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.

"JFK" train symbol
JFK Express
JFK Express Sign.jpg
The JFK Express bullet on an R68 serving the Franklin Avenue Shuttle
Map of the "JFK" train
Note: Service began at 57th Street prior to 1989
Northern end21st Street–Queensbridge
Southern endHoward Beach–JFK Airport
Stations12 (9 until 1989)
Started serviceSeptember 23, 1978; 41 years ago (1978-09-23)
DiscontinuedApril 15, 1990; 29 years ago (1990-04-15)

Fares and rolling stockEdit

1978 brochure

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.[1] In addition to the conductors, there were transit police officers aboard to provide protection for travelers.[1] The initial fare was $3.50.[2][3] On July 3, 1981 the fare was raised to $5 from $4.[4] When the service was discontinued in 1990, the fare was $6.75.[1]

The JFK Express used R46s exclusively for most of its existence,[5][6] although near its end R44s were used when the R46s began midlife overhauls.[5] The trains were initially three cars long or 225 feet (69 m) in length.[1][5][7] They later were four cars long or 300 feet (91 m) long, half the length of a typical B Division train.[5][8][9] The cars featured luggage racks for airport-bound passengers.[1]



In June 1978, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced plans for an "experimental" subway–bus service between Manhattan and JFK Airport.[10] The JFK Express began operation on September 23, 1978 with a three-car train originating at 57th Street.[1][7][8] The MTA created several 30-second long television commercials to promote the new service.[8][11] Trains ran daily from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. on 20 minute headways.[7] 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.[1][7]


Within a few years of its inauguration, the service was being criticized as a poor use of resources.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15][16] The proposal was still being reviewed in January 1984; it never came to fruition.[17]

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.[18] Some passengers paid the extra fare to get to Aqueduct Racetrack during racing days, when the JFK Express would stop at Aqueduct Racetrack station.[19]


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.[20][21]: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.[20]

On October 29, 1989, the IND 63rd Street Line opened and the JFK Express was extended to 21st Street–Queensbridge, skipping Roosevelt Island.[5][22][23] 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.[1][24][13] 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.[1][25]:15 Passengers preferred the A train, which was cheaper and ran more often.[1] 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.[21]:3.14

Since the discontinuation of the JFK Express, the A train has continued to serve the Howard Beach–JFK Airport station.[13] 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.[26] The AirTrain JFK also connects with the Long Island Rail Road at Jamaica,[27] and with the E​, ​J, and ​Z trains to Manhattan at Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue.[26][27]: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.[28]

Final routeEdit

Service patternEdit

The following lines were used by the JFK Express service:[22]

Line Portion Tracks
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
  Station[22]   Notes
  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
  Chambers Street
  Broadway–Nassau Street
  Jay Street–Borough Hall
  Howard Beach–JFK Airport   transfer to Port Authority shuttle bus to airport terminals


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Grynbaum, Michael M. (November 25, 2009). "If You Took the Train to the Plane, Sing the Jingle". City Blog. The New York Times. Retrieved July 3, 2016.
  2. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (June 5, 1980). "JFK Train: Wasteful or Wonderful; Deficit of $2.5 Million a Year 'Train to the Plane' Service: Is It Wasteful or Wonderful? How the Fares Compare A 'Psychological Barrier'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  3. ^ "Introducing the new JFK Express. Now you can take the train to the plane". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 1978. Retrieved June 7, 2019 – via Flickr.
  4. ^ "The JFK Express Take The Train to The Plane. Timetable". New York City Transit Authority. 1980. Retrieved June 7, 2019 – via Flickr.
  5. ^ a b c d e Linder, Bernard (December 2008). "Sixth Avenue Subway Service Changes". New York Division Bulletin. Electric Railroaders' Association. 51 (12): 2–4. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  6. ^ Maitland, Leslie (April 14, 1980). "U.S. Cites Flaws in R-46 Subway Cars; Transit Authority to Cut Their Use 47%" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d "New "JFK Express" Service Begun in Howard Beach". New York Leader Observer. September 28, 1978. Retrieved July 22, 2016 – via
  8. ^ a b c Pitt, David E. (October 22, 1989). "Transit Agency Wants to End Airport Express". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  9. ^ *Queens Subway Options Study, New York: Environmental Impact Statement. United States Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Urban Mass Transit Administration. May 1984. pp. 83–. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  10. ^ Lichtenstein, Grace (June 27, 1978). "Experimental Bus‐Subway Route to Kennedy Planned". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  11. ^ Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Train to the Plane. Retrieved August 30, 2009 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ Goldman, Ari (June 5, 1980). "JFK Train: Wasteful Or Wonderful". The New York Times. p. B1. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
  13. ^ a b c Faison, Seth (April 20, 1993). "Trains and Buses, Then Airplanes". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2009.
  14. ^ Schiro, Anne-marie (July 25, 1981). "To The Airport: Getting There The Fastest". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  15. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (June 5, 1983). "Changes Planned For Subway to Rockaways and West Side". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  16. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (June 2, 1983). "Cut In Fare to $1.50, End of Guards Urged For 'Train to Plane'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  17. ^ Haitch, Richard (January 15, 1984). "Follow-Up On The News; A JFK Local?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  18. ^ Feinman, Mark S. "The New York City Transit Authority in the 1980s". Retrieved August 30, 2009.
  19. ^ Crist, Steven (October 14, 1981). "Aqueduct's Eye On The Affluent". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 29, 2016.
  20. ^ a b Pitt, David E. (October 22, 1989). "Transit Agency Wants to End Airport Express". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  21. ^ a b JFK International Airport Light Rail System: Environmental Impact Statement Volume 1 of 3. Federal Aviation Administration, United States Department of Transportation. 1997.
  22. ^ a b c "October 1989 Map". New York City Transit Authority. October 1989. Retrieved October 7, 2018 – via Flickr.
  23. ^ Lorch, Donatella (October 29, 1989). "The 'Subway to Nowhere' Now Goes Somewhere". The New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
  24. ^ The New York Times (March 11, 1990). "JFK express subway to be discontinued". New York City: Observer–Reporter. p. 54. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  25. ^ "Project Profile; USA; New York Airtrain" (PDF). UCL Bartlett School of Planning. September 6, 2011. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
  26. ^ a b "AirTrain JFK opens for service". Railway Gazette International. March 1, 2004. Retrieved July 23, 2016.
  27. ^ a b Gosling, Geoffrey D.; Freeman, Dennis (May 2012). "Case Study Report: John F. Kennedy International Airport Airtrain" (PDF). Mineta Transportation Institute, San Jose State University. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 7, 2015.
  28. ^ Lower Manhattan-Jamaica/JFK Transportation Project, Summary Report, Prepared for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and PANYNJ. Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. December 2008. Retrieved February 5, 2017 – via Scribd.

External linksEdit