March 2000 

The Third Century
Brooklyn's Franklin Shuttle Reopens

A two-car set of modern R68 cars makes the transition to open cut running south of Park Place station on the newly reopened Franklin Shuttle, a movement made over a span of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries by subway, elevated and railroad passenger trains powered by third rail, trolley wire and steam locomotives. The line returns to two tracks just past the roadway bridge. Douglas Diamond

Foreword by Paul Matus

first train ran on what is now the Franklin Avenue Shuttle of the New York City Transit Authority, the line wasn't in New York City. And only part of the line was even in the then-City of Brooklyn. Most of what is now the Borough of Brooklyn consisted of rural woods and farmland, more distant in time and place from Brooklyn City than Long Island farmland is from New York City today.
     When the Brooklyn, Flatbush & Coney Island Railway Co. opened its new steam excursion railroad from the site of the current Prospect Park station to Coney Island at Brighton Beach on July 2, 1878, the good burghers of the Town of Flatbush knew they were seeing the handwriting on the wall. Their rural community was still farmed by many of the same old Dutch families who settled there when the area was part of New Netherlands, but the 1870s were a time of enormous railroad building in Kings County, what is now Brooklyn. It seemed only a matter of time before great changes would be taking place in everyday life, and the BF&CI was one of the instruments of that change.
     Almost seven weeks later, on August 19, 1878, the BF&CI attained its goal of connecting with the Long Island Rail Road at Bedford, the current junction of Franklin and Atlantic Avenues, and what we now know as the Franklin Shuttle saw its first passengers.
     The new Brighton Line, as it was known virtually from day one, had an important advantage over other early steam roads to Coney Island—direct land access to the heart of Brooklyn City via its connection with the LIRR. But the route of its private right-of-way took it through developed areas of Brooklyn City and Flatbush Village where the residents were none to happy to have a steam railroad crossing their streets.
     The Brighton responded by building the line in an open cut through these areas, avoiding grade crossings and a lot of local anger. The open cut ran from just south of Park Place on what is now the Shuttle, to south of Church Avenue in Flatbush on what is now the Brighton (D and Q train) mainline.
     Change came to the Brighton right-of-way before the first passenger ever brushed coal soot from his summer jacket—the open cut had to be dug deeper to accomodate the larger LIRR locomotives for through service. From that point on, change came frequently to the Brighton, but the biggest change, for the purposes of our story, occurred on August 1, 1920. On that date, Brighton subway trains began operating through a new tunnel from Prospect Park under Flatbush Avenue, connecting it with the heart of Manhattan via the Broadway Subway.
     From that day the stations between Prospect Park and Franklin Avenue became a distinct line as the new Flatbush Avenue tunnel becme the main. Thus was born the Brighton-Franklin Line, today's Franklin Shuttle. When the BMT assigned numbers to its routes, the Franklin even received its own number 7, distinct from the Brighton's 1.
     As part of the building of the new main line, the original cut from Prospect Park to Church Avenue was rebuilt to four tracks, leaving only the Franklin's portion in something like its 1878 appearance.
     Through services were to continue in one form or another on the Brighton-Franklin Line for another four decades, but the die had been cast—the Franklin Avenue Line was now no longer the main line. Just as old highways retain some of their original flavor when a new Interstate passes them by, so its status as a branch line retained some of the flavor of the original Brighton Line on today's Franklin Shuttle.

The New Franklin Shuttle
by Douglas Diamond

An illustrated ride on the rebuilt line



Other Readings:

The Malbone Street Wreck by Brian Cudahy (Book Review)
Year 2000 Track Map of Franklin Shuttleon 1942 street map. (~50K)

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Updated Tuesday, February 18, 2003