Howard Beach–JFK Airport is a subway/people mover station complex located at Coleman Square between 159th Avenue and 103rd Street in Howard Beach, Queens. The New York City Subway portion of the station is on the IND Rockaway Line and is served by the Rockaway branch of the A train at all times. The AirTrain JFK portion of the station complex is served by the AirTrain's Howard Beach branch at all times.
The station was originally a Long Island Rail Road station along the Rockaway Beach Branch. The LIRR station opened in 1913 to replace the nearby Ramblersville station. The LIRR ceased operations at this station in 1950, and the New York City Transit Authority bought the section of the Rockaway Beach Branch that included this station. The subway station opened on June 28, 1956. In 2000–2003, the subway station was completely rebuilt and a transfer to the new AirTrain JFK was built. The rebuilt station was completed on December 17, 2003.
The station originally opened in April 1913 as a Long Island Rail Road station, which replaced the former 1899-built Ramblersville station that was built 0.2 miles (0.32 km) to the south. In 1923, the station was retrofitted with sheltered sheds on both sides of the tracks. On May 8, 1950 a fire that broke out between The Raunt and Broad Channel stations destroyed the bridge over Jamaica Bay, and the line was acquired by the New York City Transit Authority.
On June 27, 1955, this station, along with all the rest of the Rockaway Beach Branch stations that were south of the now defunct Ozone Park station, was taken out of service due to an eight-month restructuring and upgrading of the train tracks, so that these tracks could accurately comply with the New York City Transit standards to rapidly transport the subway trains. During the project, the Howard Beach station (along with the Broad Channel and Far Rockaway stations) was completely rebuilt, utilizing a modern design, and building a new overhead passageway between the two platforms. Many of the parts for the station were prefabricated, speeding construction. On June 28, 1956, the Howard Beach station was reopened as a subway station along with the rest of the line, with the previous Long Island Rail Road station at this location having been razed. Inauguration ceremonies were held at the station as well as at Euclid Avenue in Brooklyn.
The JFK Express, which provided a link to John F. Kennedy International Airport to the east from Manhattan, terminated at this station from 1978 to 1990, which included free shuttle bus service to the airport. The bus service, which continued after JFK Express service ended, was the only link between the airport and the Howard Beach station at the time.
The station was extensively renovated in the early 2000s, undergoing a $50 million overhaul to connect the subway station to the new AirTrain JFK. The project was designed by STV Group and financed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. During the rebuilding of the station, the original subway platforms were demolished and temporary platforms were erected in the center trackways while the new platforms and mezzanine were built, while trains utilized a single track during off-peak hours. The AirTrain structure around the station was completed in 2001, and the AirTrain station opened on December 17, 2003, at which time the shuttle bus was discontinued. The transfer was popular, with 4 million people transferring between the subway and the AirTrain from 2003 to 2007.
Due to extensive damage to the IND Rockaway Line by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, this was the southern terminal for A trains that normally traveled to the Rockaways while the line south of the station was being repaired. Full service to the Rockaways was restored on May 30, 2013.
The station's mezzanine is located in a modern, temperature-controlled, glass-enclosed building above the subway platforms and tracks, measuring 90 feet (27 m) across, with a large stainless steel sign on either side reading "Howard Beach JFK." The mezzanine building contains a small token booth and three turnstile banks between the subway, the AirTrain JFK, and the unpaid area.
The exit from the complex to the Howard Beach neighborhood is on the west side, with a twisting staircase and two elevators going down to the east side of 103rd Street/Coleman Square by the T-intersection with 159th Avenue. A connecting bridge on the east side of the station leads into the Airtrain JFK station.
The grade-level New York City Subway station has two side platforms and four tracks with the two center express tracks not used in revenue service. The southbound express track has been severed and has permanently been removed from service, while the northbound express track is unused in regular service. South of the station, there are switches and crossovers between all four tracks before the two outer tracks merge with the center ones. The two-track line then crosses Jamaica Bay to Broad Channel, which is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) to the south. The crossing is the longest stretch of line between two consecutive stations in the system.
Both platforms have concrete windscreens on either end and steel canopies at the portions underneath the center station building. The platforms are offset, with the southbound platform extending slightly to the north, and the northbound platform extending slightly further south. An elevator and a set of staircases and escalators from each subway platform go up to the shared fare control.
The Rockaway-bound platform has two High Entry/Exit Turnstiles and one exit-only turnstile leading to a short staircase that goes down to the intersection of 159th Road and 103rd Street. The Brooklyn-bound platform has a set of emergency doors leading to the parking lot just north of the AirTrain JFK station; they are normally locked, but were in use from December 2012 to May 2013 as a connection to a temporary shuttle bus service instituted after Hurricane Sandy. Both platforms have stairs, escalators, and an elevator to the headhouse above the platforms.
Prior to the 2000s renovations, the design of the station and overpass resembled that of the Broad Channel station.
The AirTrain JFK portion of this station has two tracks and one island platform on the upper level of the station complex. The eastern end of the AirTrain platform leads to Parking Area C. Unlike the New York City Subway platforms, the AirTrain JFK platforms are entirely enclosed and feature platform screen doors, which help the station maintain a constant temperature and prevent passengers from falling onto the tracks. An array of sensors detect a train's position on the track, and only when it is properly aligned will the train's doors open. This enables the AirTrain to use automatic train operation without drivers.
The platform measures approximately 240 feet (73 m). The next stop to the southeast is Lefferts Boulevard. Since it is owned by the Port Authority, it uses a separate fare control from the subway. Passengers must pay their fare when either entering or leaving the station, as this station and Jamaica are the only stations where fares are collected. MetroCard vending machines are located on both sides of fare control.