DISS DA 'A' TRAIN! --------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org firstname.lastname@example.org 2004 June 1
[This article from before the NYSkies website was slighted edited to remove excess typos]
Introduction ---------- The March of Dimes is running subway excursions during 2004 both as fundraisers and celebration of the subway's centennial. I rode on one on 28 February 2004, which I recounted in NYSkies. Look for 'Crossing the bridge' from early March. I and a buddy, Steve Kaye, took a second March of Dimes ride on Saturday 22 May 2004 on the same R1/9 cars used for the February trip. I do not elaborate on the train or its features, for they are worked out in 'Crossing the bridge'. Here I note only the notable features of this present trip.
Green all the way --------------- On this trip we had just about no hindrance from regular trains, unlike in February when we had at times to wait our turn among the other trains. The routing was far better coordinated to give our train the run of the rails. At times we saw a regular train diverted to an adjacent track to let us pass. I don't know how much of a foul up such manoeuvers caused to the ordinary riders. Likely the public experienced little more disruption than that already from the normal weekend construction and maintenance work. With clear track ahead every where we went the special train got up to full speed for long runs. We matched the top speed of regular trains, quite 100 KPH, which is about the fastest allowed by the design of the railroad and spacing of the stations.
Hidden tracks ----------- Steve and I took most of our train pictures on the February trip; Now we shot only a few extras to fill holes in our collection. The better part of this trip I spent inspecting the tracks along the way. When we were young, innocent, and crazy trains had apertile windows and end doors, like on this R1/9. Thru them we could study the tracks. Then came the new flock of cars with sealed windows or with only a small flip panel. The dirt and scratches on the windows is bad enough for impeding track study. Add to this the reflections of the interior lights. The greatest handicap is the loss of sightline up and down track. With an open window or end door you can peer around walls and columns and see what's going on behind them. The sealed windows allow only a view sideways. An awful lot will now forever be hidden, except for special excursions like this one.
To New Jersey? ------------ A special part we explored was the stillborn link via George Washington Bridge to New Jersey. The IND divides north of 168th St into two branches. One is the present route to 207th St. The other is a short section aiming toward the bridge. The crew explained the track arrangement here as we cruised thru this section. It did not know what the line would have done on the Jersey side. We saw the tunnel piece that would have opened onto the bridge's lower level. Of course, this line was never completed and that level was eventually built only for motor traffic. The trackworks we were on are now used to turn and store trains ending their runs at 168th St.
Coney Island ---------- The main expected feature of this trip was a stop in the reopened Coney Island terminal. On the 21st there was a ceremonial reopening for transit bigwigs. On the 23rd regular service by the Brighton and Culver lines returned to the depot. We were all set for a good look at the station during a long photo stop. Alas! Soon after we started off on our ride, the crew announced that for mumbo-jumbo reasons we were skipping Coney Island. We weren't only not stopping there, we were not even rolling thru like we did in February. What a letdown! Sure, the station would open for any one on the next day; I later in the next week took a look-see by myself. It would have been a treat to be the first 'ordinary' folk to enjoy the rebuilt terminal. Actually, the headhouse was still abuilding with makeshift temporary street entrances. Anyway, the tour went downtown on the IND Culver line toward Coney Island, then cut across about a kilometer north of the terminal into the yards. It rattled thru the yards to the BMT Sea Beach line and headed uptown to Manhattan. Coney Island station was visible in the distance, way too far for a good look or photography.
Stops and runbys -------------- I'll spare you the details of the several runbys and stops. We had the sport of seeing the regular passengers gawk and stare at the vintage cars at each of these. World Trade Center, IND 8th Av, was a photo stop. Yes, the station is called that even with no actual WTC beyond its exits. This was a longer stop to allow us to inspect the remains of the late Center, like the original swinging doors and piece of floor that survived the collapse. They were bruised from the scraping by debris that flooded into this station.
Surprise ------ As we headed to Manhattan on the last leg of the trip, the crew made a surprise announcement. Remember in my February article I noted that in the summer the historical trains will run in regular service as part of the centennial? Well, on this very 22nd day of May in the year 2004, the first of the regular runs of a historical train took place. It was our train! Starting at Columbus Circle, our special R1/9 train would become a normal A train to 207th St, which was the end of the excursion. We flew on the run from [near] Coney Island to 47-50th St, IND 6th Av, making the run in, yes!, just twenty-five minutes. This time included one brief photo stop and momentary stops on 6th Av to let off those leaving the ride early. We sauntered into Columbus Circle, eased to a stop, and flang open the doors. The crew, all official in safety vests and conductor hats, stood by the doors.
Diss da A train ------------- 'Diss da A train too da Hightz! Aw labawd! A train, A train! Nekk supp, 1-2-5!' Platform passengers wanting the A train cautiously entered. We now had a train with a couple hundred new riders, all totally bewildered with this conveyance. Some stood by the door and gazed around. Others were seemingly afraid to touch any thing, like they were in a museum. Other thought there was some joke or prank in the works.
Service with a smile ------------------ In the blink of an eye, we excursionists were detailed into service as cabin attendants and hosts! We ushered people to seats. We guided them to straps, there being no handrail near the ceiling. We moved big-hair folk from the fan paddles. We deflected children from the open end doors. We coached people how to balance on the convex springy cushions, they knowing only the rigid flat benches and fanny-fitting seats. The R1/9 cars have no PA. In the old days and trusted the signs and watched the stations out of the window What to do? We took posts at the end doors as barkers! Some merely yelled out the stations and features like the manual announcements on the newer cars. Others imitated the automated voice on the newest fleet. With the ear-splitting din flooding the car, their words were smeared out of hearing more than 4 or 5 meters away. Well, we tried.
Subway docents ------------ There were questions aplenty for us to answer! The head signs were set for the proper A route, but the side signs were all mixed up. What train is this? Yes, folks, this is the uptown A train; load 'em up; doors be closing. Does this train fly? No, sir, those propellers are fans to cool the car. (it was a warm summer day outside,) Why is that man hunched between cars on foot and arm rests? Ma'am, he's the conductor to work the doors. Why does the conductor pound those handles? Those are the door control handles. Is there really a new transfer between the Franklin Av and Fulton St lines? That's a vintage poster; the transfer's been there for decades. Is a truck motor moving this train? The 'rutta-tutta-tut' is a reciprocating compressor. Not that many people knew what that meant.
Rocket effect ----------- We didn't travel any faster than the regular trains. It was the sensation of rocket speed that amazed the public riders. The wind rushing thru the cars, the clear view of the tunnel racing by, the inundation of racket, all thru the open doors and windows made every one feel they were going supersonic.
Subway comet, again ----------------- So it went, station after station in upper Manhattan on that sunny afternoon. We welcomed on board the new passengers and gave cheers to those stepping off. At the end of the tour, in 207th St station, the special took a rest while we photographed it. The last public riders got off. A few lingered to examine the train from the outside. Hey! There's smoke coming out from the motors! No, that's, ahem, vaporized oil. The oil was in open tanks and it evaporates off under the fierce hear of the undercarriage. It sifted up and followed the air currents in the station. The tunnel behind the train had that distinct haze, the comet tail, specially when compared to the tunnel on the opposite track where the special did not passed thru.
More vintage trains ------- -------- The plan I reported in 'Crossing the bridge' by now ended up being a bit optimistic. The R1/9 fleet has two more cars in the shops under rebuild. There are two BMT and three IRT vintage trains to fix up, hopefully for fall 2004. They are occasionally seen on the road under test, with no passengers. The difficulty of getting thee trains running is that they are no longer made and their builders are extinct. Replacement parts have to be fashioned by hand or cannibalized from scrapped cars.
Conclusion -------- To wrap up this article, i refer you to one upcoming subway tour, listed in the June 2004 NYC Events. on June 19th, Saturday, a brigade of IRT postwar cars sets off from the IRT Flushing line's Times Sq station. It then comes back at the BMT Times Sq station two levels above. And then it takes a daylong meander thru the IND and BMT. Stop right there; IRT trains can't run on BMT/IND tracks. Yes they can -- and do! Just how this is done is what you'll learn about on this trip. Bring your camera.