Ghost Trains: Navigating the Subways as a High Schooler

By Sam Klein Stearns

Transitioning to Beacon from another school can be difficult. As a freshman, I can certainly vouch for these difficulties: from harder courses, to the introduction of PBAs, to the earlier start times, the changes can get overwhelming. One of the most daunting implementations I found was the subway. In terms of finding the correct train to take, it’s fairly straightforward – the 42nd Street station houses various lines going uptown and downtown. But many students (including myself) have to keep up with transfers and express stops, as well as the general unreliability of the MTA. For freshmen who already struggle to keep up with their classes, taking the subway can feel like yet another task to complete, especially at such early hours. There’s no golden solution, no secret way of traveling. However, understanding the subways and how they generally operate is certainly helpful. So, here’s how to maneuver the MTA as a high schooler. 

To begin with, it is important to understand the MTA’s flaws and how they may affect your schedule. The trains’ arrival times seem to be the most common reasons for lateness; arriving at the station just as the train leaves could add an extra five or even ten minutes on to your commute. And although it would seem different, the schedules of each line vary greatly, and, as was stated before, even a one minute change could completely skew your travel time. Confusion in terms of what trains to take and where to switch also leads to many errors. As there are frequent service announcements and alterations to what trains are or aren’t express, the subways you take one day may not be the same as the next. To add on to this, stations are always undergoing maintenance and closing down – and although these changes are typically saved for the night shift, a last-minute construction could also disrupt your morning. 

So there are all the main problems: now what can be done to get around them? First of all, to address arrival times: even though there are no constant, set-in-stone times, there are tools available for use in more places than it may seem. The most obvious of these are the overhead screens scattered along stations that show how long different trains will take to arrive. You can also view these times, as well as service announcements including delays or maintenance times, on several apps. I recommend the NYC Subway app, which has multiple convenient features such as maps, service changes, or travel alerts directly from the social medias of the MTA. Now, school can be hectic, and it isn’t always convenient to check several apps at 6:30 in the morning, so it’s helpful to estimate when trains usually come to your local station. Knowing your route also has some fairly easy solutions. Understanding or even memorizing your main route is fairly easy – I’ve been at Beacon for just over two months and I’m practically already doing it in my sleep. 

But, as is evident, the MTA is far from perfect, so it is important to know that there are alternate routes. And, if you want to be extra, you can even practice those alternate routes on your way to school, especially before SGI on Friday. Another way to accomplish an easier commute is to travel with friends. Not only is it nice having company on what can be a long, tedious ride – as well as this, those people may know more alternate routes that you haven’t heard of yet. 

Knowing these tips is certainly helpful when navigating the complex system that is the MTA. But of course there are simply unavoidable grievances that are nevertheless important to consider. First of all, there is, of course, the dreaded train stop: when your subway simply halts, in the middle of the tunnel, with only a muffled explanation from the driver. Or how about when none of your lines are running, or all the stations near you are shut down, and there is simply no option to get to school. Or even when the train you’re on goes express, and speeds right by the station you need. For these problems, there are no nifty tips that you can rely on, no back-door secrets to help you get to where you need to go. Still, in general, it’s important not to get too angry with the MTA, and not get caught up with the problems, instead focusing on anything you can do. And if all else fails, maybe take a taxi?