Sometimes one wants or needs to get from Times Square, or the area around the Times Square subway station(s), to Grand Central Station. This can be done by walking, or bicycling, jogging, or hailing a cab and instructing the driver properly. Quite likely it can be done on a bus, even.
But it can also, notably, be done on the subway.
The most obvious subway line for this trip is the “S”, where “S” stands for “Shuttle”, referring to the set of trains and the set of tracks that shuttle endlessly back and forth between Times Square and Grand Central Station, all full of people and ads.
There are in some sense three “S” lines in the New York City subway system: the Times Square / Grand Central Shuttle (also known as the “42nd Street Shuttle”), the Franklin Avenue Shuttle in Brooklyn, and the Rockaway Park Shuttle in Queens.
These might be seen as three different lines all confusingly called the “S”, or I think with equal validity be considered a single line (the “S”), which is discontinuous, having one piece in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, and one in Queens. It’s not clear what would constitute a fact-of-the-matter on the issue.
Then, running essentially parallel to the S (the Manhattan leg of the S, that is), there is the 7 (presumably named for having come after the 6 and before the 8, if any). Or, more accurately, that piece of the 7 between Times Square (where the line begins) and Grand Central Station (whence it continues onward out to Flushing in Queens). Between those two stations is the 5th Avenue (Bryant Park) 7 station, which is under Bryant Park, as shown in the illustration:
(That station also serves the enthusiastically orangish B, D, F, and V lines, but they are not relevant to the current discussion.)
There are various considerations in deciding between the S and the 7 for the purpose of getting between Times Square and Grand Central, or more specifically in our case the purpose of getting between the 42nd Street Port Authority Bus Terminal subway station (A, C and E lines), and Grand Central Station (Metro North).
No subway line at all runs between the Port Authority station and the Times Square station, but there is a pedestrian tunnel which is entirely within the subway system, and thus a Free Transfer. Emerging from that tunnel at one point, near a major AM New York distribution point, a set of stairs runs down to the 7 platform to one’s left, and another longer set leads up toward the level of the S some distance ahead.
The 7, being a more or less normal subway line, does not run as often as the S (that is to say, not quite constantly). Also, it has that additional station (Bryant Park, see above) between Times Square and Grand Central, whereas the S shuttles between the two with nothing intervening.
The 7 is also deeper in the ground than the S, which would normally be a disadvantage, but in this case it is so very deep in the ground that the platforms at both salient stations are provided with escalators, which convey one in comparative comfort up and down what would otherwise be a daunting number of stairs. So the physical effort and time involved in ascending and descending from and to the platforms of the 7 are no greater than, and likely less than, the corresponding factors for the S.
On the other hand, the escalators from the 7 platform at the Grand Central end leave one in a strange and not entirely admirable part of the station, with low ceilings and rather tacky dented metal walls, more like the modern Penn Station than the usual polished marble one expects from Grand Central, and at some distance (cognitively, and I suspect physically) from the probability-weighted center of gravity of the Metro-North gates.
So there is that.
The other day I considered taking the 7 in the Times Square to Grand Central direction, but when I reached the platform there were two trains (one on each side) with their doors open and a certain milling of impatient New Yorkers, and a voice said that there were unauthorized persons on the tracks, or other words to that effect, and that service was delayed as a result. So I went up the escalator and made my way to the familiar Times Square end of the S, and did that.
Determining, in the process, that to get from the 42nd Street Port Authority Bus Terminal station to the Times Square end of the S, it is probably less effort, and even time, to go down the steps to the 7 platform and then up the escalator to the level of the Shuttle, than it is to go up the usual stairs to the Shuttle.
But that seems just lazy, as a regular thing.
Today I went down to the 7 platform again, and this time there were apparently no unauthorized persons on the tracks delaying traffic, and I took the 7 through the 5th Avenue (Bryant Park) station to its platform in Grand Central, and took that escalator up, and discovered the above facts about the odd area that this delivers one into.
And so there is that.
So very odd, really, that there are these huge tubes under the ground, with rails and speeding trains running on them. And so many people!