One man's mission to put New York's secret subway back on the map

A detail from Stewart Mader's combined New York-New Jersey subway map.

So here's an odd fact for you. It's possible to be less than a mile away from Downtown Manhattan, and yet not be in New York City at all. Across the River Hudson, just moments from the financial district, you’ll find the independent city of Hoboken, New Jersey.  

What's even better, for those who fancy saving a cool 30 per cent on their rent, it's served by its very own 24-hour metro: the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) subway system, which links Manhattan with the suburbs just across the river. The system means that stretches of New Jersey suburbia are more convenient for the heart of Manhattan than anywhere you’ll find in Brooklyn.

And yet, even many New Yorkers are only vaguely aware that it exists.


The 13-station PATH network first opened in 1908, just four years after the first subway line in New York proper. It shares five stations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) subway system; crosses the Hudson through two tunnels (one from the Village, the other from the Battery); and provides frequent services to Hoboken, Jersey City and Newark.

There are no free transfers between the two networks; but both are compatible with the Metro Card ticketing system. The PATH is as much a part of New York’s transport system as the DLR in London, or the S-Bahn in Berlin.

And yet, the city's standard subway map does its best to play down the existence of New York's second rapid transit network, showing it in the same thin blue line it uses for infrequent heavy rail services. What's even weirder is that it's entirely silent on the existence of the state of New Jersey. Look:

An extract from the current MTA subway map. Note the lack of New Jersey. 

So why has the MTA decided to exclude the PATH system? There's no rational reason for it from the perspective of the consumer, argues writer and digital media expert Stewart Mader. It's merely that, due to an accident of history, they've ended up run by different organisations.

This, Mader decided, is a bit silly. He lives in Hoboken, and works in Lower Manhattan, all of 12 minutes away on the train. And yet, "if you look at the map, you'd think there's nothing to the west of New York”.

And so, he's launched a campaign to get the MTA to start including the PATH on its subway map. It'd look something like this:

Click to expand. 

By making the map himself, Mader told us, he hoped to demonstrate to the MTA quite how easy it would be to actually, well, make this map.

This is not a new idea. As late as the 1960s, the PATH trains did appear on the subway map, albeit in a different colour to the main system:

An extract of the 1968 New York subway map.

Resurrecting this combined effort could be an easy win for the city authorities, Mader argues, expanding the functional area of the city for many residents at almost no cost. "We live in an era when capital construction is expensive. But ‘expansion’ doesn't have to mean building a new line – it can come from giving a clearer map."

Mader's campaign has attracted support from the mayors of Hoboken and Jersey City (well they would, wouldn’t they). Those who'd have to make the final decision, though, are the authorities at the MTA itself. Watch this space.

You can read more about this campaign here.

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.