the know-it-all

The Second Avenue Subway Is Brought to You by the Letter T

With this week’s announcement that construction on the Second Avenue Subway might be getting a so-called “early start,” we were reminded that the new line will be called the T. Why T?

Well — and this is the truth — it’s because Jeff Erlitz, the MTA’s superintendent of operation planning, likes the letter. Peter Cafiero, now Erlitz’s boss as senior director of rail-service planning but merely his colleague when the decision was made, was pulling for P. “I have twin daughters, Louise and Paula, and there’s an L line but no P, so Paula is always begging me for a P,” recalls Cafiero, who neglects to concede that his own name also begins with the letter. Cafiero made his case, but Erlitz overruled him. “I asked him yesterday what he had against P,” Cafiero says, “and he said he didn’t remember.”

Personal whims aside, there actually is some logic to the process. The new line will be part of the old IND system, which means it must be identified by a letter; only IRT lines get numbers. Many of the available letters were deemed unusable: H and K were once blue-coded IND lines, like the A, C, and E; I and O can too easily be confused for the numbers 1 and 0. Then P apparently died in some inter-office power struggle that nobody quite recalls. And so it is the T — which, in fact, has been used before, too. For less than a year in the sixties, what’s now the D was known as the T. But who’ll remember that?

Of course, none of this will matter for quite a while. The first phase of the project involves extending the Q from its current terminus at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue to a new station at 96th Street and Second Avenue station, and phase two will extend that up to 125th Street. Through both those phases, the Second Avenue train will still be considered the Q. Only when phase three is completed and there’s a Second Avenue line from 125th Street to Houston will the T name come into effect. One hopes Cafiero’s daughter will be over the slight by then.

Hope Reeves

The Second Avenue Subway Is Brought to You by the Letter T