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The Evolution of New York City’s Subway Cars

The Evolution of New York City’s Subway Cars

New York City is home to one of the most intricate subway systems in the world. As our transportation system continues to develop so do the subway cars that move the 5.6 million people per day. 

As of 2014, there are 6,384 subway cars on the NYC transit roster which is a vast expansion from the beginnings of the New York subway system. Over the 110-year history, NYC subway cars have grown in abundance and interior design.

Efforts have been made to make universal changes to the exterior look of the subway cars. But there have been amenities added that have changed the transit experience gravely since it’s early years.

Here’s how the NYC subway system has evolved and if you want to see any of the historic cars in person, visit the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn.

Wooden Bodies

At the time, the NYC transit system was referred to as the “elevated railway” and its first line was built in 1868. Before the wooden body subway cars, the elevated railway was run by steam engines that spewed ash and cinder to pedestrians below the train line.

In 1907, electric trains were introduced to the railway; allowing train car operators to run cleaner locomotives like the wooden body cars above. The train car was constructed with steel under-frames with wood covering overtop. The train doors were opened manually by the conductor and a small bell signified that the train was boarded and ready to continue transit.

Articulated Cars

Subway cars reached capacity in the 1920s so the NYC transit system made a design change using an articulated subway called the Triplex.

The model connected all train cars with no doors separating them to allow for more space and free reign to move for passengers. The Triplex was in service between 1928 and 1965 and could seat about 160 in total. The articulated cars were 137 feet long and provided the solution to the capacity issue at the time.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority proposed bringing back articulated trains to its future 20-year outlook plan.

Stainless Steel Cars

With a focus on sustainability, New York City instituted a train car change that would save them money in the long-term.

In 1964, the Transit Authority commissioned 600 stainless steel cars (R-32 model number). The intent was to save money over the long-term because the use of lighter metal reduced the overall weight of the train cars. Ultimately, this change would lower the amount of electrical power to move them. The stainless steel cars weren’t too appealing but they proved to last longer than any other design. The R-32 is still used today on the C line.

Air conditioned cars soon followed in the late-1960s and launched an era of revolution to the transit system. Air conditioning cars had been a wish for locals for decades prior but ceiling fans were of use up until this point.

Beginning with the R-38 model pictured here, air conditioned train cars were a staple by the 1980s.

Modern Day Cars

Known as the R188, the modern day subway cars are similar in build but renown in their features. Today’s train cars now have a digital display on the outside to notify travelers of the arriving train line. The subway cars are also rigged with new communication-based train control technology, creating the capability for countdown clocks and a higher frequency in trains.

New York City subway cars have grown to accommodate the busy stream of travelers each and everyday. From the wooden body cars to the technologically-intertwined modern day cars, the New York City transit system has put a focus in evolving their transportation methods over the years.