What’s Up with the NYC Subway Line That Has Some of the Oldest Trains in the System?

C train at Canal Street, April 21, 2016. Photo by Billie Grace Ward/FlickrC train at Canal Street, April 21, 2016. Photo by Billie Grace Ward/Flickr

YIMBY often champions infrastructure improvements. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently revealed massive design improvements planned for both subway trains and subway cars, we thought this would be a good opportunity for a little time travel.

Almost half of the time you board a C train, you have the chance to travel back to 1964. That’s when the R32 subway cars went into service. They were refurbished in the late 1980s, but one look at the outside of the cars, nicknamed “Brightliners,” and you can tell another era has just arrived. The good news is that they aren’t very long for this world, as they are gradually being replaced by R160A subway cars, which went into service in 2006 and are the entirety of the E train fleet. Further replacements are planned.

R160A C train at Fulton Street. Photo by JoesphBarbaro/Wikimedia Commons

R160A C train at Fulton Street. Photo by JoesphBarbaro/Wikimedia Commons

Also, since the C train runs entirely underground, and therefore needs more reliable air conditioning, some of the R32s are transferred to the A train during the summer. The J and Z trains also use some R32s, but a great many stations on those lines are above-ground, meaning air conditioning isn’t as big an issue.

The 40-station C line is 19-miles-long, shorter than the 32-mile-long A line, and its actual trains are also shorter. C trains are only 480-feet-long, while the A trains are 600-feet-long. Can C riders expect longer trains? No. An MTA review of the A and C lines released in December concluded that it would cost $100 million to provide longer trains and that, average loads are within NYC Transit’s Rapid Transit Loading Guidelines, and are projected to remain so through 2035.

The average number of weekday trips on the C is 250,000, though the number on the A or C is 800,000, given that there are plenty of points on the line where you could take either. The MTA says the A and C combine for 14 percent of the system’s trips.

If you’re wondering, the C train was not at the bottom in the most recent Straphangers Campaign rankings. It rated a $1.50 on the measure of how much bang you’re getting for your swipe. That’s more than the $1.45 for the 5 and B trains.

There is no date yet for the implementation of the governor’s proposed improvements, which include redesigned platforms, with USB ports and countdown clocks system-wide, and open-gangway subway cars with Wi-Fi, USB ports, and flip seats. In the meantime, hope for the best.

Cities like Paris and Madrid already have reliable countdown clocks and Madrid’s is oh so clean, even in the red light district. New York City is often referred to as the “capital of the world.” It deserves a great, bright, and modern public transportation system that can meet its amazing needs.

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TFC Horizon

11 Comments on "What’s Up with the NYC Subway Line That Has Some of the Oldest Trains in the System?"

  1. “Capital of the world” and “Center of skyscraper”..I realized that sizable buildings and transit. (really)

  2. They’re the best cars because they’ve last so long.

  3. Richard sawicki | August 19, 2016 at 12:07 pm |

    The “C” line is always the line that keeps the oldest trains running. Back in the 1980’s I used to ride the “C” quite frequently, and at that time they were still running some R-10S! Those trains dated from the late 1940’s and had no conductors closet. The conductor had to stand in a well between two cars and work the door switches “out in the air”, so to speak. Also they had no P.A. system for station announcements, so you had to keep your eye on where the train was, and they had no air conditioning, but rather little rotary fans that were mounted from the ceiling, next to the bare incandescent light bulbs that illuminated the cars. Ahh, memories!

    • staten islander | August 19, 2016 at 12:18 pm |

      The R1/9s and R10s were indestructible! But my favorite was the R46 that ran on the ‘F’ line. 75 foot cars with transverse seating. SI Railway still running 43 year old R44 cars but they will be replaced by 2020 with the recently announced R211S cars.

      • Richard Sawicki | August 19, 2016 at 3:52 pm |

        Indestructible indeed! Riding them I knew I was on a solid piece of U. S.-built steel machinery!

        Riding some of those new trains, with all the plastic parts and the flashing Star Trek computer panels, I feel like I’m on some sort of movie set that will probably be broken down and replaced on short notice.

        And I also enjoyed those R46 75-footers. Rode them to and from my office in Forest Hills for about two years. Always looked like they weren’t quite going to make some of those turns in the tunnels, but a miss is as good as a mile.

  4. One reason is the delayed R179 cars. Blame Bombardier, which can’t seem to deliver them on time. They should have been well into testing by now, ramping up production to replace the R32s. But nope… they’re nowhere to be seen.

  5. Those old F line cars had 72 seats. Now there are only42 – and no room to stand. Progress

  6. Oh does this bring memories, I spent a lot of time on the R train, use to live in Bay ridge & worked in Sheeps head bay. I ❤️ NY!!

  7. I must say I like the R32 cars if just for the fact that if you’re in the front car, you can look at the front window- something you can’t really do in any other subway car.

  8. One step forward , 10 back! As soon as the stations are renovated they are left to wallow in filth! Floors tiles become cracked and filthy, wall tiles remain unwashed and art work/sculpture is ignored (unwashed or dust removed). The stations ultimately become as depressing as they started.

  9. “Capital of the world”? Haha, that title was lost to London years ago. NY is a great city yes, but it has been taken over in the rankings of the world’s best by other world cities. That’s what happens when you neglect infrastructure. Compared to London’s Underground (and combining this with the London Overground, and the NUMEROUS (14, I think?) suburban and commuter rail lines that all accept the same fare payment (Oyster, Apple Pay, contactless debit or credit cards)) the NY subway and LIRR etc are probably about 50 to 100 years away from just getting up to the same level. And given the shambolic 2nd Avenue subway situation and comparing it to the under-construction Crossrail extension (Elizabeth Line) which is 118km (73 miles) long and includes 21km (13 miles) of new twin tunnels, all new rolling stock (already under test) and with 40 stations, and due to open on time and within budget in 2018 after only 9 years of construction, the distance between the two is simply too great to bridge…

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