86th street subway
This is your brain at 101 decibels. Photo by g c.

If you’ve been in the 86th Street subway station waiting for the 1 train, this should come as no surprise: the station is extremely loud, as loud as a power lawn mower or a jet taking off, according to The Guardian, which conducted decibel tests at subway stations and elsewhere.

In Times Square, one of the busiest subway stations in the city, the noise level ranges from 80 decibels to 96 decibels when the express trains barrel through the station.

Other stations measured, including the 86th street station on Manhattan’s Upper West Side briefly hit an ear-splitting 101.9 decibels.

The eastbound trains at Union Square, another popular station, registered in at around 95 decibels, as New Yorkers and tourists alike looked pained and covered their ears with their hands. For perspective, 100 decibels is also the volume of a power lawn mower or a jet taking off at 305 meters.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that being exposed to sounds that reach 90 decibels risks damaging hearing after eight hours. Luckily, even the MTA doesn’t force us to wait that long.

NEWS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. Maryjane says:

      I’d rather have an a/c car on the 1 train

    2. Steven says:

      “In Times Square, one of the busiest subway stations in the city, the noise level ranges from 80 decibels to 96 decibels when the express trains barrel through the station.” What are they talking about? Express trains don’t “barrel through” the Times Square station; they stop there.

      • Upper West Side Wally says:

        The train enters the station at full speed (~ 40 MPH), and doesn’t start braking until half way into the station. More than enough time to take a decibel reading, methinks.

        • Steven says:

          If that’s what they are referring to, then they should say “barrel into the station” rather than “through” the station.

        • Nathan says:

          Downtown trains always start slowing down around 50th street. And, not that it doesn’t happen, but I believe the MTA rules say trains should not enter stations going faster than 25 MPH.

      • Michael G says:

        The A/C/E Times Square station at any rate has a unique offset design, where the train going in the opposite direction fully passes through before stopping. Like so:


    3. David says:


    4. Red Raleigh says:

      The NYC Subway system is a horrendous, disgusting embarrassment.

      A see-through platform wall running the entire length of the “open” platform with doors that open in alignment with the subway car doors when a train pulls in (like in Japan) would eliminate 95% of the noise along with allowing adequate, cost-saving air conditioning and heating on the platforms and probably stop “fall-ins”.

      • Independent says:

        We should indeed have gates on our subway platforms as the subway systems of many cities do. The primary reason is to prevent people from falling, being thrown or jumping onto the tracks. Reducing noise and allowing for climate control could be additional benefits.

        • Paul G says:

          One more side benefit would be to reduce litter on the tracks (reducing track fires) and stopping people from dropping their valuables down there and then dangerously attempting to retrieve them.

          Even simple railings like at the TSQ shuttle station would help protect people, though not the rest.

    5. Howard Freeman says:

      Downtown express is incredibly loud. One of the only trains I plug my ears for.

    6. Jerry Bergman says:

      Doesn’t anybody know that exposure to such loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss? Experts say 15 minutes of exposure at 100 dB can do it. Put in little foam ear plugs when standing on the subway platform and avoid becoming one of the 15% of Americans between ages 20 and 69 with noise-induced hearing loss (according to the NIDCD).

    7. Nelson says:

      The subway system seems to get worse every daily. Comparing them to a third world country’s transit system is an insult to third world countries.

    8. coucha says:

      How about the noise level at 66th Street, ironically the Lincoln Center station which should have soothing acoustics instead of the din created by the trains? Observe how many people are standing on the platform with their fingers in their ears to block the noise.

      • ScooterStan says:

        Re: “Observe how many people are standing on the platform with their fingers in their ears to block the noise.”

        THAT would make for a prize-winning photograph !

        Both ears, or just one? And how do you do BOTH ears if you are holding stuff?

    9. JM Kass says:

      no kidding! Who’s going to do what about this — if ever?

    10. Stephanie says:

      But can the eight hours of power lawn mower/jet take-off damage be cumulative?

      I’ve endured this cacophony for too many years!

      May I ask, is there some plain to reduce the decibels or is that totally wishful thinking?

    11. Wendy says:

      I plug my ears when the express trains roar thru… It’s defeaning, literally.

    12. ksf says:

      And what about the subway workers on the trains, repairing tracks and in the station offices? Has anyone traced cases of hearing loss from these jobs? Or conducted a study of hearing loss of riders who consistently– over years–wait on the platforms for all the extra noisy trains?