125th Street is an express station that has four tracks and two island platforms. It is the northernmost Manhattan station on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line of the New York City Subway. Located at Lexington Avenue and East 125th Street (also known as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) in East Harlem, it is served by the 4 and 6 trains at all times, the 5 train at all times except late nights, and the <6> during weekdays in peak direction.
A planned northern extension of the Second Avenue Subway would connect with this station and with the Metro-North Railroad's Harlem–125th Street station, located one block west.
This station opened on July 17, 1918 as part of the extension of the Original Subway up Lexington Avenue to 125th Street and into the Bronx. Initially, service was provided only as a shuttle on the local tracks of the then-formed Lexington Avenue Line between Grand Central, continuing past this station and under the Harlem River to 167th Street on the IRT Jerome Avenue Line. On August 1, 1918, through service on the Lexington Avenue Line began. Both express trains and local trains began stopping at this station, running from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The extension from Grand Central cost $58,000,000.
The opening of this station resulted in development in the surrounding neighborhood of East Harlem.
In 1952 or 1953, a public address system was installed at this station, providing information to passengers and train crews.
In 1981, the MTA listed the station among the 69 most deteriorated stations in the subway system. This station's renovation was completed in 2005.
The station is unusual in design, as a bi-level station with island platforms but not configured in the standard express-local lower-upper configuration. Instead, the upper platform serves northbound (uptown) trains and the lower level serves southbound (downtown) trains. Adding to the unusual design is the local track on each level having train doors open to the right; the express tracks likewise have doors opening to the left. North of the station, just after crossing the Harlem River, the line splits into the IRT Jerome Avenue Line (heading north) and the IRT Pelham Line (heading east). On the lower platform, each track comes from one line, and a flying junction south of the station allows trains to be diverted to the local or express track. Throughout the station's history, this station has been one of the more important on the line as it is the northernmost transfer point between express trains to the IRT Jerome Avenue and White Plains Road Lines, and local trains to the IRT Pelham Line.
There is an active tower at the north end of the upper platform; it is a satellite to the tower at Grand Central–42nd Street, which controls the entire length of the Lexington Avenue Line.
There are four stair exits and one elevator exit.Entrance 2: Staircase at SW corner of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street
Entrance 3: Staircase at SE corner of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street
Entrance 4: Staircase and elevator at NE corner of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street
Entrance 5: Staircase at NW corner of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street
This station has a mezzanine with two separate turnstile banks. The northern turnstile bank leads to two staircases going to both northern corners of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street, and an elevator going to the NE corner of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street. The southern turnstile bank has two exits leading to both southern corners of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street.
The station lies one block east of the Metro-North Railroad's Harlem–125th Street station on Park Avenue.
As part of a proposed Second Avenue Subway station, a new exit would be built at the southeast corner of 125th Street and Park Avenue, as well as an ancillary facility on that site. An ancillary would also be built at the southeast corner of 125th Street and Third Avenue.
The planned northern terminal for the Second Avenue Subway would be built below, perpendicular to the existing station along 125th Street. The 125th Street station would be part of Phase 2, from 96th Street to 125th Street, with the next station south being 116th Street. Phase 2 would also include a station at 106th Street. A station at Lexington Avenue and 125th Street was not on the original Second Avenue Subway proposed as part of the New York City Transit Authority's 1968 Program for Action; instead, a Second Avenue Subway station would be built at 126th Street and Second Avenue. The line was to be built in two phases—the first phase from 126th to 34th Streets, the second phase from 34th to Whitehall Streets.
In March 2007, the Second Avenue Subway was revived. The line's first phase, the "first major expansion" to the New York City Subway in more than a half-century, included three stations in total and cost $4.45 to $4.5 billion. spanning from 105th Street and Second Avenue to 63rd Street and Third Avenue. Phase 1 opened on January 1, 2017.
The second phase, between 125th and 96th Streets, was allocated $525 million in the MTA's 2015–2019 Capital Plan for planning, design, environmental studies, and utility relocation. This phase will complete the project's East Harlem section. The alignment will run under Second Avenue to 124th Street, before turning west on 125th Street. On October 18, 2016, the de Blasio administration announced a rezoning plan for East Harlem. One of the three Special Transit Land Use (TA) districts is for the area of the 125th Street/Lexington Avenue station.
On November 21, 2016, the MTA requested that the Phase 2 project be entered into the Project Development phase under the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program. On December 15, several elected officials for the area announced that they were seeking $6 billion of funding for Phase 2 of the line, including $2 billion from the federal government. These officials wished to secure funding from the presidential administration of Barack Obama before Obama's term ended on January 20, 2017. In their request for funding, they cited that they wanted to avoid an uncertain response from the administration of Donald Trump and start construction on Phase 2 as soon as possible. The FTA granted this request in late December 2016. Under the approved plan, the MTA would complete an environmental reevaluation by 2018, receive funding by 2020, and open Phase 2 between 2027 and 2029. In January 2017, it was announced that Phases 2 and 3, which are expected to cost up to a combined $14.2 billion, were on the Trump administration's priority list of 50 most important transportation projects nationwide.
If built, this platform will be the permanent northern terminal of the Second Avenue Subway. It would be five levels below street level, or two levels below the lower-level IRT Lexington Avenue Line platform. The station will have a three-track, two-island platform layout with a mezzanine above it. There will be railroad switches to the east of the platforms to switch the direction of terminating trains. The station would also include a new exit leading directly from the Second Avenue Line platform to the south side of Park Avenue and 125th Street, allowing for a quick connection to the Metro-North station. The tracks would continue west of the station to midblock between Fifth Avenue and Lenox Avenue, creating space for tail tracks to store trains and providing a provision for a future expansion of the line along 125th Street.
Under the approved plan, the MTA estimates that this station, along with two other stations, will open between 2027 and 2029 upon the completion of Phase 2 of the line.
The location is referenced in The Velvet Underground song "Waiting for the Man", in which the song's protagonist uses the train station en route to buy heroin in Harlem: "Up to Lexington, 1-2-5 / Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive."