Sitting on the train with his two sons, Ian Pinto, 50, who lives on the Upper East Side, said they planned to visit all of the stations on Sunday. “In our lifetime, this is such a great event,” he said.
It’s Been a Long Time Coming
Joe Caronetti, 68, of the Norwood neighborhood in the Bronx, had been waiting for the train since 10:15 a.m. on Sunday.
“Not counting the 68 years prior,” he added.
Mr. Caronetti, a retired banker, said it was the sixth time he had been on hand for the opening of a new train, having also gone on inaugural rides in Los Angeles and New Jersey.
“I’m just a train buff,” he said, wearing an M.T.A. cap he had gotten on Friday.
Another train enthusiast at the station, Marvin Loja Espinoza, 17, a senior at Aviation High School, was waiting to get on the first train leaving there.
Originally from Ecuador, he discovered his love for trains when he moved to the United States in 2005. His hometown had no trains, he said.
Struggling to make friends in a new place, he spent his lunches in the library studying train maps, he said. His knowledge of the subway lines is so extensive that his friends call him “M.T.A. Savage.”
Ian Ma, 15, said that when he was a child, he would run his toy trains back and forth across the floor of the family’s home in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
On Sunday, he couldn’t stop grinning as he snapped photographs at the new station at 72nd Street. “I’ve always been a big train guy,” he said. “And I feel like I’ve been waiting for this train my whole life.”
Pete Cerwin, 51, has lived at 72nd Street and Second Avenue for 20 years. For him, it has been “two decades of false starts, letdowns and construction.”
Mr. Cerwin, who works at a hedge fund, and his wife, Michele, 49, a management consultant, have seen favorite restaurants and shops open and close over the years, as the neighborhood struggled with the noise, dirt, detours and traffic that the Second Avenue subway extension brought to the rather unexciting section of the Upper East Side. So the two were relieved to see the escalators and the trains start rolling at the nearby station.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day,” Ms. Cerwin said. “Our kids have no excuse to take a cab ever again.”
A Link to New York’s First Subway
When she descended the escalators at 86th Street on Sunday afternoon, Kitty Benton, 81, dressed in a long dark coat and thickly framed glasses, blended in with hundreds of other subway riders who visited the station on its opening day.
But Ms. Benton is subway royalty.
In her black tote bag she carried a photo of her great-grandfather, William Barclay Parsons, the chief engineer of the Interborough Rapid Transit, New York’s first subway.
Ms. Benton, who lives on the Upper East Side, beamed as she strolled through the new station.
“My great-grandfather wanted the subway to be attractive,” said Ms. Benton as she pointed out design elements, like the handrails on the stairs, and the mosaics by Chuck Close. “That’s exactly what’s happening here.”
She surveyed the station with her daughters, Louisa Barclay Benton, 52, Emily Morgan, 54, and her grandsons, Gus Morgan, 14, and Nick Morgan, 12, and chatted about her great-grandfather and his exacting work ethic.
“He would be very proud,” she said.
A New York Times article from Oct. 27, 1904, described Mr. Parsons as one who would weigh the opinions of those who worked for him, “but having made up his mind what to do and how it should be done, he is as inflexible as one of his own steel columns.”
“I’m almost teary eyed,” she said, as other riders buzzed with excitement around her. “My great-grandfather’s vision has been vindicated.”
Preparing for an Opening…
M.T.A. workers spent much of their time on Sunday shooing people away from the yellow line at the edge of the subway platform as trains approached and people clamored for a look or a photograph.
“I guess they just want a little piece of history,” said Matthew Brace, 50, a platform controller who has worked for the M.T.A. for 28 years.
He volunteered to work overtime on Sunday, the second time he had witnessed the opening of a new station. He was also at the opening of the Hudson Yards station on the Far West Side of Manhattan in 2015.
Mr. Brace said he planned to retire in four years and seven months. “I don’t think I’ll see another opening in that time,” he said.
A big part of the job on an opening day, Mr. Brace said, is managing expectations.
“You have train buffs anxious to get a seat on the first train, to get trinkets from the day,” he said. “They’re worrying about that and asking those questions. But our main job is getting people on and off the trains safely.”
…And Then the Complaints.
It was only a matter of minutes before passengers began to complain on social media about the new Second Avenue line.
Emily Ngo, a politics reporter for Newsday, wrote on Twitter that her Q train was delayed at the 63rd Street station, the last stop before the new extension starts, because of signal trouble. She said riders were amused by the delay.
(A train with mechanical problems at a station in Lower Manhattan had caused delays on the Q line in both directions.)
Others vented that the recorded announcements about upcoming stations were not accurate.
Demetrios Costoyiannis, 33, who lives on the Upper East Side, said that despite an erroneous station announcement, his train had reached the right destination.
The new stations were pristine on Sunday morning, but a rider noted that litter appeared quickly in a car. Ted Berg, 35, a sportswriter who lives on the Upper East Side near the 86th Street stop, wrote on Twitter that “people have already strewn garbage about” shortly after service to the new stations started at noon.
A Broken Elevator Dampens Excitement
Shortly after 2 p.m., an elevator at the 86th Street station stopped working, stranding passengers above and below ground. Strollers were wheeled onto steep escalators. Parents became upset. A small line of people in wheelchairs and baby carriages formed outside of the elevator above ground.
Jill Tallmer, 62, and her mother, Margot Tallmer, 91, contemplated visiting another day. “We’ve been waiting for 10 years, or more, to ride,” said the younger Ms. Tallmer next to her mother, a lifelong New Yorker who was in a wheelchair. “Hopefully, it’s almost ready for us.”
It wasn’t. They left after a few minutes.
“It was a valiant effort,” a stroller-pushing father said. Dave Officer, 39, a business developer who lives on the Upper East Side, had planned to see the subway with his wife and 6-month old daughter. “Another day,” he said.
Let’s Talk About the Bathrooms
The new bathrooms on the upper level of the 86th Street station were quickly put to use.
Well, bathroom. The women’s restroom was locked, and an M.T.A. employee had to find the key.
The reviews for the men’s restroom, however, were largely positive.
“It smells fresh and clean,” said Jonathan Senker, 35, who had come from Philadelphia to celebrate New Year’s Eve and ride the subway.
And “the soap and water work,” said Helen Rodgers, 46, from Jamaica, Queens, who had to use the men’s restroom.
Not everyone would venture inside.
“Bad things can happen behind closed doors,” said David Usiak, 29, who lives on the Upper East Side.
Inside the single toilet stall, a handwritten note taped to the wall read, “Toilet seat must be down for toilet to flush.”
A Jazz Musician and His Celebrity Status
George Braith, a jazz saxophonist, can usually travel through the city with little fuss or fanfare. On Sunday afternoon, however, he was surrounded by an eager pack of veritable paparazzi. There was good reason for Mr. Braith’s newfound celebrity: His likeness is featured in a mosaic at the 72nd Street station.
“Would you look at that guy,” said Mr. Braith, 77, as dozens of onlookers snapped photos. “Pretty handsome fellow if you ask me.”
In his mosaic, Mr. Braith, clad in a slick red blazer, is carrying his signature “Braithophone,” an alto and soprano saxophone mended together. Unsheathing the instrument from his suitcase, he obliged the crowd with a brief tune.
“Are you famous?” a passer-by asked.
“In the jazz world,” Mr. Braith responded.
The man shook his head and said, “Well, you’re immortalized as far as I’m concerned.”
Mr. Braith, of Staten Island, rarely rides the subway, but said he would be sure to visit the 72nd Street stop more often now.
“I think it’s the greatest station in the world,” he said. “They’ve got me on the wall!”
Modern Stations for the 21st Century. And No Rats Yet.
Visitors arriving at the line’s three new stations will find a very different — and far more pleasant — atmosphere than they do in most of the rest of the subway system.
For one thing, because the stations are new, they are clean. Enjoy that while you can. There are shiny escalators and elevators. There are no crumbling tiles or unlit corners. And, perhaps best of all, there are no rats to be seen, though they are expected to appear once careless subway riders start dropping bagel crumbs on the floor.
The stations are also built deeper underground than much of the existing system, evoking the feel of Washington’s subway, with long (and sometimes disorienting) escalator banks. While many of the city’s subway stations have vertical columns, these have an open, arched design that is column free.
“This is not your grandfather’s subway station,” Mr. Cuomo said at the New Year’s Eve party.
And, with works by celebrated artists mounted on the walls, the three stations could almost be art galleries.
But at least one thing will be familiar: The trains will be subject to the regular delays and annoyances — like sick passengers and manspreaders — that already plague your commute.
A Museum of Sorts, But Free
You would be forgiven for mistaking the upper level of the 86th Street station for a museum or a Chelsea art gallery.
Dozens of visitors were in front of the 12 large mosaics by Chuck Close, taking photographs, identifying the people in the portraits and discussing the work.
“I cried when I saw the first one,” said Sheryl Yvette, 45, an information technology analyst from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “You have to see it in person. It’s so moving.”
Adam Cohen, 29, a financial analyst from Long Island City in Queens, was patiently waiting for other visitors to move aside so he could take a photo of a large portrait of one of Mr. Close’s subjects, Sienna Shields.
For him, it was a tactile experience.
“I’ve seen his work in museums,” he said of the artist, “but this is different: You can get right in and touch it.”
Nearby, Adrianna Muñetón, 47, a law clerk from Briarwood, Queens, was doing just that. She ran her fingers over the beard of Mr. Close’s self-portrait.
“It is the most unbelievable experience,” she said. “And at no cost.”
Several blocks south at the 72nd Street station, Sumana Harihareswara, a consultant from Astoria, Queens, was walking through the new station when she came across a mosaic that stopped her. There, in gleaming tiles on the wall before her, was a woman of South Asian descent dressed in a burgundy sari, looking at her cellphone. Ms. Harihareswara was instantly overcome with emotion.
“I don’t think I’ve ever come across subway art before that makes me feel so seen,” she explained through tears. “This woman could be my aunt, she could be my cousin.”
Standing beside the mosaic, she and a stranger exchanged a knowing glance. “Representation matters,” they agreed, as several other people snapped photos of the woman wearing the sari.
Ms. Harihareswara, a longtime transit enthusiast, said she was struck by the diversity of the subjects depicted in the mosaics throughout the new stations, which also showcase a mural of a gay couple holding hands.
“There is no feeling quite like seeing yourself cemented into the infrastructure of New York,” Ms. Harihareswara said. “It lets me know that my city loves me.”
A New Year’s Eve Subway Ride to Remember
Shortly after 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, a group of elected leaders and transit officials climbed on board a train at the new 72nd Street station for a memorable trip uptown and into the history books.
“Welcome on the first ride of the Second Avenue subway to 86th Street,” Thomas F. Prendergast, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said over the loudspeaker. Cheers erupted.
The New Year’s Eve soiree and inaugural ride was an exclusive event deep underground ending with a merry countdown to midnight. There was the chairman-led tour to new stations at 86th Street and 96th Street, music by a rollicking jazz band and an array of snacks and local beers. Subway officials and their guests, dressed in bow ties and sequined dresses, toasted the hard work it took to build the huge subway tunnel below Manhattan.
Nearing midnight at the 72nd Street station, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who effectively controls the authority, took the stage, telling the crowd of hundreds that the opening proved that government could do big things. He and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, had briefly greeted each other earlier in the night, despite their frosty relationship, though the mayor did not speak at the event.
Charlie Feliciano, the conductor on the inaugural ride, said he had volunteered to work on New Year’s Eve.
“It was a lifetime experience,” he said. “I did it!”
The Tortured History of the Second Avenue Subway
It is a story that stretches over 96 years, but we will try to keep it brief.
The idea for a subway line along Second Avenue was first proposed in the 1920s but faced a series of obstacles that delayed it: the Great Depression, the city’s financial crisis in the 1970s and broken promises when money that might have gone toward the project was spent elsewhere instead.
The elevated train lines that served the Upper East Side were taken down in the 1940s and 1950s, leaving the neighborhood with only one subway route: the overflowing Lexington Avenue line that was a long walk away for many people.
“In many ways, the Upper East Side has kind of suffered with density without the infrastructure,” said Thomas K. Wright, the president of the Regional Plan Association. “This is trying to right a historic mistake.”
Finally, in the 1990s, the plans were revived, though subway officials decided to start with a smaller segment of the line, from 63rd Street to 96th Street. Construction began in 2007, to the dismay of some businesses and residents who endured shaking, clanging and dust as the work proceeded.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority faced doubts about whether it would meet a deadline to open in December 2016. Under Mr. Cuomo’s prodding, though, workers were able to complete the required testing so that the line could be opened for an inaugural ride on New Year’s Eve and to the public on Sunday.
What’s Next for the Second Avenue Subway?
Some longtime New Yorkers may look at a map of the new line and wonder: Is that it?
The city once imagined the Second Avenue subway running nearly the length of Manhattan, and possibly even into the Bronx. But officials scaled back their ambitions, choosing to build in phases, with the first one serving the Upper East Side neighborhood known as Yorkville. Many in the area are excited about the opening, but are also concerned about the prospect of rising rents forcing out residents and businesses.
The next phase calls for the transportation authority to extend the line uptown to 125th Street in East Harlem. But that leg of the project, which could cost up to $6 billion, is still in the early planning stages and may not open for another decade. And leaders in East Harlem have already had to fight to restore funding for the segment after it was removed from the authority’s capital budget in 2015.
Officials have said that they eventually want to extend the line south to Houston Street and then to Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan for a total length of 8.5 miles. Given how long it took to build the first segment, it may be wise to tell your grandchildren not to hold their breath.
While some have criticized the line as puny, Gene Russianoff, the longtime leader of the Straphangers Campaign, a riders’ advocacy group, said it was an important start.
“It’s the beginning of what could be a glorious line,” he said. “It has tremendous potential.”
An earlier version of a photo credit with the 1955 picture of the elevated subway line along Third Avenue misspelled the photographer’s surname. It is Falk, not Flak. An An earlier version also misidentified the name of the the chief engineer of the Interborough Rapid Transit, New York’s first subway in the article text and a picture caption. He was William Barclay Parsons, not William Benton Parsons.