The New York Transit Authority in the 1980s

From nycsubway.org


The graffiti epidemic displayed in full swing on this IRT train on the Dyre Avenue Line, September 1980. Photo by Steve Zabel, collection of Joe Testagrose.

By Mark S. Feinman


1980 arrived and so did a twelve day transit strike - the second major transit strike in 14 years. When it was settled, a large operating deficit was forecast and the threat of a fare increase was raised to pay for it. 1989 ended with the threat of a large operating deficit ... and the threat of a fare increase was raised to pay for it. Sound familiar?

The 1980s could be summarized as the "Jekyll and Hyde" period of the New York Subway System. As the decade began, it had the filthiest trains, the craziest graffiti, the noisiest wheels, and the weirdest passengers. By the end of the decade, it had cleaner trains, no graffiti, quieter wheels -- and the weirdest passengers. (Okay, three out of four ain't bad!)

In the 1980s, things got worse before they got better. Decades of deferred maintenance, going back to Subway Unification in 1940, finally caught up with the system. From Unification, through the Board of Transportation era, from the day the New York City Transit Authority was born in 1953, through the MTA's birth in 1968 -- political pressure kept both fares and government funding so far below what it cost to maintain the system that maintenance was just not done. The term "deferred maintenance" became accounting jargon to pass the maintenance burden further out into the future. In the first half of the 1980s, service, infrastructure and crime were abysmal. There was no preventative maintenance - components were fixed as they failed - which was often. Breakdowns occurred an average of every 6,200 miles; down from 15,000 in the mid-seventies, also not a figure to be proud of. Signage was very poor, or unreadable due to the graffiti. By early 1981, one quarter of the trains were out of service, and thirty minute commutes ballooned to one and a half hours.1

Richard Ravitch took over the MTA late in 1979. Just three weeks after he took over, the LIRR went on strike. Just a few months after that, both the subway and the LIRR again went out on strike. Ravitch would inherit a $200 million deficit.

Ravitch worked very hard to get the capital improvement programs started. In 1981 through 1982, he was able to secure $8.1 billion in funding for the first capital improvement program. In 1982, the first year of the program, the MTA signed contracts for nearly $3 billion in improvements -- more than what it spent in the entire period between 1970 and 1980.2 Reconstruction work at the major yards at 207th Street and Coney Island began. Contracts valued at $150 million for track, switch and signal work were awarded. Subway station renovation would start late due to disagreements on making stations accessible to the handicapped, but the renovations did get going. Ravitch laid the groundwork for the system's turnaround, but would retire in 1984, just as the fruits of his work were appearing on the vine.

David Gunn took over as TA president and Richard Kiley took over as MTA Chairman after Ravitch retired from the MTA in 1984. While they may have received the most accolades for improving the subway so much in the late 1980s, it was Ravitch who started the capital improvement programs and got the funding to turn the poor state of affairs around.

In the second half of the 1980s, the subways shone brighter, literally. New stainless steel subway cars, the R-62(A)s for the IRT and the R-68(A)s for the BMT/IND Divisions, began running. After a so-so start, they have proven themselves very reliable. The IRT Redbirds, from class R-26 up, went through a general overhaul program (GOH) and were retrofitted with new components, a new paint job, and air conditioning. The existing BMT/IND equipment at the time, from car class R-32 and up, was also taken through a GOH program, and those cars that were originally manufactured without air conditioning were retrofitted with it. The R-30s were given a light overhaul, but did not receive air conditioning, because they would have become too heavy. The MTA embarked on the first of what became many capital plans in November of 1982, bringing the subway to a state of good repair. Mean distance between failures (MDBF) measurements began to improve markedly, and continue to improve to this day. Graffiti was finally eradicated from all subway cars by the end of the decade (though it has been replaced by "scratchitti" in the 1990s).

This is the story of the NYC Transit, then known as the Transit Authority, during the 1980s. This document will examine the state of the Transit Authority and its subway system in the 1980s. It will wrap up with a list of incidents and accidents that were newsworthy during the 1980s, and list some "odds and ends" that didn't fit "nicely" in the text below.

Fiscal Posturing

During any election year, the transit fare always becomes a major political issue, and 1980 was no exception. Governor Hugh Carey made an "iron clad" promise to keep the subway fare at 50 cents through 1981, and considered charging New York metropolitan area owners of automobiles and other vehicles "user fees" that would be used to offset the rising costs of mass transit.3 These fees would cover a proposed deficit of $200 million for 1980. The fee would be collected when motorists registered their vehicles, though no specific fee was suggested. Richard Ravitch, the chairman of the MTA at that time, opposed this user fee, preferring an "inflation sensitive" gasoline tax, which Governor Carey opposed.

It should be noted that $39.2 million of this deficit was tied directly to the problem-prone Rockwell International trucks ordered for the R-46s. This was the sum total of the overtime needed to inspect cracks on the trucks as well as the cost of repairing equipment that was breaking down at increasing rates.4

In another effort to save money, the MTA also proposed to eliminate the special half fare program for the elderly during peak hours, and the Sunday half-fare program for all riders. Hundreds protested this proposal.5 The MTA planned to save $44 million with the elimination of these fare programs. The Sunday Half Fare Program ended on May 1st, 1980.

MTA board members privately forecast a subway fare increase of 10 to 25 cents for May 1980 due to the need to bring the infrastructure to a state of good repair, increases in operating costs, and fuel and labor costs which the Federal government was no longer subsidizing. And in a transit message to the New York State Assembly, Governor Carey proposed that the commuter rail lines should bear more of a share of any transit increases than the subways.6 In March, Carey softened his position somewhat, proposing new taxes on gasoline and petroleum products, but not guaranteeing that the 50-cent fare would be maintained.7

The transit contract with the Transport Workers Union Local 100 was due for renewal in April 1980. Contract negotiations started on February 4th, with the TWU's opening demands including a 30% wage hike and a new holiday to celebrate the union's founding president, Michael J. Quill.8 The contract would run 21 months. TWU president John Lawe justified the 30% increase, explaining that the cost of living had gone up over 53% since March 1974, and transit workers required pay raises of 25 -- 31% just to maintain the same purchasing power that they had back then.9 Ravitch indicated that these demands could not be met, and if they were, subway and bus fares would need to double. This set the tone for labor negotiations over the next two months, which were primarily confrontational in nature. Since the MTA is a state agency, the responsibility for finding the money to pay for a transit settlement fell on Governor Carey, who pledged to hold the 50-cent fare. New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch, showing his usual feisty style, said the only thing he would contribute to help settle the negotiations was "his two cents".10 It wasn't until March 31st that the MTA came out with its first offer for the TWU -- a 3½% wage increase in each year of a proposed 34-month contract that would expire January 31st, 1983.11 The MTA offer was tied to a long list of productivity improvements. When this MTA counteroffer was made, the first transit strike since 1966 would be only hours away.

The 1980 Transit Strike

Negotiations failed to come up with an agreement, and The Strike was called. 34,000 members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 walked off their jobs during the early morning hours of April 1st, 1980. It was no April Fool's Joke. For every day of the strike, the Taylor Law would collect two days pay from each striking worker, and severe fines and penalties could still be levied. The Union could lose the right to automatically deduct its dues from workers' paychecks.12 The initial offering by the MTA was 6% the first year and 6% the second year with no cost of living adjustment; around midnight it was rejected. Talk then focused on 7% for the first year, 7% for the second year and a cost of living adjustment. That, too, was rejected. The mediators recommended 8% for the first year, 8% in the second year, and other items, but that, too, was not agreed upon.13 The union was looking to make up lost ground from the 1976 settlement, reached during New York City's fiscal crisis, where increases were negligible. The City, on the other hand, just beginning to recover from the fiscal crisis, was thinking very conservatively and was not looking to give away the store as was done in the 1966 transit strike.

Mayor Koch did not want to get involved initially. His position was that Chairman Ravitch was the chief negotiator for the MTA, not him, and Koch would therefore keep himself a low profile in transit matters. Unlike the threatened strikes in 1998 and 2002, where City Hall was very noisy and threatened legal action and astronomical fines, it was relatively quiet in the early days of the 1980 strike.

How did the New York City subway and bus systems shut down in an orderly fashion once the strike was called? The last subway and bus runs were those that started before 12:01am. Once the subway or bus reached the end of its line, it would run light back to its home terminal. All manually operated signals would be forced to red by leaving towermen. An occasional rail polisher train would run each day of the strike to keep the rails shiny and deter vandalism.

Newspapers were filled with stories and pictures of the sea of humanity crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, with cheerleader Koch at the Manhattan end shouting "how'm I doin?". Primary roadways and river crossings were limited to two or three passengers per vehicle in the morning rush. Police Officers acted as car pool coordinators at tunnel crossings; pedestrians who showed up were usually able to find room in someone else's car or truck for the trip into Manhattan. Your author recalls bicycling to high school in Brooklyn, marveling that the leisurely bike trip took about ½ hour, or half the time it normally took transferring between the B-5 (Kings Highway), B-68 (Coney Island Avenue) and B-35 (Church Avenue) buses to get to school.

The calendar also helped ease some of the crunch during the first few days of the strike. Schools were off; it was the Passover / Easter break. LIRR employees also went out on strike, but then did an about face at the request of a Federal mediator and went back to work on Thursday April 3rd.14 The Port Authority -- Trans Hudson (PATH) lines and Conrail (now today's Metro-North) offered additional services to accommodate additional passengers during the strike. The Long Island Railroad was unable to handle the additional capacity required to accommodate displaced Queens subway riders, and ended up closing its Queens stations, as well as several in Brooklyn, for the duration of the strike. The Staten Island Rapid Transit continued running during the strike, and Brooklyn riders drove to SIRT stations, and took the SIRT to the Staten Island Ferry to get to work. The strike cost the city about $2 million a day in lost taxes and another $1 million a day in overtime expenses for city employees. The private sector was losing $100 million daily, and job absenteeism hovered between 15% and 20%.15

The strike was finally settled on April 11th. The TWU won a contract calling for a 9% raise in the first year and 8% in the second year along with a cost of living adjustment (expected to be at about 20%). The TA obtained some minor givebacks. The City was not pleased with the settlement, calling it too expensive.

To offset the new labor agreement, and to make up for a huge operating deficit, the subway fare was raised to 60 cents on July 1st, 1980. However, in the first weeks of the increase, if you were able to get your hands on the Russian three-kopek coin (worth about a nickel in 1980), you could use it to go through turnstiles and save 55 cents!16

Footnote: The Other 1980 Transit Strike

It didn't affect as many people as the subway strike, but Strike Fever spread to the PATH system, too. On June 12th, 1980, 177 members of the Brotherhood of Railway Car Men went on strike, which lasted for months. The union was looking for a 36.3% salary increase over the next 38 months, but the Port Authority was offering 30% over the next 42 months. There were also pension differences that needed to be ironed out. The strike lasted nearly the entire summer, ending finally on August 27th, and service resumed on September 1st. The new contract would run for 42 months, grant a pay increase of nearly 30% and contain additions to the pension plan.

The EL is Still Falling!

In the late 1970s, the West End El was raining chunks of metal. In 1980, the Brighton Line joined in. During the week of March 7th, 1980, an 11-year-old schoolboy narrowly missed being pummeled on the head with a 10-pound lag bolt.17 A woman walking under the West End El in March 1980 at 52nd Street and New Utrecht Avenue was hit by falling junk.18 The problem of "falling junk" was widespread along the 182 miles of elevated tracks in the early 1980s.

Many residents living near the West End El complained that noise from the trains was increasing.19 While a multimillion-dollar noise abatement program was underway in 1980, most of the funds were spent on underground stations, leaving the West End El unaffected. Sound studies performed by a Federal team measuring elevated railway noise throughout the country measured the 18th Avenue station between 98 and 106 decibels. (A jackhammer is rated at 95 decibels). Any sound above 85 dB can cause hearing loss; you know that you are listening to an 85-dB sound if you have to raise your voice to be heard by somebody else.


This B train of 1968 R-40 "Slant" cars on the Brighton line in 1988 is characteristic of the filthy conditions of the period. Photo by Eric Oszustowicz, collection of Joe Testagrose.

By the end of 1980, complaints about subway and bus services replaced inadequate sanitation as the number one issue complained about to City Hall.20 On January 8th, 1981, over 1,000 angry passengers refused to leave a Manhattan-bound CC train at Hoyt/Schermerhorn Streets that was ordered out of service due to door trouble.21 Many complained that they had already been ordered off other trains that had also been taken out of service due to mechanical problems. Police were called, yet passengers refused to leave (and may have been unable to leave, because the platform was extremely crowded). Finally, token clerks handed out free transfers good for other subway or bus lines. The following day, about 2,000 passengers refused to leave a downtown IRT Broadway local that also had door problems and was ordered out of service. However, the crew was able to resolve the door problems and the train continued on its route running 18 minutes late. These were just two of many similar incidents that occurred in the early 1980s, where during rush hours, 25% of the scheduled trains, on average, didn't run. Just how bad was the system by early 1981?22

  • In January, there was one Tuesday where 1/3 of the subway fleet was not in service. In the first two weeks of January, 500 trains were cancelled each day.
  • A trip taken in 1910 that took 10 minutes could take four times as long in 1981.
  • There were 30 derailments in 1980.
  • Infrastructure was not routinely inspected and few repairs were made until a failure occurred.
  • In January of 1981, none of the 2,637 IRT cars had ever had an overhaul.
  • Subway rolling stock, in general, hadn't received preventative maintenance since 1975. The average MDBF in 1981 was 6,639 miles, down from 13,900(!) in 1977, and 24,000 in 1970.23
  • The R-44s and R-46s, the newest cars in the system, consisted of 25% of the IND-BMT's 4,178 subway cars. Yet they were the most prone to breakdowns: the R-44s because of sophisticated technology installed in anticipation of operating on a fully automated Second Avenue Line and the R-46s due to their cracked trucks.

The Transit Authority always claimed that lack of funding is what led to the deplorable condition of the subway in 1981. There were also accusations of mismanagement cited by the press. One example cited was $300 million spent on subway cars only to find out that they didn't fit properly in the repair shops. Millions more were spent on spare parts that were stored in leaky warehouses and forgotten, while maintainers lacked the necessary spare parts to keep subway cars running.24 The subway car shortage became so acute at one point that vacations were cancelled and overtime for car maintainers shot through the roof.

In May of 1981, the TA, for the second time since 1977, wanted to close the Franklin Avenue Shuttle in Brooklyn. The TA cited its deplorable condition and lack of ridership as its reasons for closing the line. Dean Street was still open in 1981, but its condition at that time was beyond words -- a sagging canopy, light poles broken at the base, and platform railings intended to prevent passengers from falling over the side of the platform were ready to collapse under their own weight. A section of over 100 feet of concrete retaining wall shifted over a foot near Bergen Street in February of 1980, and was buttressed by a makeshift brace of heavy timbers that probably lasted until the Shuttle was closed for repairs in the 1990s. If this wall had slipped more, the tracks would have surely collapsed. This collapse started as a crack that had been known about for months, but nothing was done about it until this near-disaster occurred. The TA felt that bus service could adequately serve the needs of these riders for a fraction of the cost of maintaining the shuttle. It would cost between $45 and $60 million to renovate, while replacement bus service would cost $500,000 a year.25


The Park Place station of the Franklin Shuttle as seen in August, 1981. The Shuttle line would be allowed to deteriorate throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s (where it would appear much more decrepit), til finally being overhauled 1998-1999. Photo by Doug Grotjahn, collection of Joe Testagrose.

On July 17th, 1981, the MTA board voted to close the Franklin Avenue Shuttle effective November 1st. The shuttle had been closed for a two-week period ending May 7th due to demolition of a building adjacent to the tracks. The fight over the Franklin Avenue Shuttle became political, when Brooklyn state lawmakers vowed not to vote for future MTA money requests until they were assured that the shuttle would stay open. Some people compared the shuttle with The Train to the Plane, which ran with a deficit similar to the shuttle -- why close the shuttle if the Train to the Plane would remain running? Bowing to this political pressure, the TA backed off this proposal.

Red Alert!

Structural defects that required immediate attention were labeled as Code Red defects or "Red Tag" areas. "Immediate attention" was defined as "within 24 hours". However, there were so many structural problems throughout the entire subway system that many went unrepaired for months! 38 Code Red defects were recorded on the IRT New Lots Avenue line between the Nostrand Avenue and New Lots Avenue stations between January 1980 and July 1981; as of October 1981, fifteen of these defects had not yet been corrected.26 Some columns that supported elevated structures were so shaky that trains would not run if the wind exceeded 65 mph. This was particularly widespread the Flushing and Jamaica elevated lines.

In 1981, the subway fleet was in such poor shape that many cars were leaving the repair yards with known defects, severe enough to cause even more breakdowns. Dead motors were a huge problem, even during the warmer months. The subway system was in such bad shape that the State Legislature declared a "transportation emergency" and passed an $8 billion program to rehabilitate the system.27 The MTA received most of this financing, and this funding became the first 5-year capital improvement program, originally announced in 1980. About half of the program covered the purchase of new subway cars and buses.

The federal government was not helping the TA overcome its bad image, and this is not a reference to inadequate funding. In 1981, the National Transportation Safety Board released a report based on a yearlong study that revealed that safety regulations for mass transit systems, including New York's, were inadequate and left the potential for disaster.28 Transit staff was generally inadequately trained to evacuate subway tunnels in an emergency. Transit equipment, using a new generation of plastics, increased the fatality risk in the event of a fire. The study blamed the US Department of Transportation for not regulating safety standards. Well, at least the study didn't completely shift the blame to individual transit systems.

By early 1982, though, not much headway was made in stopping the deterioration of subway and bus service. The Economic Development Council, a business group headed by David Rockefeller that originated in 1965, ran an executive-lending program for businesses to address issues. The EDC offered a plan to start resolving the issues, offering to recruit 20 business executives to do so. The EDC's report cited duplication of duties across different organizations in the TA and severe procurement problems. In addition, responsibility for fighting graffiti and vandalism was divided between two departments, and it wasn't clear which department was responsible for subway stations.

In August of 1983, TA President John Simpson resigned his position. During his tenure, Mr. Simpson concentrated on car maintenance, and was able to improve service and get on-time performance back to 90%. He also negotiated the use of Washington (DC) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) buses when the Grumman Flxibles were grounded. A few days later, Chairman Richard Ravitch resigned his position as MTA chairman. Mr. Ravitch engineered the first capital improvement program, which helped begin the long process of getting the subway into a state of good repair. On October 5th, 1983, Robert Kiley was appointed the new MTA chairman. Kiley's previous job was the head of Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Kiley hired David Gunn as TA president on February 1st, 1984. Gunn's previous job was head of Philadelphia's Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).

The EDC's support was not effective in reversing the spiral of defective equipment and poor service. In an interview with the Daily News published on October 21st, 1984, TA president David Gunn stated that 4,000 of the TA's 6,400 cars needed "a lot of work", and that it wasn't the age of the subway cars that necessitated the work -- it was "poor everyday maintenance and a lack of a major overhaul program" that caused the problems.29 Gunn instituted an overhaul program in 1984 where 200 cars per year would be completely overhauled, and the first cars to go through this program were the R-36s that ran on the IRT Flushing Line. When the work was completed, the cars would take on the paint scheme now known as the "Redbird", and the interior would also be painted. Interior graffiti found on subway cars would be removed at the end of a run. Once a car was overhauled, the TA would make sure it stayed that way. This overhaul program would eventually be expanded to increase the number of rebuilt cars per year. Some cars, such as the R-10s, would not be overhauled because of their age; they would be "spruced up". The long-standing policy of placing the least reliable cars -- and some of the newest - on the longest runs on the system was finally questioned. The overhaul program began to improve the MDBF of all the lines as the overhauled cars went back into service.


Photographer Jim Maurer captured this view of spruced-up R-10 cars on the Jamaica Bay crossing in 1986.

The state of the subway actually put off a fare hike in late 1984. TA President David Gunn wanted to improve service before instituting a fare hike, because service was not at "acceptable" levels. The TA asked patience in allowing it to get things together. The TA also reconsidered the renovation of some subway stations so that more subway cars would be overhauled.

The proposed 1985 budget contained a number of promised improvements:30

  • The number of trains that break down in service or never leave the yard due to a malfunction would be reduced to a handful in any given rush hour. The goal was no more than 24 trains per rush hour.
  • 78 stations and 3½ miles of elevated trestle would get fresh paint.
  • Motormen would get new uniforms.
  • Complaints about rude subway employees would drop 35%.
  • 500 subway cars would be painted at the newly overhauled Coney Island shops, more than double the number painted in 1984.
  • Graffiti would be permanently removed from 1,721 subway cars.
  • Stainless steel subway cars would be washed every two weeks.
  • Lights, heat, air conditioning, and public address systems would work in 90% of all subway cars. Maps and destination signs would be correct in the same percentage of cars.
  • Stations would be washed every two weeks instead of every three.
  • Escalator / elevator failures would drop to 2%.
  • A new double crossover would be installed on the Brighton Line south of the Brighton Beach station between the two express tracks. This was moved to the 1987-1991 capital program, and was eventually dropped.
  • Yard expansions to store out of service trains would reduce the possibility of graffiti vandals tagging trains stored outside of yards. The yards to be expanded were 239th St., Unionport and Coney Island yards.

While the focus may have been on the subway cars and the stations, items that passengers could see, there were rumblings underfoot that every mile of subway track would have to replaced in the next ten years. The deferred maintenance era hit track, too, with only 1/5 of the required track work being done during the 1970s.31 There were 450 red tag areas of track where trains needed to slow to 5 -- 10mph, and the number of yellow tag areas -- portions of track that were not in immediate danger but would need replacement soon -- stood at 334 in February of 1984. Future capital programs would need to allocate funds for track replacement.

By the summer of 1985, though, the overhaul program wasn't getting top billing by the press -- it was a report by the Straphangers Campaign32 that revealed:

  • ¼ of all subway cars had at least one broken door panel,
  • 1/5 of all subway cars were dark or poorly lit,
  • 1/6 of all subway cars had illegible maps or incorrect destination signs,
  • Rush hour riders traveling between 20 and 45 minutes could expect to be six minutes late 40% of the time,
  • The East Side IRT was rated best for working doors, adequate lighting and properly labeled trains, largely because of the new R-62s running on the line. The GG line had the most poorly lit and mislabeled trains, while the LL had the most missing maps and the J and M lines had the most defective doors.

In 1986, a second $8 billion capital improvement program was passed, but this program did not include any funding for the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. For the third time, it was again on the chopping block, this time requiring restoration at an estimated cost of $40 - $70 million. Deterioration of the line was very extensive. While the line still remained open, it seemed that it would either close because of an MTA decision to do so, or because it would fall apart as a result of no repairs being made to it. The MTA was hoping for a federal contribution of $1.5 billion; due to federal budget problems, that number shrank to $648 million. Mayor Koch was unwilling to increase New York City's contribution to the MTA as well. Governor Mario Cuomo was hoping to get the funding issues resolved by the spring of 1986, but Republicans preferred to wait until after the November 1986 election. Funding was so tight that there was real consideration of closing either the IND Concourse Line or the IRT Jerome Avenue Line, dropping IND service to the Rockaways and running buses instead, truncating the BMT Jamaica Line in Brooklyn and cutting back service on the Staten Island Rapid Transit.33

In February 1986, the Straphangers Campaign's "report card" of subway service revealed that the number of subway cars with better lighting, legible maps and correct signage was increasing -- a good trend -- but announcements, rush hour service and the number of cars with broken doors did not improve at all from the previous year. In general, 24.1% of the fleet had broken doors, 20.4% had inadequate lighting, 6.9% had unreadable maps and 11.7% of trains had incorrect signage.34 The line rated best was the Lexington Avenue IRT mainly because of the new R-62s; the line rated worst was the GG Crosstown, with 43.3% of trains having broken doors and 42.9% of trains having poor lighting.

All Cracked Up

The R-46 Rockwell truck fiasco continued unabated into 1980. The rate of cracks found on the trucks nearly doubled, from 889 cracks logged in February 1979 to 1,700 in March 1980.35 The R-46s had to be inspected several times a week at the TA's expense, and the TA and New York City filed suit against Rockwell, Pullman Standard and four other subcontractors for $192 million. As of March 1980, 62 R-46s were out of service due to cracks and 112 were out of service for other reasons. While the inspections caught many cracks before they became unfixable problems, on September 27th, two cracks of a type not before seen were found on the trucks.36 As a result, the TA cut the R-46 usage rate in half, and they would run only during weekday rush hours. Until this time, they were run between 6am and 10pm every day. Shuffling the R-46s in and out of the yards was causing delays throughout all the IND-BMT lines. In an effort to reduce the mileage that the R-46s ran, 144 of them were moved to the Brighton Line, but complaints from Brighton Beach residents about excessive vibration forced the TA to move them to the A and CC lines.37 Ironically, R-46s were run at all times during an acute equipment shortage during December 1980 and January 1981, due to very cold weather. Even the JFK Express was affected -- there were times in early 1981 where R-10s were making up the service! All of the R-16s, the cars the R-46s were intended to replace, were put back into service while the R-46 problems were sorted out. The problems were, besides the cracked trucks, heaters and wiring that posed fire hazards, faulty lighting and door controls. Yet there was even a TA proposal to remove the cross seats from the R-46s and replace them with side facing seats, as found in the R-27s through R-42s. In late December of 1981, the TA won $72 million in damages from Rockwell International, but the City Department of Investigation indicted seven high-ranking transit officials in connection with the planning, purchase, inspection and acceptance of the R-46 subway cars. Improprieties such as favoritism to certain contactors and mismanagement were cited. On March 8th, 1982, Rockwell paid New York City $80 million for damages that resulted from the faulty trucks.


Tail car R-46 838 brings up a "CC" train at Beach 105th St./Seaside. Photo by Doug Grotjahn, collection of Joe Testagrose.

Even without the R-46 truck problems, the TA's strategy of purchasing subway cars with new technologies seemed fine on paper, but it was a disaster in practice. The R-44s and R-46s had enough technology in them to make Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott of the USS Enterprise smile with glee, but they were barely able to make it through their runs. They were so complex that repairs that should have been "simple" took weeks to make, and the Department of Car Equipment was not provided the required education to be able to handle these issues in a timely manner. It was this scenario that caused the TA to do an about-face with the R-62 and R-68 contracts, which were all "back to basics", and it wasn't until the 1990s that the TA decided to "risk" getting involved with new technologies with the R-110A and R-110B experimental "new technology" trains.

By 1986, the R-46s still hadn't seen an MDBF greater than 10,000 miles.38

It wasn't just the R-46s that were cracking up. In 1979 and 1980, the TA took possession of 637 new Grumman Flxible Model 870 buses. On November 19th, 1980, they were ordered off the streets because cracks had been discovered in 39 bus frames during routine inspections. At the time, these buses represented about 14% of the City's bus fleet.39 Many of these buses hadn't seen 3 months of service. Many of the buses returned to service, but were again removed from service around December 13th. The TA also decided to dissolve an agreement for 570 additional Model 870s. Initially, Grumman rejected the ideas that the cracks were a design defect, but as the number of cracked frames increased, Grumman agreed to pay for repairs. The TA wasn't certain that the buses could be repaired. On December 8th, 1980, the TA told Grumman to stop producing the last 200 buses in the initial 837-bus contract. The following day, the TA stopped paying Grumman for the current contract, and took steps to dissolve a $65 million follow-up order. Up to this time, the TA still owed Grumman $46 million on an $89 million contract. Grumman countered that the TA breached its contract with them by withholding payment. In March of 1981, after several corrections to the Model 870s were made, they returned to service. Even so, the Model 870s would be grounded and partially replaced by mothballed buses that were due for scrapping, but these mothballed buses were far from meeting service requirements. Waits for buses in all five boroughs skyrocketed.

The TA was forced by federal law to accept the lowest bid for the bus contract, but because of the defects, they wanted to give the contract to General Motors (for the RTS-I). However, that same law prohibited the TA from just walking away from the contract. If Grumman were unwilling to give the contract to GM, the TA would have to prove that the buses were poorly built and unsafe. If the TA succeeded in doing that, Grumman Flxible would be barred from bidding for any future bus contracts in the US.

Meanwhile, where would all the extra buses needed for daily service come from? A Christmas present from Washington, DC -- that's where! A caravan of 105 creaking old buses leased from WMATA would meander its way to New York City, with a National Guard escort, leaving Washington at 10:40am on December 27th, 1980.40 The convoy was accompanied by extra mechanics, tow trucks, tools and truckloads of spare parts. It was hoped that the cost of the WMATA buses would be recovered from Grumman Flxible. Much of this convoy was recently returned from a stint in Philadelphia, where officials indicated that numerous breakdowns occurred. Nearly 150 MTA employees were flown to Washington, then bused to WMATA's New Carrollton and Landover, MD shops to pick up the buses. The first WMATA bus to debut on a revenue run in New York City ran on the M106 crosstown run down 42nd Street heading east from 12th Avenue.

Staten Island express bus service was supplemented by approximately 100 MC8s leased from Greyhound.

The MTA was considering paying Grumman the money outstanding on its contract in return for Grumman to make all necessary repairs to the 637 buses and not produce the remaining 200 buses in the contract. The TA would give the remaining bus contract to GM. Efforts to complete this agreement were fought by the City's Comptroller, Harrison J. Goldin. 230 Grumman Model 870s were also removed from the streets of Los Angeles due to the same defect. In December of 1980, the Chicago Transit Authority grounded 205 Grumman Flxibles. Houston grounded over 300 of their Grummans, too. While Grumman and Rockwell were incapable of manufacturing sturdy subway and bus equipment, they were able to manufacture satisfactory components for the space program!41

And why were there only two bus manufacturers in 1980, Flxible and GM? In 1971, the Federal government mandated an "ideal" bus design called "Transbus" which was very lightweight, contained sealed windows, air conditioning, a small engine and low ground clearance. The parts would be interchangeable and easily repairable. Three manufacturers built prototypes of the bus, then indicated they would never build another. The federal government, realizing that their good intentions for an ideal bus would never see the light of day, accepted the Model 870 and the RTS-I as compromises. The Feds left it up to the manufacturers to choose the materials they would use to meet the Transbus requirements. The materials Flxible chose could not stand up to the punishing streets of New York City. In order for cities to obtain 80% in federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) grants, they were forced to purchase either the Model 870 or the RTS -- any other bus would not be federally funded. When GM and Flxible bid for the MTA's bus contract, Flxible was the lower bidder, and the MTA was mandated by law to accept the lowest bid. The MTA never liked the Model 870, but Flxible was no longer manufacturing the old style buses that the MTA was used to.42

In 1982, the MTA was exploring the purchase of new buses from the Hino Company of Japan and Renault of France. The contract would be for 325 buses per year for 5 years.

On February 7th, 1984, David Gunn, on his 5th day as the TA president, ordered all of the Model 870s grounded after one of them, an express bus from Brooklyn, burst into flames while it was being driven back to a garage in Manhattan.43 They never returned to service again. The MTA tried to sell the buses while they were in storage at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. As of 1985, there were no buyers. The TA sued Grumman for $324 million in damages citing fraud; Grumman countersued for $1 billion citing poor maintenance as the reason for the Flxible's failures. The MTA had to repay the federal government the funding it provided - $56 million -- by July 1st, 1984 because the federal UMTA wanted the MTA to put the buses back in service. Grumman later agreed to buy the buses back, refurbished them a bit and then resold the buses at bargain prices. New Jersey Transit bought 120 of them and recognizing a great deal, bought 500 more of them. Queen City Metro (Cincinnati) also bought some and some also went to Puerto Rico. The 620 buses that went to NJ Transit performed very well and the last of them were retired in 2000.


Despite the problems, New York City Transit has retained one Grumman Model 870 bus for the historical collection. Shown here is number 236 at the 2000 Transit Museum Bus Fest. Photo by Sid Keyles.

The A-frame problem was traced to poor engineering by Rohr, Flxible's previous parent before Grumman. The bus was not subjected to the proper testing to see if the design would hold up, and when Grumman purchased Flxible, they thought the 870 design was good to go and began building the bus immediately. By all indications, Grumman Flxible solved the A-frame problem and these buses went on to run for years in a number of cities, but the 870 had become a political liability in New York City after 1980. The 1984 fire that engulfed the 870 on 57th Street and resulted in Gunn removing the entire fleet from service was not due to any Flxible design defect, but was caused by poor TA maintenance practices. The bus was missing a rear shock absorber that caused another part to rub against a wiring harness; this shorted out the wiring harness and ignited the blaze.44

This wasn't the end though. In the late 1970s, the MTA purchased a number of new double-decker buses to run down 5th Avenue. Someone forgot to measure the clearance from overhead traffic lights. The buses didn't stay there for long. They ended their runs on the M4 and M5 bus routes.

The 63rd Street and Archer Avenue Extensions

A citizen's survey revealed that, in 1980, the subway was in the worst condition of its 75-year history.45 The New York Public Interest Research Group and the Institute for Public Transportation concluded that the system's performance was very poor and its maintenance was even worse. They probably could have saved a great deal of money by just reporting the obvious. It didn't take a rocket scientist to reach that conclusion in 1980. According to a five-year study by the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee in 1981, the frequency of subway breakdowns was causing passengers to find alternate means of getting to and from work. 121 By November of 1984, things didn't change drastically. Much of the subway's track would need replacement within a few years, and some needed immediate replacement. 42% of subway cars needed heavy work, but there was no plan in place to perform this work.46 There were more than 5,000 fires on the subway by the end of 1984, so many in fact, that the National Transportation Safety Board was sent in to investigate causes and recommend solutions47. Other major cities' subway systems had very few fires in the same period, though some TA sources felt that these cities were not as diligent in reporting fires as the TA was. Your author could have made a great deal of money in 1984 by recommending to the TA that they clean up tons of garbage left by uncaring riders, and by launching a no-litter advertising campaign!


This 1976 view of the 63rd Street Tunnel construction shows the connection from 63rd Street into the BMT Broadway line under Central Park. Photo by George Cuhaj.

During this entire time, work on the 63rd St and Archer Avenue subway lines continued, although the MTA considered stopping work on these projects in October of 1980, and spending the money instead on maintaining the existing system. The Archer Avenue line was due to be completed in 1984, and the 63rd Street line in 1985. Progress of the Archer Avenue subway tunnel stopped in March 1982, when on March 5th, part of the tunnel caved in around the vicinity of Archer Avenue and 138th Street. One construction worker was killed, and three others narrowly escaped injury. This four-man crew was reinforcing the tunnel walls when this reinforcement gave way, causing the cave-in.48

By July of 1985, political pressure on the MTA regarding the project was growing. Senator Alfonse D'Amato asked the Senate to investigate the tunnel project and the use of federal funds to ensure they were being spent appropriately. He also asked the US Attorney's Office to launch a grand jury investigation of the tunnel.49 Many probes did take place -- by the FBI (for criminal wrongdoing), the TA's inspector general and the Department of Transportation (because 80% of the money spent on the tunnel was federal funds). One of the subcontractors for the tunnel was defending itself against a fraud indictment. Early in the investigations, documentation regarding the project's major expenses was found to be inadequate. Water seepage became a very serious problem, with 6 feet of water in some tunnel sections. In fact, as early as 1974, the TA was made aware of these leaks but did little about them. Meanwhile, tracks rusted, concrete disintegrated and formed stalactites in the tunnel. Cracks appeared in the new tunnel walls. The 21st Street station, without seeing a single paid passenger, was tagged with graffiti. An incorrectly designed 5-foot thick support beam did not allow clearance for trains to pass beneath it; when it was altered to provide the necessary clearance, it may not have been reinforced adequately.50 The FBI was looking into allegations of bribery, where a TA engineer okayed the repairs instead of replacing the beam, which might have further delayed the project.

Despite everyone in the field of transportation examining the tunnel project for monetary and project management defects, the MTA also hired a firm to re-examine the tunnel for structural and engineering defects. Based on the results of this study, a decision would be made whether to finish completing the line. Construction Technology Laboratories of Skokie, IL, was hired to assess the structural integrity of the tunnel, and report back to the MTA within 90 days with a recommendation to keep the project going or stop work and abandon the project.51 The Federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration announced on July 22nd, 1985, that it would suspend federal funding pending the outcomes of the investigations. And why did it come to this? The water leakage problem, internal infighting, faulty record keeping, time-consuming attempts to obtain funding for repair work and the fiscal crisis of 1975 led to the situation. While all tunnels leak to some extent, excessive leakage has to be taken care of; the TA knew about this in 1974 but didn't do anything about the problem. This type of leakage accelerated corrosion.

In September of 1985, there was political pressure (again) placed on the TA to abandon the line, because the expected ridership would cover a very small amount of the line's operating costs. MTA figures on fare recovery indicated that between 1% and 6% of operating costs would be covered by fares, even if the line were to be extended to the IND Queens Blvd line.52

In October of 1985, Construction Technology Laboratories found the 63rd Street tunnel structurally sound. One girder in particular, "G-4", was scrutinized because of the lack of train clearance underneath it; 13 inches of the girder were shaved off and its structural integrity was questioned. The engineering firm found the girder to be sound. The project would ultimately continue.

By the end of 1985, it was well known that the original intent of the 63rd Street subway, to run to eastern Queens, was never going to happen. It was also known that the current terminus of the line, at 21st Street in Queensbridge, was useless; 220 passengers an hour were the usage projections in 1984. The MTA was studying four options for making this line more useful:53

  1. The Queens Express Bypass: extending the line along the LIRR to 71st / Continental Avenues in Forest Hills. It would be completed in 1998 and cost $931 million. This was the original plan for this line proposed in the 1968 MTA Program for Action. It was felt that only this option would relieve the overcrowding on the E and F lines.
  2. Connecting the line to the local tracks of the IND Queens Blvd line. It was the cheapest and fastest alternative to complete -- it would be done in 1993 at a cost of $222 million. But critics complained that it would do the least to relieve overcrowding on the E and F lines in Queens, the most crowded lines in the system. The line would leave two-thirds of the available capacity of this line unused and probably make any future expansion of this line unlikely.
  3. Extending the 63rd Street line through the Sunnyside Yard and the LIRR to the Archer Avenue subway. It would cost $594 million and be completed by 1997, but residents along the proposed route objected to this option.
  4. Extending the line to Sunnyside Yard in Queens and allow passengers to connect to a new LIRR service stopping in Rosedale and Queens Village. The route of the new LIRR service would be the Montauk branch, used mostly for freight service. It would cost $488 million and be completed by 1995, but like the proposal above, Queens residents along the proposed route objected to it.

Manhattan Bridge is Falling Down! Williamsburgh Bridge is Falling Down!

It wasn't just the R-46s, the Grumman Flxibles and the 63rd Street Tunnel that were cracking up -- the Manhattan Bridge was showing signs of excessive wear and tear. The bridge, designed and built by Gustav Lindenthal in 1903, had a major design flaw: the subway tracks were placed on the outside of the bridge deck instead of inside near the center, as on the Williamsburgh Bridge. As a result, every time trains crossed the bridge, the structure would flex, sometimes as much as eight feet. This flexing, called torsion, caused already weak steel to crack, and these cracks caused more serious failures. If you were to stand on the span as a train rumbled by, you could see the span dip and rise with the train's passing. For the majority of the Manhattan Bridge's life, subway trains used the north side of the bridge far more often than the south side, and the bridge developed a permanent "tilt" with the north side being somewhat lower than the south side. As early as 1953, the Board of Transportation had a permanent solution -- a new river runnel at the cost of $90 million -- but it never received the funding.

An alternate to using the bridge was floated as early as October 1983, when Brooklyn Assemblyman Daniel Feldman proposed a $100 million tunnel of 3,800 feet under Prospect Park that would connect the BMT Brighton Line to the IND South Brooklyn Line.54 The tunnel was deemed necessary because of the Brighton Line's bottleneck at Prospect Park, where it is reduced from four tracks to two, while the IND South Brooklyn Line was built with four tracks, and was very underutilized. Rush hour throughput on the Brighton Line could be increased as much as 50%, and Manhattan Bridge subway traffic could be reduced, slowing down its deterioration. Supporters of the Franklin Avenue shuttle, however, felt that this proposal would be the final nail on the shuttle's coffin and would ultimately be the reason for its demise. In 1983, closing the shuttle was high on the TA's agenda. In addition, conservationists feared ecological damage to Prospect Park during the construction, but Assemblyman Feldman noted that construction would all be done underground, with no cut-and-cover construction used.

The proposal never saw the light of day, but the Manhattan Bridge continued to deteriorate. In May of 1982, a routine inspection revealed a cracked beam above the north side subway tracks near the Manhattan tower, forcing emergency rerouting of B and D trains. In both 1982 and 1983, midday routings of D trains would send them via tunnel and Nassau Street Loop to just past Essex Street onto the Williamsburgh Bridge, where trains would reverse direction, go through the Chrystie Street cut, and rejoin 6th Avenue service at Broadway/Lafayette. This added 20 minutes to the mid-day commute for Brighton Line riders.

The condition of the Manhattan Bridge got worse. In 1985, the north side of the Manhattan Bridge was closed for the summer for emergency repairs. By the fall, the north side reopened, and later that year, the south side of the Bridge would be shut down, with the expectation for service to return in 1988. The south side of the bridge stayed closed until July of 2001!! Extensive corrosion was found in new areas as repairs to other identified areas occurred, severely hampering the progress to complete the repairs. Full BMT service across the bridge was a distant memory to a generation of Brooklyn subway riders.

The bridge was not built to handle the loads of heavier subway cars. A tunnel to replace the bridge was voted down as being too expensive. It would take 20 years and cost more than $1 billion, and the areas on both sides of the bridge are developed, leaving little room, if any, for tunnel approaches for trains. Canal Street, with its high water table (a canal used to run there at one time) and poor soil conditions, would not be a good place to have a tunnel.55

The Williamsburgh Bridge supposedly was immune to the disease that plagued the Manhattan Bridge. It wasn't though -- it caught the same disease, only the cause was different. In March of 1984, BMT Eastern Division trains across the bridge were significantly curtained during non-rush hours for a two-year period so repairs could be made. By 1988, the bridge was in very poor shape. Blame this one on the pigeons, rain, rust, greed and neglect. Pigeon droppings slowly eroded portions of the bridge's main cables, because the cables were strung using ungalvanized steel. The Williamsburgh Bridge was the only major bridge ever built of ungalvanized steel, a cost saving measure at the time it was built. Corrosion formed on the bridge shortly after it opened in 1903 and never stopped forming. The acid from the pigeon droppings, rust forming when it rained, salt being dropped during the winter, and poor drainage allowed corrosion to eat away at the unprotected cables and the bridge deck. Various attempts to slow down the corrosive process were attempted, but none succeeded. Broken cable strands weakened the bridge significantly. Gaping holes in concrete caused chunks of it to fall on maintenance walkways beneath the road deck. More than 200 wires in the northernmost cable anchorage were broken. Wires were starting to break in the southernmost anchorage, too, and in April of 1988, no cause for these breaks was discovered. Computers monitored the bridge's wires around the clock for stress being placed on the cables; levels too high would cause state DOT commissioners to halt traffic on the bridge. By this time, the state Department of Transportation rated the bridge 1.6 on a scale of 1 to 7 -- just enough of a rating to keep it from being immediately closed.56

The bridge was closed to train traffic on April 11th, 1988, when a painter on the bridge noticed a hole in a girder. Vehicular traffic was suspended two days later because other beams were found to be corroded. While the bridge was closed, subway cars running on the BMT Eastern Division were isolated from the rest of the subway system, so arrangements were made to transfer cars to Coney Island using diesel locomotives running over the LIRR Bay Ridge freight line and the South Brooklyn Railway. J and M trains ran no further than Marcy Avenue, and passengers were advised to transfer at Broadway Junction for A,C and L trains, or to use a temporary ferry setup at the foot of the bridge. Additional service on these lines was required due to overcrowding. Even the JFK Express was affected by the bridge closing; the extra fare was not collected weekdays, the trains were lengthened to eight cars, and the train made express stops on the IND Fulton Street line between Howard Beach and Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets. From that point, it made local stops to 57th Street / 6th Avenue. Train traffic resumed over the Williamsburg Bridge on June 12th, 1988, and the temporary ferry ceased operating. Weekday JFK Express trains resumed their normal stops and schedules.

When the Williamsburg Bridge was built, it replaced the Broadway ferry that stopped near the foot of the bridge. When the bridge was closed in April of 1988, ferry service returned! A makeshift dock was erected and ferry service using two of the smaller Staten Island ferryboats began service on April 18th, 1988. Transportation to/from Manhattan from this point went full circle in the 20th century.

The Federal government was reluctant to provide money to rehabilitate the J and M lines in the late 1980s because of doubts about the structural integrity of the Williamsburgh Bridge. It was seriously thought that the bridge would have to be replaced, or an extremely difficult cable-replacement project, without engineering precedent, would need to be performed on the bridge to keep it structurally viable.

Crime is Still High

February 13th, 1980 marked the 1st anniversary of the "Guardian Angels", a group of (at that time) 220 "tough kids" who patrolled the subways and buses in an attempt to deter crime.57 During a City Council meeting where members of safety and transportation committees met jointly to discuss transit crime, the founder of the Guardian Angels, Curtis Sliwa, night manager of a McDonalds on East Fordham Road in the Bronx, appeared to be more in tune with the level of crime than Transit Police Chief James Meehan. While Meehan testified that he could provide sufficient protection to straphangers with the 2,300 members of his police force, Sliwa was advocating additional policemen to patrol the subways. While the City Council received Mr. Sliwa's remarks very favorably, statistics would seem to backup Mr. Meehan's comments. In a one-year period between March 1979 and March 1980, felonies per day dropped from 261 to 154.58 While these figures were still at very unacceptable levels, at least the trend was in the right direction. Yet the New York Times reported that between the summer of 1979 and 1980, crime on the subway rose 70%!59

Philadelphia police officers suggested that a good way to combat crime on the New York subway was to use police dogs. A TA spokesman said that the use of police dogs was studied several times over the past 30 years (to 1950), and was never tried, though the idea was never ruled out, either. Reasons against the use of police dogs ranged from expense to crowding making the dogs nervous.60 However, canine patrols did begin on the subway on December 15th, 1980. Canine patrols also started at the Corona Yard in August of 1981 in an effort to prevent vandalism. Two German Shepherds named Suzy and Red made the first patrols. While Mayor Koch was endeared to this idea, and hoped it would spread to other yards, the TA cited high costs for this program. The dogs could not patrol the mainline tracks where many of the cars were stored when they were not in use. The yard canine patrols ended a few months later.

An epidemic of subway car window bashing broke out on the Pelham Line in 1980, causing $2 million in damages. It spread to other lines during the course of the year. When the broken windows were discovered in trains that were still in service, they were taken out of service, causing additional delays. 775 vandalism-related delays of more than four minutes were reported in August 1980.61 Crime was such a problem that senior City Hall and transit officials considered raising the subway fare from 60 to 65 cents to fund additional transit police officers.

On January 20th, 1982, MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch spoke during a breakfast meeting of the Association for a Better New York, a business group. He told the group that he would not let his teenage sons ride the subway at night, and that even he was nervous riding the trains ... and this is the top guy of the MTA saying this!62 This anxiety translated into lost revenue, and this startling revelation by the head of the MTA prompted the organization to study how this drop in ridership could be turned around. Generally speaking though, crime did not improve in 1982 at all. October 1982 saw the lowest ridership on the New York Subway since 1917, mostly due to fears about transit crime, poor subway performance and some economic factors.63 Consider that in 1917, the IND didn't even exist! Crime continued to be an issue; for example, on November 9th, 1982, a robbery gang robbed, beat and pistol-whipped five people in three subway stations within a half hour. Fortunately, the suspects were apprehended a short time later.

To counteract a 60% jump in crime in 1982, a plan to have uniformed police officers ride the subway between 8pm and 4am was instituted.

By 1985, the epidemic had not subsided at all. TA shop employees on the late shift were often used to replace broken glass in subway car windows. Between January 27th and February 2nd, 1985, 1,129 pieces of glass were replaced on subway cars that used the IRT Broadway Local, the IRT Lexington Avenue Local, and the IND 8th Avenue Local.64 In May of 1984, even the Nostalgia Train IND cars were hit by vandals.

Meanwhile, enterprising criminals would steal bus transfers from bus drivers, and sell the transfers on the street for 50 cents. The criminals would concentrate on areas where free bus to subway or subway to bus transfers were available, such as 149th Street and Third Avenue in the Bronx.65

Mayor Koch even proposed to put a subway court in the Times Square subway station to speed up arraignments and reduce time transit police were tied up with a defendant. In June of 1985, Operation High Visibility began, where at least one transit policeman rode every train between 8pm and 6am. The program was an attempt to restore public confidence in the transit system. Overtime costs for this program would run $2 million a month.66

The 1980s made a very indelible impression on potential passengers of the subway: use the subway and you're guaranteed to be a crime victim. Perception became the reality; there are people to this day who still think that the subway is the crime-ridden hellhole it was described as in the 1980s -- and this perception is totally incorrect. But it lives on.

A Shooting on the Subway

There were many shootings on the subway, though not as many as there were above on the streets of New York City. But one shooting in particular stood out and struck a responsive chord in many New Yorkers, and this shooting took place on the subway.

On December 22nd, 1984, Bernhard Goetz, until that point in time just another typical passenger on the subway, boarded a southbound IRT 7th Avenue express at his home station of 14th Street. He happened to sit near four teenage boys in the car -- Barry Allen, Troy Canty, James Ramseur and Darrell Cabey -- and there were about twenty other passengers in the same subway car. The boys were generally not behaving well, and two of them approached Goetz, supposedly using screwdrivers as weapons, and asked him for five dollars. Goetz had been mugged before, and unknown to the four boys, he was carrying a gun. Interpreting the "request" for five dollars as an attempt to mug him again, Goetz grabbed his gun and shot each of the boys once. It is not certain if Goetz fired all five shots in rapid succession, or if he paused after shooting Cabey once and said "you seem to be all right; here's another" and shot him again. After this incident, Goetz got off the train and drove to New Hampshire, and as word spread, he became known as the "subway vigilante", defending himself from crime. On December 31st, 1984, Goetz surrendered to police in Concord, New Hampshire and was brought back to New York City.

The coverage of the case by the news media took on the same aura as that of the OJ Simpson case in the 1990s. The perception that crime was out of control was locked in hard and fast by this case. The spread of graffiti all over the subways became permanently linked to the poor condition of the equipment, the delayed arrivals, the poor service and all the breakdowns that occurred on the subway on a daily basis. Between the Goetz case and the uncontrollable graffiti, the subway became a symbol of New York City's inability to control crime. Some viewed Goetz as a hero for standing up to his attackers and defending himself in an environment where the police were increasingly viewed as unable to effectively combat crime. Others viewed Goetz's action as a violent and criminal over-reaction to the events. Since Goetz was white and the four youths were black, others focused on the racial aspects of the incident and the public reaction that followed.

During the next year and a half, Goetz faced two grand juries and a criminal trial. The first grand jury indicted Goetz only for illegal weapons possession, but a second grand jury was called after prosecutors claimed they had new evidence against Goetz. At this second grand jury, he was indicted on attempted murder charges. During this time, polls said that three of four people believed that Goetz was defending himself. Senator Al D'Amato even offered to testify as a character witness for Goetz. When the criminal trial finally began well over a year after the incident, Goetz was acquitted on the attempted murder charges but found guilty on the gun possession charge, and spent eight months in jail.

Darrell Cabey filed a civil suit against Goetz, which went to trial in 1996. The jury found that Goetz had acted recklessly and deliberately inflicted emotional distress on Cabey. The jury awarded Cabey $43 million. Goetz subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection.

In the civil trial, newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin testified that Cabey had told him about a year after the shooting that he and the other three young men on the train intended to rob Goetz because "he looked like easy bait." In fact, all of the youths had committed serious crimes since the original incident, except for Cabey, who remains paralyzed in a wheelchair.

Even though Goetz left New York City after the civil trial, he returned and actually ran for mayor of New York City in 2002.

Looking Forward

In March of 1980, the TA began an eight week survey of bus riders to determine ridership patterns (origin and destination of one's trip), but did not ask riders how long they had to wait for a bus to arrive.67 This survey followed others that looked at on/off and transfer counts. The $650,000 study funded primarily by the Federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration was completed during the summer of 1980 and it recommended specific bus route changes to better serve Brooklyn riders. It was hoped the changes would go into effect in 1981. Many of the Brooklyn bus routes in effect when the survey was taken were still following routes of former trolley lines that were discontinued in the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1980, a program to retrofit IRT cars with air conditioning was in full swing.

The TA considered buying 63-foot subway cars to replace 260 50-foot IRT cars, even though these longer cars were never tried anywhere on the IRT. The cars would be purchased using $190 million from the Transportation Bond Act voters approved in November 1979. Drawbacks identified for these cars included not lining up with the movable platforms at 14th Street, and not fitting tight curves, such as at South Ferry. Advantages of the car were the same as the R-44/R-46 order -- fewer subway cars of longer length can make up a 510-foot train, reducing operating and maintenance costs. Consultant Louis T. Klauder and Associates was hired by the TA at $894,312 to evaluate the merits of the 63-foot car.68 Part of what the consultant would do was determine how many stations might need realignment for the new cars, and if the realignment costs exceeded the cost of the cars, the plans would be dropped. The plans were indeed dropped.

Even so, the TA fell behind its timetable for the design and purchase of 540 new subway cars that was authorized by the November 1979 bond issue.69 The first shipment of 260 subway cars was due to be on the IRT by the summer of 1982, and all shipments were due to be completed by 1983. 280 IND-BMT cars were due to be reconditioned with new motors, air conditioning and new interiors. Part of the reconditioning delay was that the TA had not decided whether to subcontract the work out or perform it in-house.

In late 1980, the IRT Diamond Jubilee special of vintage Lo-V cars returned to the Lexington Avenue local for a week. Service ran between 59th Street and Brooklyn Bridge, and allowed passengers to remain on the train as it rounded the City Hall Loop. It made three round trips each day during middays.


The IRT "Diamond Jubilee" special of restored Low-V cars, number 5443 in the lead, poses in City Hall Station in September 1979. This car and its three mates were still running in museum service at the 100th Anniversary of the subway in 2004. Photo by Steve Zabel, collection of Joe Testagrose.

In April of 1981, the TA proposed route changes on some IND-BMT lines in response to a two year federally funded study of ridership patterns.70 The proposed changes were:

  • The N and RR lines would swap northern terminals.
  • A rush hour T train would run from Bay Parkway on the West End Line to the financial district.
  • Additional service on 6th Avenue. B trains would run to 168th Street at the expense of AA service.
  • A K train would run from Canarsie to midtown Manhattan through the Chrystie Street connection.

A proposal for non-stop express service between 59th Street and the World Trade Center was found to be unworkable due to existing lines running at capacity and the inclusion of the JFK express on the 8th Avenue line south of West 4th Street.

In 1981, the Transit Authority began installing welded rail on some underground portions of the system.

New Subway Cars for New York

By March of 1982, the MTA was close to a deal to purchase 325 new IRT subway cars from Kawasaki Heavy Industries of Japan. It would be the first purchase of foreign-made subway cars that ever ran on the New York subway system.71 Other candidates for this order included Bombardier and the Budd Company. The federal "buy American" laws in place at the time did not apply to this purchase because no federal funds were being used. A reason for purchasing the foreign cars was the Reagan Administration's budget reductions for mass transit aid. Learning from the R-46 purchase, the R-62 contract would contain clauses for strict guarantees. In addition, the State passed legislation in 1981 allowing the MTA to negotiate contracts with suppliers, instead of just accepting the lowest bid. The R-62s, at a cost of $844,500 each, proved themselves very reliable immediately upon delivery. The first R-62 (car 1304) was delivered on August 18th, 1983, and a "welcoming" ceremony at Brooklyn's Red Hook Marine Terminal took place. The first train of R-62s went into service on November 29th, 1983 as an IRT Lexington Avenue express out of Woodlawn. Mayor Ed Koch and Chairman Robert Kiley (only on the job for a day) rode the new train to Brooklyn Bridge.


Brand new R-62A from Bombardier runs in test service on the Flushing line, seen here at Grand Central in 1985. Eric Oszustowicz photo, collection of Joe Testagrose.

During the 30-day acceptance test period for the R-62s, they were run on the Flushing Line. On March 19th, 1984, the first R-62 trainset ran through the Steinway tunnel, and an air line bracket damaged four guard lights. The track at this location was out of alignment and caused the R-62 to sway and hit the air bracket. When the damage was discovered, bags of flour were attached to the exterior of another train that was also sent through the tunnel. Technicians discovered that the bags were broken and went to inspect the tunnel. The areas where the bags broke were discovered -- flour residue was found on the tunnel walls. The tracks in these areas were realigned, the R-62s were repaired and the acceptance test continued without incident on March 26th.72

The first Capital program allocated funding for the purchase of 1,150 subway cars. Kawasaki was not interested in building another 825 IRT cars. The Budd Company was still manufacturing transit vehicles, but the MTA didn't want to negotiate the contract with Budd alone. St. Louis Car and the American Car and Foundry Company were out of business. Pullman Standard was itself on the way out due to, in part, the botched R-46 contract. Enter Bombardier, a Canadian company best known for the manufacturing of snowmobiles, Francorail, a consortium of six French companies, and Budd, competing for the largest contract for subway cars in the United States until the R-142 order in 2001. Bombardier ended up winning the contract. Because Bombardier had a conservative approach to their railroad car business -- they wouldn't manufacture a car that wasn't already designed and tested somewhere else - the MTA set a condition for the Kawasaki contract that Bombardier would receive a license to manufacture the Japanese-designed cars themselves. This became the R-62A contract, where each individual subway car cost $803,000. The first R-62A car, car number 1653, was delivered to Coney Island Yard on October 10th, 1984, and the first R-62A test train ran on December 14th, 1984.

So why didn't the Budd Company get the R-62A contract? Many people, transit enthusiasts notwithstanding, claim that the Budd-built R-32s are some the finest subway cars ever built, and they are in better shape that those built for contracts R-38 through R-46. Budd was considered an American company at the time (though it really was owned by Thyssen A.G. of Germany). The decision to award Bombardier this contract ended up having national implications during a time when it was legislated to "buy American", and clearly, awarding the contract to Budd would have been buying American. MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch testified before the Senate Finance Committee and said that Budd was not willing to extend the same amount of credit to the MTA that the foreign competitors were, that Budd intended to manufacture the cars' undercarriages in Brazil using an unproven company (the MTA didn't want to have another R-46 or Flxible crack ever again); if the design failed, a switch to the American source of the undercarriages would have added thousands of dollars to the cost of each car, and that Bombardier was willing to use the Kawasaki design -- a proven design that was very reliable. Similarities in design would also allow standardization of parts, which would reduce inventory expenses. Ravitch also questioned Budd's reliability, pointing out that the firm was a year behind in deliveries of subway cars to Baltimore and Miami.73 The committee ended up upholding the decision to use Bombardier. Budd continued fighting the decision for many months afterward, but didn't prevail.

The $780 million R-62A contract with Bombardier didn't start well. In August of 1985, all R-62As were removed from service (about 40 cars) because Bombardier failed to remove bracket welds used while shipping the cars to New York.74 These welds reduced the flexibility of the couplers and could have caused derailments on sharp curves, such as at South Ferry. The cars were returned to service within a week. Other problems included lights that would go out for approximately ten seconds, though Bombardier officials said that happened only when crossing long third rail gaps. Acceptance tests would start and stop because additional defects in the propulsion system were found. Finally, TA president David Gunn threatened to cancel the contract if electrical defects on these cars weren't fixed in short order. By September 19th, all the R-62As delivered (60 by then) were out of service due to persistent electrical problems. Bombardier was under contract to deliver the entire 825-car order by the end of 1987.


One of the first Kawasaki R-62 cars being offloaded from the ship which carried it from Japan. Photo collection of David Pirmann.

In October of 1982, a consortium of French engineering companies, called FrancoRail, was selected by the MTA to build 225 subway cars, which eventually became known as the R-68s. FrancoRail was chosen over bids from the Budd Company of Troy, Michigan and Sumitomo of Japan. Half of the work on the subway cars would be done in the US, with assembly taking place in New York State. The seating scheme would be similar to that of the R-44 and R-46 cars. The cars were delayed when cracks developed in over 40 undercar frames as they were welded. This problem was corrected by using the same type of steel used on the R-62 car underframes. The R-68 contract was further delayed by the R-62A problems because the propulsion packages in both sets of cars were similar. When delivery of the first R-68 was made on February 4th, 1986, it failed to negotiate a sharp curve on South Brooklyn Railway trackage on 38th Street in Brooklyn. The curve had to be rebuilt and the radius eased somewhat; delivery finally occurred on February 26th, 1986. The 30-day acceptance test for the R-68s began on the Brighton Line on April 13th, 1986. The first regular R-68 train went into revenue service in Brighton Beach on June 20th, 1986, after passing a successful 30-day test.

The option for 200 additional R-68s was given to Kawasaki and the car class became known at the R-68A. The first R-68A cars were delivered to New York on April 12th, 1988 and transferred to the TA the following day. The first train of R-68As began service on May 18th, 1988 on the IND Concourse Line as part of its 30-day acceptance test.

The delivery of the R-62s and R-68s signaled the end of the line for car classes R-10, R-16, R-17, R-21 and R-22, which were retired and scrapped through the mid to late 1980s. The R-16s were removed from service in June of 1987, and by July, the only R-17s still running were those that were used on the Times Square -- Grand Central Shuttle. The last run for the R-21 and R-22 car classes was December 30th, 1987 on the IRT Lexington Avenue Express (#5) during the morning rush hour.75 The last run for the R-17s was on February 29th, 1988, as the last #5 train departing Flatbush Avenue.76 Car 6609 sits in the New York Transit Museum and car 6688 is now one of the mainstays of the rapid transit fleet at the Shoreline Trolley Museum in Branford, CT.

In 1982, the Transport Workers Union was given the opportunity to bid on the overhaul of 300 R-36 subway cars, and in return, they abandoned repair quotas. The TWU was interested in this contract because it was losing a growing number of repair jobs to outside contractors, and job security was being threatened.77 The MTA had planned to farm out this work, too.

In 1982, the first "graffiti control train" of ghostly white IRT cars debuted on the IRT Flushing Line. The original intent of the white train was to send it out on different routes during the day and determine on which of those routes the subway train was most likely to be "tagged". Checks would also be done to see how much damage was done to the train while being stored in a transit yard at night. The train didn't succeed in its original mission. The train was very lightly tagged by vandals, if it was at all. The extensive security system implemented at Corona Yard (dual fences about 10 feet apart topped with razor wire and dogs patrolling this 10-foot space) appeared to keep graffiti "artists" at bay. The white paint scheme was expanded on the Flushing Line to become known as "graffiti resistant white" and the security system implemented at Corona Yard was applied to the other transit storage facilities as well.78 By January of 1983, the entire Flushing Line fleet was painted white, with black anti-climbers, pantograph gates and body sills. While the car sides remained graffiti free, the car ends usually got tagged. Nevertheless encouraged by the results, the fleet that made up the Lexington Avenue local was also painted with this same paint scheme. Some R-17s, R-26s, R-28s, R-29s and R-33s were painted, but didn't fare as well, because Westchester Yard could not store all these trains when they weren't needed for service; taggers had a field day when these cars were stored on the middle track of the Pelham Line. The next set of cars to be painted in the white scheme were those that served the #4 Lexington Avenue Express.79 By April of 1984, the TA decided it had enough of the white paint scheme and decided to repaint them red with silver roofs, and the body sills, anti-climbers, safety gates and marker light areas were painted black. The dawn of the Redbird era was established, and the first train to run in this scheme debuted on May 7th, 1984. By August of 1985, the entire Flushing Line fleet was painted in the Redbird paint scheme. By the end of 1985, the first R-29s were being painted as Redbirds.



The "graffiti control" all-white paint scheme. The white paint was not as graffiti resistant as the MTA had hoped. Prolific graffiti painter "SEEN" has tagged the train in the bottom photo in October, 1982. Top photo, Doug Grotjahn, bottom photo, Steve Zabel, collection of Joe Testagrose.

In September of 1982, a 4 car train of restored R-1/9s took center stage during the 50th anniversary celebration of the IND, which took place at 57th St / 6th Avenue. The train made a round trip between 57th St / 6th Avenue and Second Avenue, but not completely under its own power. Battery problems during the return trip at 34th St / 6th Avenue required that the train be pushed to 57th St by a D train consisting of R-40s and R-42s. One car of the trip served as a "concert car", equipped with a piano! The following day, the special train ran on the 8th Avenue local between Chambers Street and Columbus Circle.80

On July 10th, 1983, the 2,3,4 and 5 lines swapped southern terminals in Brooklyn. The 2 train, which used to terminate at New Lots Avenue, would terminate at Flatbush Avenue. The 3 train, which used to terminate at Flatbush Avenue, would terminate at New Lots Avenue. The 4 and 5 trains made a similar swap. The purpose was to assign the same type of subway cars from these lines to a specific repair / maintenance facility and improve reliability.

Throughout 1983, the West End El was rehabilitated. Deteriorated girders supporting mezzanines were replaced. This rehabilitation job was repeated on the Culver Line starting in October of 1987.

On December 10th, 1984, the last cars of the R-14 and R-15 car class were retired. These cars were known to old-time IRT employees as the "Queens Cars" because they debuted in Queens on the Flushing Line.

In an effort to raise additional money for the subways and buses, the MTA sold the East Side Airlines Terminal in February of 1984, and the New York Coliseum in 1986. The buyer of the Coliseum would agree to rebuild the Columbus Circle subway complex.

To prepare the BMT Jamaica Elevated for its connection to the Archer Avenue subway, service on the elevated was cut back from the Queens Blvd station to 121st Street on April 13th, 1985. The connection would be made at 129th Street and the elevated structure east of that point would be demolished. The resulting "terminal" at 121st Street was inefficient because trains had to run single tracked for nearly ½ mile before entering the station. In November of 1987, a new double crossover north of the station was placed in service allowing J trains to relay north of the station. This also allowed both sides of the station to be used, the Archer Avenue-bound side for exiting passengers and the Manhattan-bound side for entering passengers.


The cut-back end of the Jamaica El at Sutphin Boulevard. Photo collection of nycsubway.org.

The Subway is Coming Back. This Time, It's For Real!

On Monday, May 13th, 1985, Flushing Line riders "were going to be mad as hell". A 4½-year long project to overhaul the IRT Flushing Line was begun, and it meant single tracking much of the line on weekends, and the complete elimination of express service for the duration of the project. The TA advertised this change by putting leaflets in the New York Times, the Staten Island Advance, the Daily News and Newsday. The project would lay new track, replace or repair concrete and steel structures, replace wooden station canopies with aluminum ones, improve lighting, improve signage, and install new ventilation and pumping equipment. Expanded service would be provided when the Mets played home games or when there were sporting events in Flushing Meadow Park. Flushing locals had better on-time performance during the construction than before it started!

The $60 million rehabilitation project on the IRT Flushing Line's Queens Blvd viaduct ended on August 21st, 1989. When Flushing express service was restored, trains would no longer stop at 61st Street / Woodside. Hundreds of Woodside residents signed petitions and staged rallies at the 61st Street station, hoping to get express trains to stop there again. The TA discontinued them because people changing from the local to the express would cause excessive dwell times, which caused delays on the line when locals and expresses would merge after 33rd (Rawson) Street. The change was supposed to enable local trains to stop at 61st Street every 4 minutes during rush hours, but commuters stated that the trains arrived every 8 -- 10 minutes. The community opposition led to service changes, and expresses began stopping at Woodside a few months later.

Flushing Line riders weren't the only ones who would be "mad as hell". In August of 1985, major repairs began on the north side of the Manhattan Bridge. On August 10th, a ten-week project to improve signaling and install new track would begin, followed by additional diversions due to state Department of Transportation repairs. The "split B/D" services began -- B and D trains from Coney Island would run up Broadway and terminate at 57th St / 7th Avenue (like today's Q train), and B and D trains from the Bronx would run only to West 4th Street. A shuttle train would run between Grand St and Broadway/Lafayette, and the F train would be the only through-train to run on 6th Avenue.

Brighton Line riders had their share of headaches due to a long repair project on the Brighton Line that started in April of 1986. Stations were rehabilitated and welded rail was laid on the Brighton Line's express tracks. A new signal tower was built over the south end of the Kings Highway station and new wayside signaling was also installed. To compensate for the loss of express service during this project, Brighton Line trains (D and Q) would run skip-stop between Brighton Beach and Prospect Park on weekdays.

Subways and buses were free on New Years Eve 1985 and 1986 to discourage drunken revelers from driving.

On March 1st, 1986, the Astor Place IRT station received reproductions of the IRT subway kiosk. It was trucked to the station from Alabama and reassembled in three sections on site. Uptown Lexington Avenue locals skipped Astor Place during the construction weekend. This kiosk was part of the Astor Place station restoration project. Kiosks were widespread at one time, but as automobile traffic increased, they were blamed for accidents (cutting off visibility). Most were removed in the 1920s, but some lasted until the 1960s, and the last one was removed from the 145th St -- Lenox Avenue station sometime in 1968.81

On Sunday March 25th, 1986, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) sponsored a conference on "The Future of Public Transit". The purpose of the conference was to identify problems plaguing mass transportation in the New York metropolitan area and propose solutions to those problems. In 1986, there were huge money shortfalls compounded by a mass-exodus from public transit to the automobile. The conference would examine how to get people out of their automobiles and back into mass transit. The primary reason for this exodus was the decline in the reliability and availability of mass transit: both the MDBF and the number of trains per hour on the Manhattan trunk lines had been declining since 1965.82 Some of the items noted:

  • The TA hoped to get the subways and buses back to 1960-era efficiency, but the RPA thought that goal was shortsighted. It would take more than just a restoration of service to get people out of their automobiles; comfort was a prime reason people cited in leaving mass transit. If people wanted these additional services, how much would they pay for them?
  • Subway service was not balanced. Some lines were underutilized; others were overcrowded. There was legislation regulating the "comfort level" of transporting cattle, but crowding on some New York subway lines exceeded those tolerances, and then some!
  • The MTA was looking for additional funding for capital improvement programs at a time that the Reagan administration was looking to cut funding.

Some ideas floated were:

  • Expanding the subway fleet to reduce crowding,
  • Allow city residents to ride LIRR or Metro-North trains to midtown at reduced fares,
  • More premium services for which higher fees could be charged, like the JFK express. Another suggestion was an express bus from the George Washington Bridge bus terminal to midtown Manhattan,
  • One person train operation during off-peak hours

The RPA recommended the following prioritized expenditures looking forward to the year 2000:83

  • Extend the 63rd Street "tunnel to nowhere" to Southeast Queens via the LIRR Montauk line and Archer Avenue at a cost of $310 million,
  • Build the Second Avenue Subway from Chatham Square, Manhattan to East 180th Street in the Bronx at a cost of $3.1 billion,
  • Reactivate the LIRR Rockaway Beach branch to serve JFK airport at a cost of $160 million,
  • Build a spur of the IND Queens Blvd Line along Jewel Avenue to serve northeast Queens at a cost of $420 million,
  • Extend the IRT Flushing Line into New Jersey via a new cross-Hudson tunnel at a cost of $1.2 billion,
  • Provide the LIRR east side access to Grand Central Terminal via the lower level of the 63rd Street tunnel at a cost of $1.4 billion,
  • Purchase 500 new subway cars at a cost of $500 million.

The RPA also recommended closing some underutilized stations to speed up running times. It should be noted that some of the new service proposals suggested by the RPA were voted down by the MTA in December of 1984 due to funding issues. Only the 63rd Street tunnel extension to the IND Queens Blvd line was approved, contingent on federal funds becoming available. In addition, the RPA may have been right about spending the money on new equipment to lure back passengers. Turnstile counts at stations serviced by the new R-62s on the Lexington Avenue lines showed a 10% increase between 1984 and 1985.84

On Thursday December 12th, 1985, Transit Authority officials honored the 100th anniversary of the BMT Jamaica Avenue line by rolling out the first eight of 162 R-30 cars that went through a general overhaul. The eight-car train cost $2 million to overhaul, compared to the cost of a new individual subway car of $1 million. The R-30s were rebuilt at Coney Island Shop by subway employees. The R-30 overhaul program would produce two overhauled cars a week and the cars would be placed in the "Clean Car Program" to keep graffiti off them.85


Coming out of the worst of the 1980s, an R-27 in "C" service at Aqueduct station is sporting the spruced-up "Redbird" paint of the clean car program. Photo by Robert Montag, collection of Glenn Rowe.

In February 1986, riders of the D train (Brighton -- 6th Avenue -- Concourse Express) were convinced that the TA had something against them. While service on the E and F lines was stable and relatively dependable (in 1986 terms), equipment on the D train, the R-30s and R-10s, provided very poor service. In the summer of 1986, though, the newest cars in the fleet, the R-68s, would begin to replace the worn out equipment that hadn't seen any maintenance in 10 years.

In May of 1986, trains identified with double letters lost their identity. Originally, the double letter represented IND nomenclature for local service; for example, the C was the Concourse Express; the CC represented the local. In 1968 when the Chrystie Street connection combined BMT and IND services, the definition between local double letters and express single letters became muddied. The D train ran express in Manhattan but local in Brooklyn. The F train ran express in Queens but local in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Q train received variants of double letters -- QT meant via tunnel, QB meant via bridge, QJ meant -- what? Queens/Jamaica? MJ -- Myrtle / Jamaica? RJ -- Astoria / Jamaica? Double letters were dropped and every line would be known by a single letter. An old letter was reintroduced -- the K train which until 1976 ran from Canarsie to 57th St / 6th Avenue would come back as the 8th Avenue local.

Three trains on defunct routings. Left to right: An R-46 in "CC" service in 1980 (photo by Doug Grotjahn, collection of Joe Testagrose); after the move to single letter routes, the "K" replaced the "CC", but was short-lived itself (photo collection of David Pirmann); and finally an R-46 in JFK Express "Train to the Plane" service in 1980 (photo by Doug Grotjahn, collection of Joe Testagrose).

In the period 1983 through 1985, 110 incidents of subway doors opening while trains were moving were recorded by the TA, and fifteen additional incidents occurred in the first three months of 1986. There were various incidents of subway doors mysteriously sliding open while trains were moving. In March of 1986, a $40 million program to stop these incidents from occurring was presented to TA board members. The program would focus on control panel replacement, replacement of "open" relays with sealed relays, and modifying subway car circuitry where two malfunctions would need to occur before a door would fail.86

Trends of poor maintenance began to reverse themselves by 1986. There were three in-service derailments in 1985, compared to 15 in 1984 and 21 in 1983. The number of "red tag" areas dropped from over 500 to two in 1986.87 (A "red tag" area was an area of track that needed immediate repairs, and trains would have to slow to 10mph while running over these areas. This caused frequent delays.) As an example, the Brighton Line's tracks between Sheepshead Bay and Prospect Park were replaced in 1986 -- the first time this was done in 20 years. However, when the project was completed, trains were either too high or too far away from many of the platforms, and in some areas, the track needed to be pulled out, some of the ballast dug out and then the track replaced!88 The 325 R-62 cars, in service for a year on the IRT #4 Lexington Avenue Express were proving themselves reliable, at an average of 50,000 miles between failures (compared to 9,000 for the other subway car models). The MDBF was improving; it had been as low as 6,000 miles in 1980, and was 10,000 miles by September of 1986. At that time, 670 new cars were accepted, 850 overhauled cars were in service and 3,000 cars were graffiti-free.89

The Subway. We're Coming Back, So You Come Back!

By 1988, the change on the subways was very noticeable, despite the perceptions from people out of town that the subway was still very unsafe and full of graffiti. Reliability had improved fivefold over 1983 levels. 94% of the trains were graffiti free. The American Public Transit Association gave David Gunn the 1988 "Manager of the Year" award and recognized the New York City Subway as the most improved system in North America.90 Yet movies and television continued to portray the subway in a negative light, and nearly 1 out of 4 Americans surveyed felt the subway was still unsafe. The perception was still the reality. In an effort to counterattack the "bad press", the TA stopped issuing movie permits to producers that showed the subway "negatively"; in one such incident, a group of producers who wanted to deface subway cars for filming purposes were turned down while members of the Department of Car Equipment cheered. Yet there were still critics who felt that the TA's focus was too much on aesthetics while maintenance was still suffering.

The reality was that on May 12th, 1989, the war on graffiti was over. The TA had won. The international symbol of decay and crime was completely eradicated from the system, but not the perception of it. That would take longer to overcome. So in August of 1989, the MTA was ready to put its money to its improvement claims. On August 16th, 1989, the most expensive subway ad campaign in New York City history ($2 million) was launched to convince people that the subway was no longer the grimy, sleazy, filthy, graffiti-marred system that it once was.91 The print portion of the campaign split the page into half -- the left half described the system in the 1970s or early 1980s, and the right half would describe the subway in 1989, identifying some statistic where marked improvement was shown. One ad cited that 86% of all subway cars were air-conditioned. Another cited that 4,288 subway cars were either new or completely overhauled. The R-46 subway cars would begin their general overhaul in late 1989, two years earlier than expected, because of a favorable bid submitted by Morrison-Knudson to perform the rehabilitation work. A third touted the elimination of graffiti -- considered an impossibility. The by-line was "The Subway. We're coming back, so you come back". The ads would highlight improvements made under the capital plan program. Critics argued that they weren't telling the whole story -- crime was on the way up in 1989, and a fare increase was looming right around the corner. Other critics argued that the money spent on the campaign would be better spent on other infrastructure needs. The ad campaign was designed at changing the mindset about the subway -- newcomers to New York City consistently rated the subway better than residents.

In December of 1989, funds earmarked for the rehabilitation of the Atlantic Avenue IRT- BMT complex, Borough Hall, and Flatbush Avenue stations of the IRT, and Court Street on the BMT, were diverted to other projects, including a $162 million fare control modernization program. Brooklyn political leaders fought the change, but eventually lost. At the time of this writing, the Atlantic Avenue complex is currently undergoing the renovations originally planned for in the 1987 capital program.

As the end of the 1980s approached, the TA had turned around their image. Graffiti was off the trains. Mismanagement occurred far less frequently. Subway cars were receiving overhauls halfway into their useful lives instead of running them into the ground and buying new cars. This overhaul program (GOH) saved the TA millions of dollars, and lessons learned from this program went into the creation of a Scheduled Maintenance System (SMS) where components are replaced when they are expected to fail, not after they have failed. Tracks were being put back into a state of good repair.

The future was on the horizon, too. Bids for the "New Technology Trains", the R-110A/B subway cars, were being accepted by the Transit Authority in April 1989. The purpose of these trains was to test out new subway car technology, and prove that this technology would stand up to heavy use, before submitting a large subway car order with it. Amongst all the new equipment on these trains, station announcements would be automated, passenger communication systems would enable communication with the crew, the cars would have electronic signs and the entry/exit doors would be staggered, returning to the practice last seen with the R-42 subway cars. It would seem that the lessons learned from the R-44 and R-46 car purchases were lasting ones, experiences that did not want to be repeated.


The R-110B "New Technology" test train, ordered by the Transit Authority in 1989, shown here in 2001. Photo by Paul Polischuk.

On March 3rd, 1988, a prototype automatic fare collection system was put into very limited service as an employee program. The fare card would be swiped through a reader at the top of the turnstile and a beep would be heard indicating that the person may pass through. If the card didn't work, the employee would seek assistance from the token clerk at the station, who would also have a pass reader. This system was the precursor for today's MetroCard program, which was introduced in 1994.

By August of 1989, the Transit Authority was eyeing the following projects:92

  • Connecting the 63rd Street tunnel to the IND Queens Blvd line,
  • Reverse signaling on both express tracks on the IND Queens Blvd line, and 250 new subway cars that would be used to provide the additional service,
  • The Second Avenue Subway,
  • A 1.25 mile connection between Parkside Avenue on the BMT Brighton Line and 7th Avenue on the IND South Brooklyn Line (today's F train), to alleviate train delays caused by frequent Manhattan Bridge closures,
  • 700 new IRT subway cars that would be purchased in two groups: the first by 1996, the second by 2011, and a new storage yard on the LIRR Bay Ridge branch near the Brooklyn Terminal Market,
  • Additional yards at 65th Street, Brooklyn and Sunnyside, Queens,
  • Extension of the IRT Nostrand Avenue line about 1,000 feet for the creation of a double crossover and turnback facilities,
  • Extension of South Ferry to accommodate 10-car trains.

Additional transfer points were planned as well:

  • The IND Broadway/Lafayette station to the northbound Lexington Avenue local at Bleecker Street,
  • A connection between the IRT South Ferry, Bowling Green and BMT Whitehall Street stations,
  • Botanic Gardens on the Franklin Avenue shuttle with the Franklin Avenue IRT,
  • Creation of a new station at Union Street for J trains on the Broadway (Brooklyn) El that would have a direct transfer to Broadway on the IND Crosstown line. Had this been built, Hewes Street and Lorimer Street stations would be closed.

There was even an idea to convert the B-35 Church Avenue and the BX-12 City Island -- Fordham bus routes to trolley coach with dedicated lanes and traffic lights that would favor the trolley coaches.93

On August 21st, 1989, 1/9 skip-stop service began on the IRT Broadway local during rush hours and the last revenue train of R-10s ran on September 15th, 1989.

In December of 1990, just before the "Age of Timers" began, the Transit Authority began implementation of a plan to install speedometers in subway cars.94 (Installation didn't begin until Spring 1991). The idea behind speedometers was actually to increase speeds, not reduce them, because until this point, motormen operated subway trains "by feel". Most subway cars didn't have speedometers. (The R-44/R-46s did when delivered new, but those speedometers quickly broke and were not repaired). As a result, motormen tended to operate cautiously, especially if they were suspect of track conditions ahead. And during the 1980s, there were many yellow tag and red tag areas of track that were in dire need of repair, but by the end of the decade, much of the track was in a state of good repair. Motormen needed to know that the track was safe, and the TA figured posting speed limits and providing speedometers in subway cars would improve service. There was also the matter of cost savings; it was estimated that reducing the average time for a train to complete its run by five percent would save $15 million per year and enable the subway fleet to be reduced by about 300 cars.95

(Of course, things didn't turn out as planned. Sure, the speedometers were installed, but the 1991 Union Square crash and the 1995 Williamburgh Bridge crash put an end to "rapid" transit.)

With all this positive news and future thinking, however, there was still one embarrassment -- the Franklin Avenue shuttle. In 1989, it still looked just as bad, if not worse, than it did in 1980. Rehabilitation of the shuttle was not included in the capital program that closed the 1980s, though $2.3 million was set aside for an engineering study to determine the shuttle's value to both passengers and the TA's budget. The line was constantly hit by vandals who set fires to the already weak structure. Part of the Botanic Garden station platform was closed because of several fires in 1989 alone. Paid fares were significantly outnumbered by fare beaters. While graffiti was removed from subway cars, it was still very much in evidence all along the line. The TA was still looking to close the shuttle and replace it with improved bus service. At the 1980s closed, it wasn't clear what would happen to this "embarrassment".

R-38s experienced electrical problems upon being overhauled and all these cars were pulled from service on August 5th, 1989. Most R-38s were back in service on Monday August 7th with their lights dimmed. Some electrical modifications performed as part of the cars' general overhaul needed to be corrected.


Imagine if Westway, the grandiose replacement for the West Side Highway, were built. It would be New York's Big Dig. Westway was intended to replace the old West Side Elevated Highway, which had collapsed in 1973, from Battery Park to 42nd Street, tunneling for about half of the 4.2 mile route under 169 acres of new landfill in the Hudson River. There would have been housing, recreation and commercial development on top of the highway.

By the end of 1980, with the West Side Highway still not replaced by the expensive Westway, Mayor Koch withdrew his support for the project, but offered to renew his support for it if Governor Carey would support an increase in aid for the crumbling subway system.96 He would support a $500 million street-level boulevard instead of the underground Westway project. In March of 1981, the Reagan Administration gave the go-ahead to build Westway and earmarked $1.4 billion of federal funds to build it. In April of 1981, the Federal government was willing to allow New York City to trade in their Westway funds for mass transit aid, if that is what both the Mayor and the Governor wanted. There would have to be agreement.

Unanswered questions persisted. Would trading the money in for mass transit or building Westway provide more jobs for the city? If Westway were built, would that mean that plans for crosstown highways would be dusted off? A 1929 plan for highways in Manhattan saw crosstown highways at Canal Street or Broome Street (Lower Manhattan Expressway), 38th Street (Midtown Expressway, the portion of I-495 that was never completed) and a crosstown highway at 125th Street that would have led into the Triboro Bridge.

Even at the 11th hour, with a new governor, agreement never came. Mayor Koch had been going back and forth on the issue, while Governor Cuomo wanted to see it built. With just a week and a half before the deadline for trading the Westway funds for mass transit was reached, talks began in Washington to scrap the project and trade in $1.7 billion in funds to mass transit aid, and a less costly highway. What New York really wanted was an extension to the trade-in deadline, so it could continue fighting the various lawsuits that blocked the project, including the environmental impact statement that suggested that Hudson River striped bass would be endangered by the project. Fearing the deadline would not be extended, it was figured that using the funds for something rather than losing them outright was a better deal.97 By September of 1985, Mayor Koch and Governor Cuomo were finally in agreement to trade in the funds for mass transit. The striped bass had won! It was "no way" to Westway.

The Archer Avenue and 63rd Street Subway Lines Open

Every aspect of the early 1970s MTA "Program for Action" was shelved because of the 1975 fiscal crisis. Every aspect ... but two. And as we have seen, even these two projects were threatened multiple times with abandonment because of shifting funds or shifting priorities. In fact, federal funding ended in 1985 when structural defects were found in concrete along the 63rd Street line.

The first project was the Archer Avenue subway, of which only a small part (two miles) was actually completed. The line ends a few hundred feet beyond Parsons Blvd and Archer Avenue -- the proposed line in its entirety would have served southeast Queens. The three-station extension was 10 years late and nearly five times initial cost estimates.98 In December 11th, 1988, the Archer Avenue subway opened for business. This new extension would be the first added to the subway system since 1968, and the first extension in Queens since the IND Rockaway Line opened in 1956. The TA made sweeping service changes to many lines in conjunction with this opening, and rerouted lines that crossed the south side of the Manhattan Bridge -- a closure that would last until 2001!


Jamaica-Van Wyck station of the Archer Avenue Extension, opened in 1988, seen here in 2004. Photo by Richard Panse.

The opening day ceremonies consisted in part of two special R-46 trains making limited stops on the E line to Jamaica Center for VIPs. A similar VIP service was set up on the J line with an R-42 consist. Special tokens were minted to commemorate the opening of this extension.

On the Archer Avenue subway, E trains would terminate on the upper level, and J trains would terminate on the lower level. New Z trains would skip-stop between Parsons / Archer and Broadway Junction during rush hours. Bus service on several Queens bus routes was rerouted to feed the Parsons/Archer station instead of 169th St / Jamaica. The J/Z service was touted as being faster to lower Manhattan than E, F and R service, in an attempt to relieve some crowding on the IND Queens Blvd line. It was hoped that passengers of the rerouted bus lines would use the "faster" J/Z service. As further enticement, every subway car that ran in J/Z service was completely graffiti free. Critics said that the line would do little to relieve crowding because the line did not extend as far as the Jamaica El did, and the Queens Blvd lines were already running at capacity. However, it did run very close to the LIRR's Jamaica station.

All day express service would be started on the IND Fulton Street line in Brooklyn. The Brighton Express would be served by the Q train, and the local would be served by the D train from 205th St to Coney Island at all times. Split B / D services, which ran since 1986 to accommodate track work on the north side of the Manhattan Bridge, would be discontinued.

There was another opening of a new track portion, albeit a small section of non-revenue service track. The 207th Street yard flyover connecting that yard to the IRT Broadway Line opened on December 9th, 1988. Although the 207th Street yard and the IRT Broadway Line are so close to each other, multiple reverse moves across several IRT lines were necessary to move IRT cars to and from the 207th Street yard. A move like this would take several hours. This flyover ended those multi-hour moves. In addition, subway cars providing IRT Broadway local service could be washed at 207th Street yard.


Showing the flyover at 207th Street card connecting to the West Side IRT. In fact, all the three historical divisions of the subway system are represented in this photo: the Brooklyn Rapid Transit "gate cars" from the Transit Museum's collection pose IRT lead into the IND's 207th Street Yard. 2004 photo by David Pirmann.

The second project was the 63rd Street line or the "tunnel to nowhere", known by that moniker because after 21st Street in Queensbridge, the line really didn't go anywhere, and didn't connect to any existing lines. The first train to use the extension was the "rail polisher train", a non-revenue move that occurred on August 1st, 1989. The extension finally opened for business on October 29th, 1989, after a VIP celebration the previous day that used R-68A subway cars. The new 3.2-mile route was built at a cost of $868 million, almost three times what was originally budgeted.99 It would have connected to a "super-express bypass" along the LIRR and run to Forest Hills. Instead, it ended 1,500 feet from the Queens Blvd line, and at its opening, it was hoped that this 1,500 foot connection to the IND Queens Blvd line could be completed by the turn of the century. It would be initially served by Q trains from Brighton Beach, and when the Q was not running, B trains from Coney Island.

And just like 1980 started, 1989 would end with the threat of a fare increase from $1.00 to either $1.15 or $1.25. It would be the first fare increase since January 1986, when the fare went from 90 cents to $1.00.

Fires, Derailments, Accidents and Mishaps

The following list is by no means all-inclusive. However, these incidents seemed have to been more "newsworthy" than others in the 1980s.

On February 20th, 1980, a robbery suspect fleeing from police ran into the IND 8th Avenue tunnels at 125th Street, forcing power to be turned off between 59th Street / Columbus Circle and both 207th Street, Manhattan and 205th Street in the Bronx. Thousands of riders were affected. The suspect escaped.

On March 27th, 1980, 10 people were injured when a work train rear-ended a revenue train on the IRT Broadway Line at 225th Street in the Bronx. Both the motorman and the conductor of the revenue train were knocked unconscious from the accident.

On November 21st, 1980, an IRT train at Chambers Street derailed injuring 18 riders.

On December 29th, 1980, a Staten Island Rapid Transit train rammed a brick retaining wall at the St. George Ferry Terminal injuring more than 100 commuters. The motorman blamed the crash on locking brakes on slippery tracks, but FRA inspectors detected no braking system problems.

The July 4th, 1981 weekend started out with a bang that injured 140 people, and killed a motorman, when an IRT 7th Avenue Express train (#2) rear-ended another train between the Sutter Avenue and Utica Avenue stations in Brooklyn, in the area where the elevated line dips downward and subway running begins. Officials determined that both human error (failure to radio command center about a dark signal) and a broken signal were the causes of the crash. A thousand people had to be evacuated from the trains. The standing #2 train was awaiting radio instructions to proceed because of broken signals when the second #2 train rear-ended it at about 10 mph. Service on the 2, 4 and 5 lines was interrupted for several hours as the trains were cleared and an investigation of the crash occurred.100 A later investigation revealed that sometime before this accident, a bracket holding signal cables broke, allowing the bracket to sag a few feet. It hung like this for an undetermined amount of time -- enough for the wires to rub against the elevated structure and cause a short, causing some signals on the line to fail.101 The signal was original equipment dating back to 1918, and in 1981, signal equipment was being replaced on a cycle that forced key parts to remain in service up to 35 years (!) longer than they should have. Employees were generally upset at management for assigning partial blame for this accident to the dead motorman, saying that he was made a scapegoat for a system in disrepair. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation revealed that command center orders left it to the discretion of motormen on the line to pass defective signals if they felt it was safe to do that.

On the afternoon of September 9th, 1981, an explosion and fire at Consolidated Edison's 14th St / Avenue C generating plant caused power failures in three separate Manhattan areas in midtown and downtown. This also affected signal power in the subways in the affected areas. Subway service was not shut down because the old IRT power house still supplied power to most of the IRT in Manhattan, and the high voltage of the third rail allows this electricity to travel for several miles. Trains ran at slow speeds, stopping at every signal, and trains from Brooklyn and Queens were turned before crossing the East River into Manhattan. Emergency lighting in the stations kicked in, fed by power from the third rail. Trains were back to normal by 9:30pm.102

On November 9th, 1982, a downtown IRT 2 train derailed on the upper west side, and hundreds of passengers were evacuated from a smoke filled station. The derailment, which occurred just north of the 96th Street station, was caused by a motor in the third car falling to the tracks as the train was leaving 96th Street. IRT West Side service was snarled for over five hours. The motor's collapse caused the train to skid along the rails for several yards before derailing, and luckily did not hit the tunnel wall or cause any structural damage.103

Just two days before, on November 7th, The Train to the Plane derailed in the vicinity of Grant Avenue after vandals wedged a metal bar across the tracks near the Grant Avenue station. Two teenage cousins were arrested a few days later for causing the derailment.104

On December 15th, 1981 and March 7th, 1982, two derailments occurred that shared the same cause. A subway motor fell to the tracks as the trains were moving. The December 15th derailment occurred on an uptown IRT Broadway / 7th Avenue Express (#3) at Times Square, injured 30 people and caused structural damage to the tunnel. The support pillars between the local and express tracks were ripped down and a few others were bent out of shape. This accident took place in nearly the same spot as a 1928 derailment that killed 16 people. The March 7th derailment occurred on an IRT Lexington Avenue Express train (#4) at Brooklyn Bridge. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated these accidents, and determined that TA inspection procedures appeared deficient, because the trains were supposedly inspected a short time before each of these derailments occurred, and the motor mounts checked out clean. The NTSB also urged the TA to inspect or re-inspect the motor mounts of all cars in the R-10 through R-44 class -- all 5,514 of them in service at that time.105 There had been a history of traction motors falling off subway cars.

On Monday June 6th, 1983, a northbound F train derailed just outside of the 53rd Street / 5th Avenue station during the afternoon rush hour after a gear that transfers power to two wheels locked, causing these wheels to be dragged along and flattened. The train eventually jumped the tracks and there were four minor injuries. This defect was known the day before and the train was still allowed to go back into service after the morning rush hour.106

On October 4th, 1984, 600 people needed to be evacuated off a Manhattan-bound A train about 800 feet south of the High Street station. A faulty feeder cable ignited portions of the third rail protection board causing a smoke condition. Compounding the problem was an oil leak from a Con Ed transformer that made the smoke worse and spread it to the adjacent F train tunnel. While power was cut off to the A line, it was left on for the F line, and while firefighters entered the F train tunnel to put out the blaze, they were unaware that F trains were still running, and some firefighters narrowly missed being hit by a train. One firefighter suffered multiple fractures to his ankle falling off a catwalk. Investigation of the incident revealed that the detailed maps firefighters used in subway emergencies were inadequate. While they identified where the emergency exits were, they did not identify electrical rooms and structural areas. The frequent fires investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) indicated that passengers were being subjected to unacceptable fire safety risks and Mayor Koch called TA officials "on the carpet" at the end of 1984 to do something about the problem. Some of the risks identified were kerosene stored near the third rail at the BMT 95th Street station (RR) and miles of tunnel without a working fire extinguisher.107 While TA standards indicated that a fire extinguisher be located every 300 feet, not one extinguisher was found in the BMT's 4th Avenue subway between the 95th Street and 86th Street stations. A computer system was eventually installed to aid firefighters in fighting subway fires -- it would display an entire subway line on a screen, then break it down into its smallest components while overlaying a street grid above that portion of the line being examined. It would also advise firefighters on the length of fire hose needed from the street to a particular location of the line.

On October 11th, 1984, a fire broke out under the seventh car of a 10-car IRT #5 train at Borough Hall in Brooklyn, injuring 14 people and trapping two other trains under the East River for 45 minutes. The fire began in an undercarriage group switch box, which is used to control acceleration. 2,000 people needed to be evacuated. On this same day, there were five other fires on the subway.

On June 25th, 1986, a broken water main at East 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue crippled IRT Lexington Avenue service from the morning rush until approximately 3:30pm. Water in the 51st Street station of the IRT Pelham Line reached the platform, and the Lexington Avenue line was closed between 86th Street and Brooklyn Bridge. 260,000 commuters had to find alternate routes or wait for special buses put into service to try and alleviate the crowding, to no avail.

On March 10th, 1989, a southbound IRT Broadway local crashed into the revenue collection train at the 103rd Street station, injuring 45 people. Investigators thought that a test wire was left in a signal box, rendering it impossible for the signal to detect a train in its block. As the IRT train entered the station, it had a green signal because the signal did not detect the revenue train stopped at the station. The emergency brakes were applied but it was not enough to stop the train in time. This signal had been in service since the 1960s.

On September 3rd, 1989, a water main break at 53rd Street and 8th Avenue washed asbestos from adjacent steam pipes into the IND 8th Avenue subway north of the 42nd Street station. Significant service adjustments occurred and JFK express service was suspended during the cleanup, which took nearly a month. As part of the service adjustments, Q service ran to 207th Street and A trains were turned at 34th Street / 8th Avenue.108

Wacky Ideas and Odds and Ends

By 2004, all of the IRT Redbirds had been retired. In 1981, the TA's car replacement program had planned dates for the retirement of these cars.109 It is interesting to look back to these dates and see whether the TA met its schedule:

  • R-26: 1994
  • R-28: 1995
  • R-29: 1997
  • R-33: 1998
  • R-36: 1999

The planned retirement dates for some BMT-IND equipment is even more interesting:

  • R-27: 1995
  • R-30: 1997
  • R-32: 2000
  • R-38: 2002
  • R-40: 2003
  • R-42: 2004
  • R-44: 2007
  • R-46: 2011

If you based the car retirements strictly on age, the retirement dates make some sense. However, it is widely believed that of all the BMT/IND car classes R-32 to R-46, it will be the R-32s that retire last because their stainless steel bodies are holding up extremely well.

A proposed R-83 subway car order would have had R-46 bodies and R-68 controls, and would have been compatible with the R-68s. Its balancing speed would have been 50mph.

City traffic planners approved a "transitway" on 42nd Street that would include a crosstown trolley line.110 The two-track line would run along the south curb of the street and would also make 42nd Street one way westbound. The City Planning Commission was actually in favor of trolley lines "coming back" since 1978, because they would be cheaper, cleaner and faster than buses. Back to the future!

A New York Times guest editorial suggested combining the MX missile deployment system (requiring underground launching) with the New York Subway.111 Selected trains would contain an extra car containing an MX missile that could be launched from any subway station. The motorman's cab would be equipped with a launch button, and command center would provide instructions of when to push the button. The Soviet Union would never find the MX missiles because their locations would be constantly changing (or would be rerouted due to track work), and the NY subway would get an infusion of funds by the Federal government to deploy the MX system. Some of that would be earmarked for subway improvements.

Some letters to the editor of the NY Times suggested giving the subway rolling stock a facelift while the 1980 strike was on. The rationale was that if the subway cars are standing idle anyway, why not take the time to wash them. What these writers failed to think about was who'd do the washing, since the 34,000 TWU members were out on strike.

Transit enthusiasts who ride at the railfan window of Manhattan-bound Brighton Express trains see the long abandoned Myrtle Avenue station, and what appears to be a long dumpster on the platform. That "dumpster" was "Masstransiscope", a 300-foot long, six-foot tall box consisting of 228 hand-painted images mounted on self-illuminated boxes. The images, painted on the back walls of the boxes, are seen through half-inch slits in the boxes placed every 15 inches. As the train would pass the exhibit, the images would appear to move. The idea was based on the Zoetrope, a 19th century toy that had a cylinder where images would appear to move.112

It is commonplace today to see New York City Police stationed at the portal of every water crossing on the subway as part of the City's war on terrorism. As late as September 1988, the TA had rescue teams stationed near all the East River tunnel crossings in the event a train would become disabled in one of them. They were placed there in the late 1970s because of frequent equipment breakdowns.

To remind TA President David Gunn of the procurement problems he inherited and overcame, he had some R-9 lubricator pads mounted on a plaque in his office. (The lubricator pads were used to oil axles on the R-9 cars.) In 1986, the TA only had a small number of R-9s that were used as workhorses or rider cars, but they had thousands of lubricator pads in inventory, enough to last "several thousand years".113

A major weapon in the war against graffiti was invented in the basement of a Canarsie house painter named Joe Dellutri. Called "Sun Ray Orange Power", it was a citrus-based cleaner that removed graffiti from station walls, and was used in combination with other cleaning elements to remove it from subway car exteriors.114

It could be said that the great subway seat debate (bench vs. bucket seats on R-62s) began on December 19th, 1984, when Councilwoman Carol Greitzer started her unofficial "First All-American Tush Tally". With a tape measure, she measured the derrieres of 23 men and women around the City Hall area ranging in size from 13 to 23 inches. The newly delivered R-62s were criticized for their small 17-inch bucket seat, and the TA was criticized for trying to spend $50,000 to figure out how to correct the "mistake". Ms. Greitzer was trying to illustrate a point: that the TA failed to do any research on the subject before providing Kawasaki with the specifications for the bucket seats.115

Christo, an artist born in Bulgaria whose specialty was wrapping large landmarks in plastic, muslin and other materials, was invited by the president of the Native New Yorkers Historical Association, Felix J. Cuervo of Richmond Hill, Queens, to "wrap" the Jamaica El for its 100th birthday. Christo had performed such a feat on a bridge in Paris. The portion of the line between Van Sicklen Avenue in East New York to Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, was opened in 1885. He felt that wrapping "the ol' bucket of bolts" in a bright wrapping would improve its appearance; it hadn't been painted in a long while and appeared quite rusty.116

In March of 1982, the National Transportation Safety Board proposed a draft recommendation to the Transit Authority that would prohibit passage between subway cars even if the train was stopped. The recommendation was based on a five-year analysis of subway fatalities between 1977 and 1982, which found that 21 of the 25 recorded fatalities occurred in New York, and most of these occurred when someone was standing between cars. The recommendation was never finalized.117

A significant number of historical cars were scrapped in October through December of 1980. Many of these cars were destined for the Transit Exhibit. Insiders said that the scrapping was spite work.

The Aqueduct Special, an extra fare train which served Aqueduct Racetrack during the racing season and which started running in 1959, ceased running for the 1981 racing season, which began in October. Passengers who still wanted to ride to Aqueduct on an extra fare train could use the JFK Express, which stopped at Aqueduct during racing hours.

On May 24th, 1983, the 100th birthday of the Brooklyn Bridge, invited guests were able to partake in the celebratory fireworks that marked the occasion courtesy of the Transit Authority. Three museum trains consisting of R1/9s, the BU elevated cars and the Lo-Vs were parked on the south side of the Manhattan Bridge during the fireworks show. The trains were stopped next to each other, so guests were able to walk through the cars as they pleased. One of the Lo-Vs was equipped with a Port-o-San, which made it only the second subway car to ever have bathroom facilities (the Minneola was the first). Officials were not sure if the BU cars would be able to make the climb onto the Manhattan Bridge under their own power carrying passenger loads, so as a precaution, the R1/9s pushed the BU cars onto the bridge.118 The Lo-Vs made a second appearance on the weekend of June 4th and 5th for the 300th anniversary of the first Queens settlement. The Lo-Vs ran on the Flushing Line between Main Street and 61st Street / Woodside using the center track.

The Transit Exhibit conducted an auction and tag sale on Saturday November 20th, 1988. Available for sale was BRT car 1440 with a minimum asking price of $3,500. (Author's note: While this was reported in the papers, I do not recall seeing this car available for sale. I do remember an R-22 work motor made available for the same price, but shipping costs were extra). A GM New Look bus sold for $650. Your author bid on, and won, the opportunity to spend a day on the Track Geometry Car and work with the crew.

The Guardian Angels celebrated their 10th anniversary with a black tie dinner at the Transit Museum on November 5th, 1988.119

Former chairman of the New York City Transit System Sidney H. Bingham died on May 3rd, 1980. A nephew of the IRT's Frank Hedley, during his tenure, Brooklyn lost all of its trolley lines. In 1954, he proposed a conveyor belt system to transport a dozen people at a time in small cars continuously moving between the Times Square and Grand Central subway stations to replace today's shuttle. A contract of $3.8 million was awarded in November of that same year, but was cancelled less than a year later because it was believed to be too expensive.

John Lawe, former head of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 during the 1980 transit strike, died on January 6th, 1989. He held the post of TWU president until 1985, when he moved on to become international president of the TWU, a post he held until his death. His affiliation with New York City transit began as a bus cleaner with the 5th Avenue Coach Company and he serviced and drove buses in Manhattan for 17 years. His union career began in 1953 and he served on Mike Quill's negotiating committee during the 1966

transit stroke. He died at the age of 69 of cancer.120


1. "Subway Odyssey", New York Times Magazine, January 31st, 1982, page 23.

2. "A Reporter At Large: Painting the Elephant," The New Yorker, June 25th, 1984, page 71.

3. "Carey Weighs 'User's Fee' on Cars to Avert Increase in MTA Fares", New York Times, January 8th, 1980, page 1.

4. "The City Transit Deficit and How it Grew," New York Times, March 28th, 1980, page B3.

5. "Disabled Joined by Aged in Fight for Special Fare," New York Times, February 15th, 1980, page B3.

6. "Transit Authorities in New York Region Forecast Fare Rise," New York Times, February 22nd, 1980, page 1.

7. "Carey Urges Action on Full Transportation Package," New York Times, March 10th, 1980, page B6.

8. "MTA: Labor would take us for a $1 ride," New York Daily News, February 5th, 1980, page 5.

9. "Transit Union Explains Its case for 30% Pay Increase," New York Times, March 19th, 1980, page B3.

10. "High Noon for Labor Talks," New York Daily News, February 3rd, 1980, page 33.

11. "MTA's first offer for transit raises far below demand," New York Times, March 31st, 1980, page A1; MTA Offers a 3½% Solution, New York Daily News, March 31st, 1980, page 3.

12. "Down to the 'why' of down-to-the-wire tension," New York Daily News, March 31st, 1980, page 17.

13. "On Getting the Talks Back on Track," New York Daily News, April 6th, 1980, page 19.

14. "Transit talks resume today with tie-ups on rise in strike; LIRR Unions return to work," (Sub-headline "Rail Walkout Ended.") New York Times April 3rd, 1980, page A1.

15. "No biz like city biz; ev'rything 'bout it is appalling," New York Daily News, April 3rd, 1980, page 3.

16. "Turnstiles pick up small Russian change," New York Daily News, October 14th, 1980, page 5.

17. "Fix it, Fast," New York Daily News editorial, March 7th, 1980, page 3EK.

18. "Raising some el over falling junk," New York Daily News March 20th, 1980, page K1.

19. "Elevated Trains' Noise Affects Quality of Life in Section of Brooklyn," New York Times March 19th, 1980, page B1.

20. "The Transit System: rolling to disaster," New York Daily News, December 21st, 1980, page 65.

21. "Riders Protest Breakdowns: Revolt in the Subways," New York Daily News Tonight, January 8th, 1981, page 1.

22. "Source for all the bullets: Can We Save Our Subways," New York Daily News, January 25th, 1981, page 7.

23. "Plan to put new cops on train patrol," New York Daily News, January 28th, 1982, page 23.

24. "Doomsday Express: All the Vital Signs Point to Death," New York Daily News, October 4th, 1981, page 63.

25. "Franklin Shuttle facing showdown again," New York Daily News, May 4th, 1981, page K1.

26. "Doomsday Express: This is it -- the End of the Line," New York Daily News, October 7th, 1981, page 56.

27. "Ending 10 Years of Rebuilding, MTA Wants 5 More," New York Times, August 26th, 1991, page B1.

28. "US Report Sees Our Subways on a Collision Course," New York Post, January 27th, 1981, page 10. It should be noted that the Transit Authority was given high praise for the evacuations it oversaw during the Great Blackout of 2003.

29. "You Can't Get There From Here -- On Time," New York Daily News, October 21st, 1984, Brooklyn section page 1.

30. "Fare is Frozen for a Year, says Transit Boss," New York Post, November 13th, 1984, page 4.

31. "Wrong Side of Tracks -- That's Where Subways Are," New York Daily News, February 19th, 1984, page 5.

32. "Glum Report: Subways Seen as bad as ever," New York Daily News, August 27th, 1985, page 3.

33. "The Real End of the Line," New York Daily News Magazine, March 23rd, 1986, page 30.

34. "The GG's Really NG," New York Daily News, February 27th, 1986, page 4.

35. "Cracks Increase on More Trucks of Subway Cars," New York Times, April 11th, 1980, page B8.

36. "New Cracks Found in Subway Cars," New York Times, September 27th, 1980, page 16.

37. "Gripes get removal of R-46 cars," New York Daily News, August 13th, 1980, page BKL1.

38. "Wheels of Fortune: Case in Point 1 -- Looking for Mr. Goodcar," New York Daily News Magazine, March 23rd, 1986, page 26.

39. "Yank 637 new buses for checkup," New York Daily News, November 1980. Full date/page unknown.

40. "Bus convoy: Repairmen ride shotgun," New York Daily News, December 26th, 1980, page 3.

41. "Verily, a sea of troubles," New York Daily News, December 16th, 1980, page 33.

42. "Behind Flxible fiasco, a rigid econ framework," New York Daily News, December 21st, 1980, page 3.

43. "The Flxible buses drive TA crazy -- they stay in storage," New York Daily News, August 11th, 1985, page 6.

44. Bus Talk post 116034 (http://talk.nycsubway.org/perl/read?bustalk=116034), by Jim Devlin ("RailBus"), attributed to the book "Flxible - A History of the Bus and Company" by Dr. Robert Ebert, page 182.

45. "Making sick transit glorious again?" New York Daily News, October 13th, 1980.

46. "Distress Signals," New York Daily News Editorial, November 14th, 1984, page 57.

47. "The Subways Go To Blazes," New York Post, December 13th, 1984, page not available.

48. "Dies in Cave-In: Sand Avalanche Buries Worker in Queens IND," New York Daily News, March 5th, 1982, page 3.

49. "Senate Probe? Al Heats Up Tunnel Battle," New York Daily News, July 29th, 1985, page 3, "Al" is Alfonse D'Amato.

50. "Leaks and Valleys of 63rd Street Subway: City's Black Hole?" New York Daily News, July 21st, 1985, page 5.

51. "Leaks and Valleys of 63rd Street Subway: City's Black Hole?" New York Daily News, July 21st, 1985, page 5.

52. "Green: Let 63rd Street Tunnel Die," New York Daily News, September 19th, 1985, page 31. "Green" meant Congressman Bill Green of Manhattan.

53. "63rd Street Subway Tunnel: More Setbacks for a Troubled Project," New York Times, November 1st, 1984, page B1.

54. "Ask Prospect Park Subway Tunnel," New York Daily News, October 27th, 1983, page K-1.

55. "The down side of tunnel vision," New York Daily News, September 24th, 1989, page BSI 3 (Brooklyn Section).

56. "The Harder They Fall: Someone left the Williamsburgh Bridge out in the rain," New York Daily News Magazine, April 10th, 1988, page 12.

57. "The Subway Savages," New York Daily News, January 18th, 1980, page 22.

58. "War on subway crime posts victories," New York Daily News, March 18th, 1980, page 7.

59. "65 cent fare considered in talks on coping with subway crime," New York Times, September 27th, 1980, page A1.

60. "How to get rid of subway thugs: sic dogs on them," New York Post, March 7th, 1980, page 14.

61. "Smashed windows: vandals New Kick," New York Daily News, October 14th, 1980, page 5.

62. "The Fear Hits Home: Ravitch Kin Are Not Night Riders," New York Daily News, January 21st, 1982, page 4.

63. "Subway Ridership Hits 65 Year Low," New York Daily News, October 15th, 1982, page 7.

64. "Vandals on the Rails," New York Daily News, February 17th, 1985, Brooklyn section, page 1.

65. "Illegal Transfers Costing TA $1.2M," New York Daily News, December 21st, 1984, page 29.

66. "Cops Are Night Riders," New York Daily News, front page picture caption, June 6th, 1985.

67. "TA Gets Rolling on Brooklyn Bus Survey," New York Daily News, February 1980.

68. "Longer subway cars may be too long," New York Post, January 3rd, 1980, page 8.

69. "Report TA stalled on 540 cars," New York Daily News, Feb 25th, 1980, page 5.

70. "TA proposed four route changes," New York Daily News, April 28th, 1981, page 5.

71. "MTA Seeking Japanese Cars for IRT System," New York Times, March 9th, 1982, page B1.

72. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, April 1984, page 1.

73. "A Reporter At Large: Painting the Elephant," The New Yorker, June 25th, 1984, page 66.

74. "Land of the Rising Subway," New York Daily News, August 16th, 1985, page 7.

75. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, February 1988, page 6.

76. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, March 1988, page 8.

77. "A Reporter At Large: Painting the Elephant," The New Yorker, June 25th, 1984, page 61.

78. "Graffiti-control plan paints clear picture," New York Daily News, 1982, page B-10.

79. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, September 1982, page 1.

80. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, December 1982, page 2.

81. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, March 1986, page 6.

82. "Bridge and Tunnel Crowd: Staving off gridlock -- the ultimate challenge," New York Daily News Magazine, March 23rd, 1986, page 16.

83. "Making the Right Connections," New York Daily News Magazine, March 23rd, 1986, page 6.

84. "Land of the Rising Subway," New York Daily News, August 16th, 1985, page 7.

85. "100 years on the rails: Hooray for the J," New York Daily News, December 13th, 1985, page K1.

86. "A $40M Foot in Subway Door," New York Daily News, March 20th, 1986, page 3.

87. "Wheels of Fortune: Case in Point 1 -- Looking for Mr. Goodcar," New York Daily News Magazine, March 23rd, 1986, page 26.

88. "Again, the TA is on the Wong Track," New York Daily News, November 13th, 1986, page 7.

89. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, January 1987, page 5.

90. "Report Card Improving for New York's Subway System," Rockland Journal News, December 11th, 1988, page AA6.

91. "MTA Cites Cool, Cleaner Cars -- Oh what a feelin', subways!" New York Daily News, August 13th, 1989, page 13.

92. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, August 1989, page 1.

93. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, August 1989, page 1.

94. "Speedometers to be Used to Raise Subway Speeds," New York Times. December 2nd, 1990, page 44.

95. "Speedometers to be Used to Raise Subway Speeds," New York Times. December 2nd, 1990, page 44.

96. "See Ed on both sides of Westway," New York Daily News, December 16th, 1980, page 7.

97. "Westway: No Way? City Eyes a Switch," New York Daily News, September 17th, 1985, page 4.

98. "New Subway Line Finally Rolling Through Queens," Newsday, December 11th, 1988, page 7.

99. "Oft-Maligned Tunnel is Opening At Last," Newsday, October 28th, 1989, page 2.

100. "Driver Killed, 140 Passengers Hurt in Holiday Train Tragedy," New York Post, July 4th, 1981, pages 2,3.

101. "Doomsday Express: All the Vital Signs Point to Death," New York Daily News, October 4th, 1981, page 63.

102. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, October 1981, page 1.

103. "Hundreds Flee as IRT Derails on West Side," New York Daily News, November 10th, 1982, page 3.

104. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, December 1982, page 2.

105. "TA Ripped on Inspections," New York Daily News, March 24th, 1982, page 20.

106. "Knew Train Was Faulty," New York Daily News, June 11th, 1983, page 3.

107. "Fed Subway Report: We Get F -- for Fires," New York Daily News, December 18th, 1984, page 5.

108. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, October 1989, pages 1, 7.

109. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, April 1981, page 8.

110. "They'd Put 42nd St on the Right Track," New York Daily News, January 15th, 1980, page 4.

111. "How to Save the 50-cent Fare and Mystify the Kremlin," New York Times, March 26th, 1980, page A35.

112. "Masstransiscope proves subway movie magic," Washington Square News, October 20th, 1980, page 11.

113. "The Buck Stops here? Case in point 1: buts about bolts," New York Daily News Magazine, March 23rd, 1986, page 22.

114. "Businessmen Offer Plan to Cure New York's Chronic Transit Ills," New York Times, April 9th, 1981, page A1.

115. "Sitting Bull: Tush comes to shove over TA's subway seats," New York Daily News, December 19th, 1984, page 17.

116. "Birthday wrap for El train," New York Daily News, October 6th, 1985, page B27.

117. "May Ban Moving Between TA Cars," New York Daily News, March 10th, 1982, page 3.

118. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, June 1983, page 1.

119. The Bulletin, New York Division Electric Railroaders' Association, November 1988, page 10.

120. "John Lawe is Dead," New York Daily News, January 6th, 1989, page 25.

121. "Subway Breakdowns, not fare hike, forcing riders to flee: panel," New York Daily News, February 26th, 1981, page 37.

Version 1.0., 08 December 2004. Copyright © 2005 by Mark S. Feinman.

Copyright © 1995-2012 nycsubway.org.
nycsubway.org is not affiliated with any transit agency or provider.
Not mobile.