Chapter 8, Stainless Steel Cars Arrive

From nycsubway.org

They Moved The Millions · by Ed Davis, Sr.


This train of R32's as just completed the climb up the four percent grade of the Manhattan Bridge, light work for these lightweight cars. A. W. Koster photo.

Our scene now turns to the system as it stood after modernization of the IRT was completed. The IND lines still had all of the original rolling stock that ran on the system since the 1930's; the R10's were halfway thru their economic life. The BMT still had all of the D type fleet and some 600 of the old 67 foot A-B class "steels", although about half of them had been rebuilt a few years before. New rolling stock was being planned for these lines in 1964.

As we have mentioned already the system lagged way behind other railroads in the use of stainless steel passenger equipment. It was higher in cost but lighter cars could be built which would be equally as strong, so power costs would be reduced, and paint was unnecessary on them. It was therefore likely that stainless steel construction would eventually repay its cost and leave room for a savings besides. The Budd Company of Philadelphia had bid on stainless steel cars for the system, although their bid was higher than that of other bidders. Transit Authority officials elected to give Budd the contract assuming the higher cost would be repaid over the years. Budd would now build their only large orders of cars for the New York Transit System, 600 cars of contract R32 and R32a.

The styling for these cars was quite similar to the R36 cars, of course their appearance was other markedly different due to the use of fluted stanless steel in place of conventional steel. Body dimensions and basic outlines followed the established patterns set by the R27, and with a few insignificant refinements these cars were mechanically the same as their predecessors. A major difference was that the R32, and all "married" pair sets which followed, had solid drawbars between cars of a pair rather than couplers; the R27's had couplers. "Catholic" and "Protestant" married pairs was strictly a shop term, incidentally. Collectively known as R32's, there were two sub-contracts to this fleet. The R32 and R32a differed only in interior lighting. The R32a followed the established use of ribbed clear glasses mounted beneath the fluorescent lighting tubes, where the R32 had large plastic sheets, about a foot high, running the length of the lighting fixtures. Commercial advertisements for these cars were made of plastic rather than cardboard and the advertisements were also lighted. While a nice idea and colorful, cars with this type of lighting were dimmer than the standard type. Nonetheless, this feature was incorporated on all cars built for the system after the R32's. Additionally, on the R32 with type of lighting a newer type fan guard was used.


Northbound and southbound trains of R32's on the West End Line in 1967, before the merger of the BMT and IND. This picture taken at 20th Avenue. Subway dirt makes these two year old cars appear much older.

When first delivered the R32's had some growing pains, notably that the cars sat a bit too high to clear subway tunnels safely; apparently nobody thought of modifying suspension to compensate for lighter carbody weight. Additionally, dynamic braking was exceptionally rough. These and no doubt "bugs" were ironed out to some degree. The R32 had for years been thought of as the best running cars by operating men. They jumped like jackrabbits and were fast; it stands to reason as these cars had the same traction motors, controls, and braking equipment of their predecessors. The R32's weighed in at about 70,000 lbs compared to about 80,000 lbs, of the R27's. Cars which were to be built later apparently had compensations made for lighter weight in their original engineering as they performed much smoother than the R32's, but on the other hand the R32 had the quickest response of any rolling stock built for the system.

When new the R32's were assigned to the BMT Southern Divison, mostly on the Sea Beach, West End, and Brighton expresses. After the merger in late 1967 they found their way onto the former IND routes to the Bronx and Upper Manhattan as the Brighton and West End Lines were merged with IND routes to those places, and later they would also run into Queens on the IND when the Sea Beach line was extended to Forest Hills over the IND, similar to a route which once found BMT "steels" on IND trackage. By this time, however, most car service on the Sea Beach line was the ultra-modern R46 fleet. For the most part, however, these cars have run on virtually all lines of the former BMT and IND routes, including the Jamaica elevated and Myrtle Ave. lines.

When new they had even run over the New York Central's electrified trackage into Grand Central terminal as a publicity run to show that transit equipment could also serve on suburban lines. It goes without saying that this same feat could have been performed with the old equipment of half a century before. While commuter equipment on suburban lines would later have more in common with rapid transit cars than in the past, there never has been a merging of the systems for operations and even thru ticketing is a good idea waiting to be implemented.

As other rail commuter equipment had the nickname "Silverliners" the R32's got the monicker "Brightliners" when they were new. Indeed they were bright as compared to the rolling stock they'd be sharing trackage with!

As the R32's arrived the old BMT "D" type cars began to be retired; by the time the entire fleet of the stainless steel cars was delivered the "D" types were no more and most of the non-rebuilt A-B class "steels" were also retired. The last of the A-B's were left to finish their days on the 14th Street-Canarsie Line and Myrtle Avenue (Chambers St.) Line. By the end of 1965 modernization of the BMT was nearly complete. It would take another 11 years to complete it. And the R32's roll on, two decades later, no longer new but still shiny thanks to their stainless steel construction.


An Astoria bound "T" train of R32's arrives at 20th Ave. When this line was routed via 6th Ave. in Manhattan after the 1967 merger it became the "B" line.


A train of R32's on the West End line at 9th Ave. in 1968. Descending trackage was part of the original Culver Line route, one track used by South Brooklyn Railway!

Copyright 1985 by Edward C. Davis, Sr. Reproduced on nycsubway.org with permission. Webmaster's Note: The photos presented in these articles were in many cases scanned from the original slides obtained from the author. Where the original slides weren't available, scans from the book are used. In a few cases, similar photos from the collection of nycsubway.org were used instead of the low-quality scans from the book. These are all noted as such in the captions.

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