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Chapter 4, The Independent System

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They Moved The Millions · by Ed Davis, Sr.


Due to work on the local tracks, a southbound "F" train consisting of R1-9 cars is running on the express track of the Culver Line to Coney Island. On the point is an R4 car, built 35 years before this 1968 photo was taken.

We have studied the els with all their varied equipment, the IRT with its few variations on a basic theme, and the BMT subway with its constant changes in types of rolling stock. It is now time to study the rolling stock of the Independent System; this was the only one of the three original systems to have one basic car type with only minor modifications; indeed the only system to have all of its equipment compatible from its opening until the period of modernization which began in 1948 and would usher in nearly total standardization for the whole transit system which by then was municipally owned in its entirety. The Independent system of course was the only one of the three that was never operated by private interests.

Planning for this system took place in the late 1920's and as fate would have it the rolling stock that would serve this system looked more like coaches from the 1920's rather than sharing the modern styles of the 1930's which neighbor BMT was adopting while the IND (henceforth the Independent system will be referred to by its divisional initials, IND) was buying cars for its expanding system during the 1930's. The IND cars appeared similar to the 1920 era BMT class A-B cars but lacked many convenience and safety features that the BMT cars employed. It has been said that the reason for this was that the BMT had patents on these features and the city didn't want to pay royalties for the use of them. The IND cars did have an advantage of speed, however; and not only were the trains fast but the whole line was built for speed. No 10 and 15 mile per hour curves on this line! The IND was a whole new concept in urban passenger railways; very little ornamentation in the stations, local stations farther apart than on the older systems, more entrances at stations so that one could be a block or two closer to their ultimate destination and could ride whichever end of the train was nearer their exit. High speed junctions (that is, more like 25 MPH rather than 10 MPH) were the order of the day. For nostalgia's sake the only unfortunate thing about the IND was that it routes were planned to replace elevated routes on the West Side and in Brooklyn, but of course they would have been replaced or eliminated sooner or later and the els were considered a blight rather than a convenience.

The IND began a system of classification according to contract numbers which is still in use today. The first class of car to appear on the IND was the R1; nearly identical cars were delivered in classes thru R9 and the entire group was eventually classed as R9 in later years but this was strictly vernacular.


Although not on their original turf, this was the natural habitat for the R1-9's. The subway! 34th Street on the BMT is the locale.


A northbound train of R1-9 cars arrives at Smith-9th St. Station, the only elevated station on the original Independent system. Before some ex-BMT elevated lines were given to the IND that division was nearly all underground. This is a concrete structure and the station is the highest on the system.


Fourth Avenue (9th St.) in Brooklyn was the other outdoor station on the original IND. A northbound D train arrives and a GG on the relay track prepares for a northbound run. The R1-9 class was still king on the IND in this 1966 photo.


A northbound "D" train arrives at Van Sicklen station on the Culver line in 1966. A year later the D train would be routed over the Brighton line and F trains would serve the Culver line, but in either instance R1-9 cars would be seen on this line.

The R1 cars were first delivered in 1930 and 1931 before the IND opened and were run on the BMT in tests until the new system was opened to the public. Electrical equipment and trucks were subcontracted as contracts R2 and R3 so no cars of those classes existed: this was a practice that would not be repeated. As has been mentioned already the R1 (and classes thru R9) shared the appearance of 1920 era stock, much like the BMT A-B's. There were more doors, four sets per side instead of three. There were fewer seats, 56 per car as opposed to 78 for the BMT; pattern was combination longitudinal and 2-2 transverse seats. Roll signs were employed on these cars both on sides and ends. Metal standee handholds, bare bulb incandescent lighting, paddle fans, cane (or rattan) seats, olive drab interiors and pullman green exteriors were all features of an earlier age, as was the clerestory roof. All of these classic features were around to be enjoyed by sentimentalists until 1977! Window sashes were brass.

Mechanically the R1-9 classes were pretty much to 1920's standards. Schedule AMUE brake, electropneumatic, automatic was used, with ME23 brake and valves and UE5 control valves. Motive power was two 190 horsepower traction motors mounted on the number two truck a la IRT; controls were low-voltage, Westinghouse on R1 and R4 contracts and split between Westinghouse and General Electric on contracts R6-9. Couplers were Westinghouse Air Brake H2a, same as used on the BMT, with air connections thru the drawheads (coupler heads) and an electric portion slide underneath. There was no manual labor to cutting these cars, just the operation of a pneumatic valve. Door engines were electro-pneumatic.

Among the drawbacks of the R1-9 were the lack of many features that the BMT cars had. The controller interlock with the door indication circuit was not used, therefore one of these trains could be moved with the side doors open. Tail lights had to be changed manually on earlier cars, where the BMT cars' tail lights would turn red when the reverser was centered. Outboard door controls were used which offered the conductor more visibility but made his work more hazardous, having to stand between cars. In any case it should be mentioned that the IRT had had all of these same drawbacks and ran a good, safe railroad with them.

Dimensions of the IND cars were 60'6" length, 9'8" width. They were nearly full railroad car width but seven feet shorter than the BMT steels even though the railroad was built to BMT clearances. Operations wise this proved to be a good choice as these cars did not have the tremendous end excess or overhang as the A-B's did and end doors could be left unlocked or open between cars and passengers could move from car to car in emergencies or for convenience. The IND cars looked much like the BMT but a bit of the IRT also went into them. There were no trail cars, only motors in these contracts, and in fact no trailers were ever ordered for passenger service on the system again.

After the initial R1 contract was delivered, and while the IND was expanding more cars were delivered which varied little from the R1. In 1932 and 1933 contract R4 was delivered from American Car and Foundry as were the R1's. In 1936 contract R6 was delivered by American Car and Foundry, Pullman Standard, and Pressed Steel. Contracts R7, R7a and R9 were delivered between 1937 and 1940 and these were also divided among those three builders. As late as 1940 riveted, heavyweight steel, clerestory roof coaches were delivered to the IND while streamlining was becoming the "in" thing in passenger cars and in fact neighbor BMT was trying out much more modern stock.

No criticism is in order here, however. For a projected system the size of the IND it would be only natural to use tried and true equipment which had already been proven on the IRT and BMT and other railroads as well in suburban service. It would have made no sense to start out as an experimental railroad and have nothing but trouble from the beginning, and of course once a standard was set all subsequent equipment should be compatible. The Long Island Railroad bought electric cars as late as 1963 that could be run in trains with 1908 equipment but this was a rare extension of a practice that had long before died.


A summer day in the early 70's, a Jamaica bound set of R1-9s arrives at Broad Channel Station. The service from Jamaica to the Rockaways by IND subway ran about 35 miles, probably three to four times the actual distance as the crow (or pigeon?) flies. "E" trains no longer run to the Rockaways, their service has been replaced by rush hour "CC" locals from the Bronx.

A few minor changes took place on the IND cars between the initial delivery and final delivery. Most were minor such as the end doors having two smaller panes of glass on contracts R6-9 as opposed to one large pane on the R1 and R4. On contracts R6-9 tail lights could be changed from white to red by use of a switch in the cab rather than manually at the lamp housing. In later years headlights were added and these would light up instead of a white tail light or running light when the switch was thrown to "white", or "on" on the R1 and R4 contracts.

Basically the last cars in service in 1977 were virtually identical to the 1930 cars as no major changes were made to these cars over the years and they left this world almost the same way they entered!

The R1-9 cars served all lines of the IND system and until 1948 were the exclusive type of passenger car on that system. As we have already mentioned they served on the BMT 4th Ave. Montague Street Tunnel-Broadway subway-Astoria line when they were on loan to the BMT on two occasions. When new they were run on the BMT Sea Beach Line on tests. With the 1967 BMT-IND merger they were run over the merged routes of these two divisions (of the municipal system, remember private operation ceased in 1940) and appeared in service on the Brighton and West End routes which were through-routed to upper Manhattan and the Bronx via the IND. They had prior to this time served two BMT routes which had been given to the IND: the Culver Line elevated and the remaining short portion of the old Fulton St. El thru Ozone Park and Richmond Hill. Imagine, if only for a year or so, these old R1-9 cars would appear at the Stillwell terminal in Coney Island arriving on three out of four former BMT routes: Culver, West End and Brighton. They did however share these routes with newer equipment at that time. Only the Sea Beach had all modern equipment.

The Eastern BMT routes also received R1-9 cars and in fact they ended their careers there. As new R40 cars were delivered to the IND in 1968 and 1969 surplus R9's were sent to the BMT and were used on the Canarsie and Myrtle-Broad Street run, although they were no strangers here as they were already being used on the 6th Ave.-Broadway Brooklyn local route. They supplanted their older BMT A-B cousins here and even appeared on the long Jamaica to Coney Island route via the Jamaica el-Nassau St.-Brighton local line. When that line was shortened to its original Broad St. terminal the Myrtle-Broad St. route was extended to Coney Island and got newer equipment so the R1-9 provided nearly all service, for a time at least on the Jamaica el, 14th St.Canarsie line, and the 6th Ave.-Broadway Brooklyn locals. As most of contract R7-9 cars, and many R6's were transferred to these lines, with a few older ones renumbered and still running this was to be their last home. With the exception of the Concourse-8th Avenue locals all other IND lines had new equipment by 1975 and this line would follow in 1976. The last R9 train would run on the Jamaica el in the Spring of 1977, shortly before this the Canarsie line had all newer equipment as by now the 6th Ave.-Broadway Brooklyn local was abolished. All IND and BMT routes were designated by letters by this time but use of them here doesn't geographically describe the lines.


The classic interior of the R1-9 cars seemed ageless until new equipment arrived on the IND. It is 1961 and this car on the "AA" line is a quarter-century old.

So with the exception of a few miles of track, such as the Franklin Shuttle and the now defunct Culver Shuttle which was only one mile of the original Culver line, the R1-9 classes had served on all routes of the IND and BMT. By the time of their retirement they were quite the anachronism but were still a sturdy piece of equipment and a comfort to ride, if you didn't mind the lack of air conditioning. It should be mentioned here though that all equipment built for the system before 1968 lacked air conditioning. Old age had caught up with the R9 types, and periods of deferred maintenance had taken their toll as well. Lacking dynamic brake they were quite dirty with their brake dust and smoke but up to that time nobody had thought much about it and in those days little was heard about health standards.

Several R1-9 types have been saved for museum train service: 100, the first of its type; 103 which had a false ceiling and axiflow fans installed, 381; 484 which had "bullseye" light fixtures like the PCC trolleys; 1575, which looked like an R10 and in fact was the pilot model body for class R10 as its original body was wrecked; 1802, the last of this type; a few other cars of these series were saved as well, both for the Transit Authority Museum and other museums such as Branford, Connecticut.

Another success story closes the era of the original rolling stock to serve the subways; this brief chapter to describe 1703 cars. We are now to go on to a whole new generation of cars. The R1-9 was the last of its type, dated when they were new, but reliable and sound and by fate dealt by the planners of the IND system they were in service on many lines in the 1970's in sufficient numbers to keep the feeling and flavor of rapid transit railroading alive that belonged to an age long past.


Old meets new on the Brighton Line. In early 1968 a northbound "D" train of R1-9 cars meets a southbound "D" made up of the R32's at West 8th St. in Coney Island.


R6 class 1208 on the point of the restored R1-9 museum set at Stillwell yard, next door to Coney Island Yard. This photo taken in 1976, while this train's sister cars were seeing the end of their days.

Page Credits

Copyright 1985 by Edward C. Davis, Sr.
Reproduced on nycsubway.org with permission.

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