The first automated subway train begins service (New York City NY)

The subway system in New York has been in continuous operation for over a century, and is the source for many innovations – including the first U.S. unmanned subway line. It came about as a result of a grand dream of the chairman of the NY Board of Transportation chairman Sidney H. Bingham, who envisioned a conveyor-type system of transporting people around the city. Although his idea was initially shot down because of price concerns, it was revived in 1959 and put into practice several years later.

On this day, January 4th, in 1962, the first automated, driverless subway cars officially began carrying passengers between Times Square and Grand Central station. The short route was chosen because it would least impact the other train services. The train was not completely driverless – in deference to the Train Workers’ Union, a representative was on board at the controls, in case anything went wrong.

The automated lines quickly gained popularity, with some people deliberately skipping the manned trains to board them. Many others just lined up at the stations to watch the trains go by. One of the passengers, a 14 year-old was quoted in the New York Times saying he wanted to ride the automated train because it was “something different, like striped toothpaste.”