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NYC Metro: Express vs Local Services

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I will be staying on the UWS during my forthcoming trip to New York and I have read a lot of trip reports to help with my planning. I am hoping to use the Metro (rather than taxis) for the majority of my transport around Manhattan but I have a few (hopefully) simple questions.

How do I know which trains are Express and which are Local? Is it written on the front of the drivers car or do I need to listen out for the announcement? (something which I like many people find hard to make out!)

Also, how do I know which stops are Local only and which ones are serviced by the Express trains? Is there any way of knowing by simply looking at the maps? i.e Express stops are in italics or something? I'll mostly be using the 1 but it would be good to know in general how to figure such things out!

Finally, I've always wondered why some lines have numbers and other letters? Is there a reason for this?

Sorry for the multiple questions and thanks in advance.

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