nd Street, the platform was also about 100 degrees. We turned around and headed back downtown on the 2 train. Again, the train was about 72-73 degrees.

It turns out that's exactly how New York City Transit wants it. Leon Stanevich, director of Maintenance Support, says air conditioning units on subway cars are programmed by their manufacturer to aim for 72.5 degrees. There are 3 points on the ceiling of each car that transit workers scan with readers, on a regular basis, to make sure they're achieving that ideal setting. Stanevich also says the cars have sensors which can adjust to how many people are on the trains. When the trains get crowded, the air conditioners pump even harder. That's why they can feel especially cold if a whole crowd of people leave at once. The units can also malfunction. Some have gotten too cold, sending temps into the 60s. And, of course, they can break down. We all know the sign: an empty train in the summer.

With New Yorkers being told to conserve energy - and save money - by keeping their homes at 78 degrees, we wondered if the cars were too cold. But Stanevich said that wouldn't make sense because the doors are constantly opening, meaning trains would get much hotter without the setting at 72.5. He also reminded us that the settings cannot be manually changed. If they were, he said, there would be chaos. Cars on the subway trains in Chicago and Boston are also set at around 72 degrees, according to their transit authorities. But in Washington, D.C. the metro adjusts to something 10-15 degrees lower than whatever it is outside in summer.

Washington also has air chillers on its platforms - something that only exists in New York at Grand Central.

Sarah Wigfall, waiting to take the 4 train up to the Bronx, said it felt

Sarah Wigfall, waiting to take the 4 train up to the Bronx, said it felt 'wonderful' under the chiller at Grand Central station even though the temperature was 87 degrees. It's the only station with chilled air in the subway system.

New York City Transit says the Lexington Avenue line platforms are unusual because they get air cooled from Grand Central Terminal above. At the downtown platform of the 4,5,6, the temperature was 87 degrees. So 'chill' is still a relative term.

New York City Transit also has fans scattered throughout the system. Stations built after 1989 have them. So do some deep underground platforms in Washington Heights, at Union Square and in Times Square near the shuttle. There's no fan at the Grand Central side of the shuttle, where musician Moses Josiah was playing 'This Little Light of Mine' on a saw. Josiah is from Guyana so he said he's used to the heat. It was 89 degrees where he was sitting. He also said he's 80 years old, though you'd never know it. He said he just drinks lots of water to cope with the heat.

Musician Moses Josiah plays the saw at the shuttle stop in Grand Central Terminal, and says he gets used to days when it

Musician Moses Josiah plays the saw at the shuttle stop in Grand Central Terminal, and says he gets used to days when it's 89 degrees on the platform.

So what about the platforms? Is there any way to cool them? Passengers would love such a thing. But New York City Transit says it's prohibitively expensive. Even if cost wasn't a factor, there are logistical problems. Frank Talty, president and founder of the Refrigeration Institute in midtown (which calls itself the Cool School) says it would be very difficult to get air conditioning on a subway platform. 'Even if you put air curtains at the tunnels to go ahead and prevent hot air from coming in, the heat generated from the granite, the pure size of it alone and the logistics of putting a plant and cooling tower and everything else, it would be difficult.' Talty did suggest one idea, though: closed spaces on subway platforms that are cooled, the equivalent of bus shelters on a rainy day. They could take up 50 percent or more of the platform. We wouldn't want to see New Yorkers competing for place in the cooling zone!

The MTA says it's stations of the future will be a little cooler. The new Second Avenue Line and the extension of the 7 train at 34th Street will have 'tempered air' about 10 degrees cooler than what's outside. So will the new Fulton Street Transit Terminal. The new South Ferry station already has tempered air.

Until then.. those of us on the rest of the platforms will have to sweat it out. Assaf Shave, riding the 2 train (73 degrees) summed up the attitude of most New Yorkers: 'As long as it's not overly dirty I've learned to accept it and to adjust.'

Reporter Beth Fertig gets some well-earned relief under a rare fan at the West end of the Times Square Shuttle. It was 91 degrees under the fan.

Reporter Beth Fertig gets some well-earned relief under a rare fan at the West end of the Times Square Shuttle. It was 91 degrees under the fan.


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Comments [22]


Beth is totally hot. Just sayin'.

Jan. 12 2012 10:02 PM
LJ from NYC

Um, how is Mike Hawk's comment civil and on topic? Racist comments rarely are....

Aug. 18 2011 11:05 PM
Mike Hawk from ZOG

What the fuhk is a kvetch? Speak English already!!! Isn't it enough that you zionist swine have taken over this whole country's economy and infrastructure, but now you have to make all of the people who are content in their blissful ignorance speak your disgusting language too? I mean, c'mon, enough is enough. I don't blame the Jews for being the smartest race of humans on the planet, but have a little sympathy for the intelligent people who are not Jews and quit shoving your influence down out throats too. Thanks!

Jul. 05 2011 06:21 PM

Twice (so far) this summer I've been on the subway where the heater, rather than the air conditioner, was turned on, blasting hot air from below the seats by the doors. I figured I could handle it, shifted around in my seat, and settled in for the half hour commute.

I lasted 2 stops before I switched cars.

Aug. 29 2009 07:46 PM

How hard would it be to add geothermal heating and cooling to a subway station? The subway stations are probably the only thing left in New York that haven't been completely renovated in the past 20 years. The city needs to raise some funds for this, perhaps through allowing more advertising on platforms or even a small fare hike. Just my $0.02.

Aug. 28 2009 10:28 AM

i can attest.. or should i say asweat to this.

Aug. 27 2009 07:20 PM
Scipio Africanus

Bologna. The subway platforms in Philly have always been cooler than street level in the summer time. You walk down into the subway there and actually feel relief from the heat, not added agony.

And teh Philly subway is old and dingy just like here in New York, so they can't use that as an excuse.

Aug. 27 2009 02:14 PM
Darcey, Stuy Town

One word for you all: PATH. The is undoubtedly the HOTTEST place I've been in the subway. Waiting for the PATH train at the 6th St. station on day I was trying to put myself in a trance by reading my New Yorker when a woman asked me a question. Breaking me out of my trance I looked up to realize that there was sweat pouring off my head with one particular river running down my nose. it was horrifying and funny (now it is).

Aug. 26 2009 06:33 PM
Christine K Kulisek

Man, i gotta take a reading down on the #1 23rd Street station in Manhattan. It is suffocatingly hot. I take 3 trains to get to/from work, and this is by far the worst platform for heat on my commute.

Aug. 26 2009 05:14 PM
Siouxie, Bronx

Finally, Grand Central station has been cooled. It used to be the Hades of the transit system.

Currently, 14th Street, Union Square and 34th St. Herald Square are extremely hot stations. I don't tolerate extreme heat, and waiting for a train I almost fainted.

Aug. 26 2009 03:58 PM

That's why I started biking to work. If I;ve gotta sweat, I might as well have fun doing it (ok, wintertime, I'll still ride the train, but for the 5 sunny months, I'm riding!)

Aug. 26 2009 02:24 PM

1. Stoicism, people, stop complaining, and have a little perspective. Life is pretty good this part of the world on the whole.

2. I am not anemic, yet I just may represent a kind of extreme when it comes to low tolerance for the chill inside most subway cars. If you seem a woman with two layers of sweatshirt, with both hoods pulled over her head, and thick knit gloves, and still looking like she could use a personal heater (I have a shawl in my bag and do use it sometimes), that's me.

Aug. 26 2009 01:07 PM
Chuck Chambers

For New Yorkers to put up with these squalid conditions in so critical a public utility isn't a positive sign.

Rather, it's a proclamation that their city is in rapid decline.

Within a few months, Shanghai will have a system that utterly outclasses New York's. The multiple new lines have been built in less time than the MTA takes to renovate a good size station.


Aug. 26 2009 12:16 PM

I always wondered why the subway is so hot? I have a home with a basement which is always cooler in the summer. Does anyone know why the subway is different?

Aug. 26 2009 12:05 PM

more kvetching...The MTA could lower the target temperature levels and that would help, also regenerative breaks (like the ones trains used in the 70s) would be nice and drastically reduce the MTA energy footprint instead of the energy-wasting, heat generating and asbestos releasing friction breaks , too bad all the trains are being replaced without them! bravo MTA

Aug. 26 2009 12:02 PM

Heloise is right and there was no mention in the piece about the correlation of the meatlocker inside and sauna outside, the more foolishly cold the inside, the more punishingly hot the outside. The concept that the answer is to try to air condition the tubes is so so hummer-loving lame.

Aug. 26 2009 10:43 AM

Before the cars were air conditioned it was nowhere near so bad.

Aug. 26 2009 10:25 AM

For me the single hottest platform is all the way downstairs (IND?) at West 4th Street. It is like a circle of hell.

Aug. 26 2009 10:04 AM

I have been on a number of C trains this summer that have been hotter than the platform.

Aug. 26 2009 10:01 AM
Hugh Sansom

Heloise is absolutely right. The a/c on the car effectively heats tunnels and platforms. Plus, given how close must platforms are to the street above, they are effectively *solar ovens* I think the 59th St/Columbus Circle platform is likely even hotter than those measured.

I often feel like I'm *chewing* the air. And I can feel myself really laboring to breathe at times.

Part of the problem, as near as I can tell, is that ventilation in the subway system is passive. There are no massive fans actively cycling air in and out.

Aug. 26 2009 09:52 AM

what time of day were you on the subway? the cars are not very crowded, so I doubt it was rush hour. please try again around 5:30pm - 6:00pm and take your readings again in times square both on the platform with no trains in the station, when trains are in the station, and inside a packed subway car and you'll see what most passengers experience.

Aug. 26 2009 09:30 AM
Heloise Rathbone

Air conditioners work by moving heat from one place to another. The heat from inside the subway cars is transferred to the outside of the cars, thereby heating up the platforms and the tunnels. If you notice your refrigerator when the motor is on you will find that the heat from inside the refrigerator is released often through the coils at the back of it. I have a refrigerator that releases heat through the its sides.

Aug. 26 2009 08:09 AM

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