Chapter 12, Matters Related to the System
They Moved The Millions · by Ed Davis, Sr.
1600 horsepower! Two double-powered Low-V's pose at 36th St. Yard in the early '70's. Note the freight couplers (railroad knuckles). These are no longer in service.
Section A: Work Equipment
The New York City Transit Authority owns quite a bit of work equipment as most railroads do. And as is the case with most railroads much of it is hand me down equipment that is no longer used in revenue service. In recent years, however a considerable amount of it has been purchased new.
There is a fleet of diesel locomotives used for hauling work trains, most of them eight wheel units of about 400 horsepower, with Multiple unit connections. These are mostly General Electric Industrial switch engines. Air brake on them is a modified 26 brake valve with independent and trainline brake. There have also been former US Army Whitcomb units, and other GE diesels including four wheel units which were used on the rail grinder. In the past downgraded passenger equipment was used to haul work trains, sometimes in sets of cars known as "horses". Perhaps this practice still exists.
This was the IND's drill motor at 207th St. Shops for years. It is shown here in preservation status with restored R1-9 cars. This motor moved bad order cars into the shops for years!
There were some Low-V and R4 units both converted to locomotives. These had four motors, one on each axle and would produce up to 800 Horsepower in the case of the Low-V's; both types of these units had a second air compressor installed to provide sufficient air to charge a train; in passenger service with nearly all cars having compressors this was not necessary. The Low-V was a better choice for this service as with its smaller IRT dimensions they could be run anywhere on the system. Of course newer equipment such as R12's and other older SMEE cars have been converted for various classes of service.
A four-motor R1-9 car poses at 36th St. Yard in the early '70's. This was one of many types of work train motive power used on the system over the years. Note the conventional railroad knuckle coupler.
Among uses for old passenger cars other than motive power are: alcohol cars to spread de-icing fluid on 3rd rails when ice forms on them, so passenger trains can draw power; rider cars, which serve as a sort of caboose on work trains, revenue collection cars, pump cars, vacuum cleaner train power, and several other uses at one time or another.
In addition to these the system also has hopper cars for hauling ballast, flat cars for rail, crane cars for unloading rail, tank cars, and many other numerous types of equipment. While there is little nostalgia nor familiarity with these types of equipment it might be interesting for one who'd want to model a traction system that some common freight cars can be used as well as passenger cars and a work train on the line is nothing unusual. The authority even has a rail grinder in service at times, believe it or not even in the subway. By mere observation of such equipment when they are going by one can find many items of interest.
Built by Whitcomb for the U.S. Army Transportation Corps, these engines (8 and 9) served as work train power on the system for a few years.
Section B: The South Brooklyn Railway
Along with the takeover of the BMT lines in 1940 the city inherited a common carrier freight railroad which ironically is the only part of the system which is legally considered a railroad despite its brief length of some nine miles compared to 230 miles for the rest of the system. The "B" Division of the system uses the South Brooklyn's radio frequency, whereas the "A" Division or IRT uses a police frequency, the same as Brookhaven, Long Island, whose police calls often come out on the IRT radios on outdoors runs. This is because the IRT could not get a railroad frequency; a technical rule that for all practical purposes should be outmoded but by the rules municipal transit railways are not legally railroads!
Ex-South Brooklyn railway engine 6 at 36th St. Yard. This 1921 GE product had both railroad and subway couplers.
The South Brooklyn runs from the 38 St. Dock in Brooklyn, shares a brief piece of trackage with the Ex-BMT West End Line into 9th Ave. Station, serves the 36 St. Yard and runs from there to Coney Island Yard via McDonald Ave., on what appear to be streetcar tracks, under the Culver line elevated. The Authority receives wheels and other car equipment, rail, ballast, ties, and many other commodities needed for maintaining the system thru the South Brooklyn Railway in interchange with other railroads from other parts of the country. Hence, gondolas, hoppers, and other types of freight equipment appear on transit system property.
The South Brooklyn had been electric until some time in the 1950's when it was dieselized and its steeplecab electric locomotives wound up in work train service on the BMT Division; these relics built between 1910 and 1925 served until the early 1970's and the oldest, number five, was placed in the Transit Museum. For a time two ex-US Army Whitcomb center cab diesels served the South Brooklyn, then some GE branchline types, 12 and 13 were used; latest power is the same type the Authority uses on its work trains except that these are subject to inspections under Federal Standards, because the South Brooklyn is a common carrier line, Transit Authority crews are used on this line and due to its nature of daytime work and being away from the sometimes cantankerous public there is never any need to force crewmen onto this line.
Number 53 was one of the first diesels built for subway work train service. They were quite strange looking to say the least! These were GE diesel-electric industrial switchers.
While a small part of the system this line is nonetheless vital to the Authority for delivery of the many things that must be received by rail for maintenance of the much larger transit system which is really the reason for its being.
South Brooklyn Railway No. 5 served as work train power on the system after the freight line was dieselized. GE built her in 1910; she served until the early 1970's and then was placed in the transit museum.
Before receiving locomotives that were the same as subway diesel, Numbers 12 and 13 were power for the South Brooklyn railway. These were, probably the largest engines owned by the system.
Section C: PATH: The Other Subway
In addition to the vast New York City Transit System there is another rail transit system running under the streets of lower and mid-Manhattan; most of its operations and its reason for being lie in the State of New Jersey. Its stations sit rather obscurely next to some of the stations of the New York City system, but it is an important rail link between New York City and Hoboken, Jersey City, and Newark, New Jersey. Many commuters find their way into Manhattan on trains of the PATH system as it serves not only communities in those New Jersey cities but connects with the busy commuter stations of suburban rail lines at Hoboken and Newark; at one time Erie passengers also rode these trains into Manhattan, connecting at Pavonia station, formerly marked "Erie"; the former Erie Jersey City terminal has been defunct for about a quarter century, its operations having been merged with those of the Lackawanna at Hoboken. This was a prelude to the merger of the Erie and Lackawanna railroads but the merged line has been swallowed up by Conrail.
The name PATH is actually initials for Port Authority-Trans Hudson which is an arm of the giant Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which operates not only the port but vehicular bridges and tunnels under the Hudson River. It got into the railroad business in 1962, when PATH was formed to take over the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad which had finally given up after years of bankruptcy. Even after the PATH takeover the name "Hudson Terminal" for the lower Manhattan terminus of the line stuck for years, but it is now known as World Trade Center, named for the huge, although architecturally tasteless, twin towers of the World Trade Center under which it sits.
Train of early Hudson and Manhattan cars east of Journal Square, Jersey City in 1960. These were the days before public operation by PATH. Note the Van Dorn link and pin couplers. These cars were much like the old IRT but were a bit more futuristic.
The Hudson and Manhattan was built during the same period of the early IRT construction and opened for service shortly afterwards, in 1908. It was built to the same clearances as the IRT lines and H&M rolling stock was built to the same dimensions as the IRT rolling stock. Its design was somewhat more futuristic but the layout and general atmosphere of the H&M cars was much the same as the old IRT High-V and Low-V cars. As on the IRT the same basic styles were followed in car construction for some 20 years, with some changes and improvements. Several orders of these cars were built, the last of which appeared in 1928. There was one departure from this however: there was a fleet of cars used in Newark service, run partially over the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad (from Journal Square in Jersey City to Newark). These cars were built for higher speeds, and resembled the IRT stock more closely than most H&M stock, but had a few traces of Pennsy influence in their design. These cars lasted until 1957 when they were replaced by new cars.
The "Grey" cars which were built for the H&M in 1957 were the first new cars on the system since 1928; half were purchased by the H&M and half by the Pennsy; here were basic subway cars with the famous Pennsy keystone and the name Pennsylvania on them! While built to the same dimensions as the new cars being built for the IRT these cars had air conditioning, which was successful, and a good argument to counteract claims of the New York City Transit officials regarding airconditioning of subway cars.
Transit cars proudly displaying the Pennsy Keystone! The 1957 "Grey" cars of the H & M bought for Newark service were purchased half by the Pennsylvania and half by the Hudson a Manhattan. This scene is east of Journal Square, Jersey City, in 1961.
After the PATH takeover in 1962 all of the old H&M cars were to be retired. While the "grey" cars were conservative in appearance the new PATH cars were ultra-modern. Where the grey cars proved air-conditioning could work, the new PATH cars had a seating arrangement similar to the older INDBMT cars which proved that a more comfortable arrangement could be placed in narrow cars such as the IRT used, rather than the all-longitudinal pattern. These PATH cars were delivered in two orders, the first being American made and the later ones Canadian. Mechanically the "grey" cars of 1957 and the PATH-ordered cars are similar to the New York subway cars of the same period; there was talk once of using PATH cars in the IRT to alleviate service problems and provide some air-conditioned trains but this never transpired.
The PATH system, with the exception of trackage on the former Pennsylvania right-of-way between Journal Square and Newark, is completely in subway. It has two terminals in Manhattan; the World Trade Center and at 33rd St and 6th Ave. in Midtown. The latter is reached via a 6th Ave. subway line which runs neck and neck with the New York City 6th Ave. line. PATH trains make stops at some of the same streets that the city system does. In New Jersey there are subway routes thru Jersey City and to Hoboken.
While PATH has done much to modernize the old system it is indeed fortunate that some of the architecture of stations built almost 80 years ago hasn't been completely obscured. They have managed to make the stations brighter, and have kept them rather clean compared to the New York City system, and there is a world of difference in cars of the PATH as compared to the New York City stock; there is no excuse for filth and excesses of spraypainted grafitti.
Modern PATH train leaving Newark, N.J., heading for New York on former Pennsylvania Railroad trackage. The IRT could have had trains like these.
A ride on PATH, while not as long as most of the New York City Transit routes, is nonetheless fascinating for rail buffs and those who might study the rail industry for other reasons. It is recommended as a necessary footnote to "joy rides"-. the New York subway for railfans.
Section D: Suburban Systems All in the Family
For as long as there has been rapid transit in New York City there have been commuters using some mainline railroads for travel to the city from their homes in the suburbs. About the time the els were electrified and subways were being built the suburban lines of railroads such as the New York Central and Long Island were converted to electric multiple unit operation. Both of these had cars that were similar mechanically to rolling stock of the IRT, somewhat larger in size, and with better interior appointments, and appliances for service in surface running with low level platforms rather than grade separated rights of way.
Fleets of new equipment for these lines pretty much coincided with deliveries of newer cars for the city transit lines, notably thru the 1950's, early 60's, and then again with the space age rolling stock of the late 60's and early 70's. Delivery of the latest cars narrowed the gap between "Railroad" and "Subway" equipment, what with remote controlled sliding doors, no steps for passengers (since highlevel platforms were installed on the suburban lines), and a family resemblance between the new MTA suburban cars and the cars of the city transit lines.
Additionally, the Long Island Railroad became wholly owned by the state in 1966, and recently the former New York Central Harlem and Hudson Lines, and the New Haven routes, became the Metro North Railroad; both of these are part of the gigantic Metropolitan Transportation Authority which controls most city and suburban buses, and the gigantic New York City Transit System as well. The New Haven Line, being interstate, is partially controlled by Connecticut authorities. Despite the fact that these lines are essentially "transit" lines these days, they are still technically "railroads" under Federal jurisdiction as well. One break from antiquated practices keeping the two types of rail lines apart is recent labor negotiations which have the Metro-North crewmen paid on a similar basis to transit men, eliminating many work rules dating back nearly a century, such as the basic 100 mile day for 8 hours and "arbitrary" payments.
Unfortunately a commuter still cannot purchase a thru ticket which would be good for passage on the suburban lines and then the subway to get him to his exact destination in the city, although officials are giving this consideration.
We have already given the Staten Island line a brief write-up; needless to say there are electric commuter lines running in New Jersey as well, and the equipment of these lines is technically related to the city system also; For electric railway buffs there is virtually no end of trains to ride in the New York area, and the distinction is becoming slimmer between cars of the lines.
EPILOGUE A: The Present State of the Transit System
The fact that city transportation in New York is a political football has been its biggest bane since the days of private ownership. During the 1920's and 1930's the clamor was on for public operation of the system, indeed the Independent System built in the 1930's had the city competing with the IRT and BMT for ridership. What may once have been an unlimited trough for expenditures into such ventures, the city and state coffers have become most limited these days largely due to social conditions and taxes that have already broken the camel's back..
While the costs to the private operators were constantly increasing over half a century ago, they were still bound to provide service at 1904 prices. Despite economy measures the Interborough was to become bankrupt and then get taken over by the city, as was the BMT. Public operations of course kept the system in the lap of politicians to whom fare increases were nearly political suicide; nevertheless fares increased to 10 cents in 1947, and 15 cents in 1953. The 15 cent fare was raised to 20 cents in 1966. Meantime, due to lack of funds equipment was already well worn, and the IND R 1 -9 cars were suffering as well but happily had improved somewhat over their condition a few years before. If they hadn't the IND would have been at a virtual standstill.
In the meantime fares have risen constantly, with the present tariff being $1.50, although New York's system isn't the only one with a fare that high, but as a negative thought all too many New Yorkers must pay two fares each way as many live too far from rail lines and have to take a bus to the train and there are no transfer privileges from bus to rail.
It is most unfortunate also that the system has not grown at all in 40 yrs. A few new connections have been made between existing lines which have offered improved thru services and made more efficient use of crews and equipment, but the last major extension of service was in 1956 when the Rockaway line was taken over from Long Island R.R. A very minor addition of line could offer direct service into Kennedy Airport, and newer major housing developments such as Co-op city in the Bronx. Hat's off to the Chicago Transit Authority for all the new lines that have been added there, including rail service to both of Chicago's major airports. Too bad New York lacks the ambition! Manhattan's East side has only one line-Lexington Ave., overcrowded and overworked since 1955 when the 31d Ave. elevated was demolished. Money has been voted for new lines that were never built and a 2nd Ave. (East Side) Subway was once started but never came anywhere near completion.
On the positive side the system is in far better condition now than when the author left in 1977. At that time the system was in horrid shape with too much bad car equipment, bad track, vandalism including spray painted grafitti everywhere on cars and stations. In the early 1980's the system hit the lowest point in its history. Fortunately new management and better ideas took over and put up an honest effort to run the system like a railroad business and tried to please the customers.
The author returned to New York City in February 1996 after an absence of almost 19 years and was pleased with what he saw. Cars and stations have been renovated and kept clean, service was good, grafitti almost nonexistent, and the atmosphere of fear that had once existed was gone. We were pleased to see the system as a pleasant means of travel once more - even if the daily commuters who have to travel feel otherwise! If only most people there knew what an engineering miracle the creation of that system was and what an accomplishment its daily operation is.
1996 UPDATES AND CORRECTIONS TO TEXT
We stand corrected on the composites being the only cars available for service when the IRT opened in 1904. As many of the Gibbs cars were built in 1904, There were these steel cars available for service along with the com- posites. Also on the old IRT the car assignments by line were as the author remembered -- over the years there had been many changes -- we're looking at a lifetime!
We neglected to mention that the last 8 R44 cars for the city system and the 52 R44's for Staten Island had General Electric equipment rather than Westinghouse. In recent times more R44's were sent to Staten Island as more cars were needed there. In addition the R44's have been thru several modifications over the years, including the braking system, all due to their poor original systems. The matter of reinventing the wheel was to their detriment!
The "B" Division fleet of 75 foot cars has been augmented by the addition of 425 cars of the R68 class built by Westinghouse - Amrail of France, numbered 2500-2924, and 200 class R68 cars built by Kawasaki of Japan, numbered 5001-5200. These cars have taken a step backward to proven technology hopefully to avoid the problems of their R44 and R46 cousins.
To keep in line with 75 foot car numbers the R44's have been renumbered 5202-5479 and the R46's renumbered 5482-6208, additionally with even numbers only to 6258. These types of cars are now coupled in 4 cars sets with link bars so can only be uncoupled in the shops for repairs... a foolish setup as a defect in one car takes four out of service. Penny wise and dollar foolish.
The South Brooklyn Railways' street trackage to Coney Island has been gone for about 20 years. It now runs only from the docks to 36th Street Yard.
IRT CLASS R22: Add that these were the first cars to be factory equipped with sealed beam headlights. All follow- ing orders came equipped with them; all postwar cars and most prewar cars that survived past the mid '60's later had sealed beam headlights added.
The R62 and R62a cars have replaced all pre-1959 equipment on the IRT (or "A" Division). Add class R62a to the car roster: numbers 1651-2475. The R26 are now the oldest "A" Division cars, and along with all classes on that division thru R36 have been thru a major rebuild program and had air conditioning added -- so with excep- tion of about 40 single R36 cars the whole system is air conditioned. The IRT once again has the oldest equip- ment in most cases, many of which will eventually see more than 40 years of service! We might add that the original IRT equipment lasted 40-50 years without major rebuilding.
The oldest cars on the "B" Division are now the R32's; these along with all "B" Division cars thru class R46 have been rebuilt both in-house and by outside railcar contractors. All classes R10 thru R30 are now gone. Air conditioning has been added to cars of the R32 - R40 classes.
In addition to the gate cars that went to Oakland, CA during WWII for service on the Shipyard Railway some of the composites wound up in Utah at a prisoner of war camp. Two of the Shipyard Railway cars are at the Rio Vista Junction museum in California. R7 car 1689 is at Branford Museum, as is Low-V 5466. Also to add that before 1910 IRT Subway cars had link and pin Van Dorn style couplers, like the el cars which had them until the end! The "J" type couplers replaced the link and pin ones, along with many other modifications that were done over the years.
Plans are under way and prototypes built for more new cars of the future class R110A for the "A" Division and class R110B for the "B" Division. Unfortunately both classes will have far fewer seats but if nothing else the interior designs are pleasant. The R110B will be 67 foot cars, same length as the old BMT class A-B cars, will be a full-length train makeup of 9 cars. Funny for all the effort that went into engineering 75 foot cars they are reverting to shorter cars, but have not reverted to the 60 foot length which was standard for years. It is planned that these cars will have AC traction motors which require a lot less maintenance, but then conversion equipment will be needed to convert 3rd rail power to AC. We might add that this is not a first there are already fleets of diesel-electric locomotives in service on the big railroads with AC traction motors. Hopefully these new cars will be a success and not suffer the pitfalls of excess unproven technology that plagued the 1970's cars.
The later deliveries of diesels for work train power brought a much better looking engine to the system. Some of this type were used on South Brooklyn railway also. No. 62 poses at 36th St., with some old R1-9 cars, by now these were in work train service.
Copyright 1985 by Edward C. Davis, Sr.
Reproduced on nycsubway.org with permission.