CROSSING THE BRIDGE ----------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org firstname.lastname@example.org 2004 March 6
[This article was written prior to setting up the NYSkies website. Excess typos were removed but the text is otherwise original]
Introduction ---------- In New York City on Sunday 22 february 2004 a mass realignment of subway routes went into effect. This rerouting makes use of all four tracks on Manhattan Bridge, when previously only two were in service. I mentioned this event in my NYC Events column for March 2004. There are two pairs of tracks on Manhattan Bridge, one on each outer edge of the lower level. The pair on the south (more like west) side connects various lines of the BMT system in Brooklyn to the BMT Broadway line on Manhattan. The north (east) pair join these Brooklyn lines to the IND 6th Av line on Manhattan. This arrangement was implemented in 1967 when the first section of the 2nd Av subway, with its Grand St station, was opened. Within a few years, it was evident that the very bridge structure was aging into a dangerous condition. On and off since the 1970s one or the other track set was taken out of service for structural repairs. These were short interruptions, allowing both pairs to run for many months at a time. Since 1986 -- during the flyover of Halley's comet! -- only a one or the other pair was operational. This situation decimated transit service on the Bridge. Finally in February 2004 the Bridge work was completed and the City once again has the full capacity of about 100 trains per hour in each direction.
march of Dimes ------------ The March of Dimes (MoD) runs many fund-raising events, typicly foot and bicycle races. Last year it tried something new. The City's Transit Museum has a fleet of vintage subway cars which are used from time to time for excursion rides. The coaches have to be exercised every six months or so to keep them in good running condition. It costs some myriad of dollars for each turn at this chore. A long as the trains are scampering around the subway system, why not let the public go along for the ride? Railroad clubs and the Museum itself occasionally sell tickets and give the cityfolk a fun, even funky, time. The nostalgic trains are also hired out for film and ad shoots, private parties and receptions, and official tours of the subway. The March of Dimes caught onto this idea and started its own excursions several times in 2003 as a way to raise funds.
Crossing the Bridge ----------------- MoD ran excursions on 28 and 29 February 2004 to celebrate the return of all four Manhattan Bridge tracks. The routing on the 28th was repeated on the 29th. Unless you were a railfreak, taking one of the two rides was enough to endure. I went on only the ride of the 28th. Tickets were $40, with some cut going to March of Dimes for its fund-raising. I paid at the door to hedge against inclement weather. I leave out the detailed itinerary, but the train crossed on both sides of the Bridge and ran over several of the lines which now feed into them. The route was custom made for this trip and involved diversions and switching not used for normal service. We departed from Columbus Circle, IND 8th Av, on the center unused platform at 10:30 EST. The ride, with several stops, ended at about 16:30 at World Trade Center, IND 8th Av.
The R-1/9 vehicle --------------- The train on the MoD trip consisted of four coaches from the series of contracts R-1 to R-9, built in the 1930s for the IND system. Since then, cars and other rail vehicles obtained for the subway continued the sequence. The first ones after World War II were from contract R-10; the newest fleet on the IRT is from contract R-142. A set for the BMT and IND is under construction as contract R-160 and will come into service in a year or so. There are a couple gaps in the numbering because certain contracts were for work, utility, shop vehicles. This situation prevails among the new contracts, too. The City designed the IND coach with intent to simply cookie-cut them as the IND lines were commissioned. However, along the way there were many design changes, which I will not bore you with here, so that a skilled railfan can tell exactly which contract a specimen of vehicle came from. In addition, once in service, modifications were made, so that within a contract there are subtile variations of features among its cars. Never the less, the entire fleet of about 1,400 cars was basicly the same and constituted the archetypical New York subway car of the Art Deco era in America. Collectively the car is commonly called the 'R-1/9' car. The R-1/9 car remained purely an IND coach until 1967. In that year the BMT and IND were merged by the new Grand St station mentioned above. Since then, until final retirement in the 1970s, R-1/9 trains ran on assorted lines of both systems.
Special services -------------- Because this trip was a special excursion on a vintage train, there were extra services provided to the riders. For starts, the ticket sales were held to the number of seats; every one had a seat. On my trip about 2/3 of the seats were filled, allowing for frequent shifts to talk with other riders or explore the train. On board were Transit Authority crew, members of local railroad clubs, and railroad preservationists. They explained the nuances of each of the four cars on the train, which as a set is a good cross section of 1930s railcar arts and science. A souvenir brochure was handed out, but curiously, it contained only a detailed article about an other curio of New York, the Boynton Bicycle Railroad. Normally the brochure talks about the special trip, its routes, the cars used, some history, maps, pictures, and such other keen stuff. Not that the Boynton contraption wasn't fascinating; it just had nothing to do with the train or trip to hand. The train crew also pointed out special wayside features. A special treat on this trip was a rollthru in the new Coney island terminal, not yet open for full service. We got good views of the construction, which will turn this hellhole of a station into a European-style gare centrale. The frames to hold the solar panels were one highlight here.
Photo stop -------- Much of ride consisted of an orthodox subway routine. You moped in your seat. The train operated practicly nonstop over its route, skipping station after station as it weaved from track to track to bypass regular trains ahead of it. There were for this trip, common on excursions, two types of special stop First is a 'photo stop'. The train stops at a station and lets the riders get off. They walk -- run! -- down the platform to take pictures of the train. Depending on the station, you can take pictures from a stair or mezzanine looking down at the train or from the opposite platform to get a full length view. This stop lasts only a couple minutes because regular trains are backing up behind the special train. A whistle blast calls the riders back on board to resume the trip.
Movie runby --------- The other is a 'movie runby'. This gets a little complicated with chance for foulups. The excursion train lets you off at one station where you board a regular train on a parallel track. Ride this train to a station downrange and get off. The excursion train runs by this station so you can get movies or videos of it in motion. Excursion train continues to a certain station ahead and waits for you to catch up on a regular train. It takes a bit of attention and good luck for this trick to work smoothly! The most common mishap is to forget the catchup station and miss the special train waiting there. Result is loss of the rest of the trip unless you chase after the train via taxi on the street. On my trip there was s goof. We got off at the jumpoff station and rode to a downrange station. I fixed to cross over to the opposite platform. Soonest we stepped off of the regular train, the special roared thru the station. No one got any pictures! Lots of harsh words ricocheted thruout the station while waiting for the next regular train to bring us to the catchup station.
Some astronomy ------------ Having grounding in astronomy is a major aid on these trips! Many of the stops are on the el or other opensky portions of the system. The train is then illuminated by sunlight according to the hour of the day. When you factor in the alignment of the stations or tracks for each stop, it really, like really, helps to anticipate the sunlight to plan a good viewpoint for photography. On this trip a proper itinery was not provided in the litterature but with intimate knowledge of the system, I sussed out the routing and where the Sun would be for each stop. It is a bit comical, yet sad, to see the nonastronomy riders get zapped by a wrong choice of platform and get blinded by the Sun. Or to pick a position where the train is all in shadow. You may wish for a cloudy day. The daylighting is far more even and there is no Sun to interfere with you!
Mellow lights ----------- I don't here try to elaborate on the features of the R-1/9 vehicle but offer a few general comments. If you're new to the City by age or shift of residence, you probably never rode these cars in regular service. Until the 1960s these were the archetypical IND car with very few newer models yet commissioned. Interior illumination was by small incandescent lightbulbs. These were peppered all over the ceiling to cast a warm shadow-free light thruout the car. It was bright enough to read and retrieve dropped coins with. But against the fluorescent lamps on the stations the car was weirdly dim. When the train crossed a gap in the third rail, like at switches or a power section, the lights blinked off and the motors cut out. Inertia carried the car to the next powered rail so there was really no impediment to operation. Just a little jolt when the motors got their juice back and grabbed the wheels again.
MTA - Moving the Air ------------------ Paddle fans on the ceiling cooled you in summer; they were not running on this trip for the air was still a touch chilly, yet not cold, The tall riders were thankful for that! The other air-moving mechanism were the apertile windows and end doors. The vintage vehicles moved air from the tunnels thru the end doors, which were latched open for this trip so we could freely walk around the train, and thru large drop panels for windows.
Rumble, bobble ------------ Shock abatement was shared between the trucks, the heavy frames housing the motors and wheels, and the seats. The seats were covered in rattan atop large coilly springs. It was funny to see the riders bob and quiver when the train hit a bumpy part of track! The ride while standing was rumbly with sway as the car librated on the rails. Riders had straps to hang onto. These hung from the ceiling over the front edge of the seats as porcelain-covered metal loops. As the train swang one way and that, the loops swivelled under your grip. Which is why New York subway riders are called straphangers! Technicly, these weren't true 'straps'. The very early transit coaches, displayed at the Transit Museum, had real leather, erm, straps. The term today for these devices is 'handholds'.
Breath of filth ------------- While the open doors and windows let in 'fresh' air, they also let in all the filth and dirt floating around in the tunnels. You got good and soiled after leaning out of the window to take pictures or watch the passing scenery. Just sitting in the car, away from the windows, got you a bit messy from the slipstream coming thru the end doors. The dirt was greasy, mixed with aerosol oil. It clang to you until washed off after you left the subway. A lot of this stuff consists of steel and other metal dust from the friction and wear of all the machinery and rails. You ended up breathing in this influx of contaminated air, likely to no great benefit to your health. Some models of car, not the R-1/9, had a drop window on the end door thru which you got the wind on your face. As much fun as this was, it was a oneway ticket to the bathtub when you got home. You were 'blowtorched' with greasy dirt.
Fantasy role ---------- The R-1/9, like all prewar vehicles of the IRT, BMT, and IND, had a picture window on the end door. You could stand by it and see the same view, with some parallax, as the train driver. That fellow was cooped up in his closet on the right side of the car. Every New York kid played 'motorman' at this window, pretending to drive the train thru the tunnels. The door handle was the 'throttle'; panel latches on the left side of the car were the 'brake' and assorted other gadgets in the motorman's booth. On this trip, like on all excursions, this front window was hogged by photographers. If you asked gently, they did step aside to let you get in a shot or two. Because the train reversed direction repeatedly during the excursion, both 'front' and 'rear' windows were crowded. One peculiarity of the R-1/9 car was the lack of wipers on the driver's window. The IND was supposed to be a fully underground network. There would be no rain on the cars! As the 1930s wore on with the Depression, economies were taken to include elevated sections. After the war, certain BMT el lines were attached to the IND as extensions. The R-1/9s were retrofitted with hand-wiggled wipers I may note that in olden days only men worked on the trains, so 'motorman' was a respectable title for the guy who drove the train. In the 1980s women started entering the transit service. The obvious name for them, 'motorgirls', didn't quite earn favor with feminists. The neutral 'train operator', or 'T/O', is today the formal title for both male and female drivers.
Fatal attraction -------------- The open windows by their very nature they attract trouble and danger. It is SOOOooo easy to lean out a window! Kneel on the seat; the dropped window pane is chest high. Perfect for resting the arms or elbows on. The utter peril is that wayside apparatus can swiftly shoot by and severely injure or even kill you. The crew constantly admonished the riders to keep head and hands inside the car, but when interesting parts of the itinery approached, bingo!, riders straight away hung out of the windows. With the retirement of all cars with apertile windows by the 1970s, much newer wayside apparatus had been placed a mite closer to the car. This apparatus is a major hazard for excursions even if you just poke your head out. So far in all my previous trips, i never witnessed an injury or death from window hanging, but I do hear that it happened. A sensible and sane compromise is to wait until the train is on a curve. From a window on the inside of the curve, look out while keeping your head inside. You see the rest of the train sweeping away from the window so you can safely get pictures of it.
Acoustics ------- There was no acoustic treatment on the R-1/9 car. All the motor, pump, and other mechanisms send their noise thruout the car. It was hard to have a convo across an aisle, a feature exploited by those who want to speak privately with a seatmate. In addition, thru the open doors and windows you were assailed by the rumbling of the car, grinding of the wheels, clanging of the rail joints, battering at the switches, hissing of hoses and valves, blowing of circuit breakers. A weird bit of Star Trek trivium. When the early Star Trek series were filmed, a sound was needed for the revving and whining of the Enterprise engines. (Never mind that in the far off future they didn't invent silent engines!) At that time the R-1/9 trains still ran in regular service on the BMT 14th St line. Sound recordings were made of this train as it raced thru the tunnels under the East River. That's what you hear in the older Star Trek episodes!
Subway's comet ------------ This was a fascinating, and a bit scary, part of the trip. The current cars are pretty clean in that they do not spill obnoxious substances into the air. Now we got this one specimen of a prewar train scudding around. At photo stops underground, there was a noticeable fog in the air BEHIND the train, as compared to the relatively clear air AHEAD of it. This fog was an aerosol of various oils in the machinery that ablated into the air and trailed the train! The train was a comet!! This trail would not have been obvious in the era when all the IND trains were R-1/9s. The fog would have permeated the entire tunnel and station with no evident specific source. It was then treated as just an other odious feature of underground railroads.
Just passing thru --------------- One of the funniest aspects of an excursion are the people at the stations. As we approached a station, the passengers waiting there stepped toward the platform edge. Then they shrank back! What the hell is THIS thing rolling thru?!?! Sometimes we stopped in the station for a photo stop. The doors opened with a pwisssh of pneumatic pressure and weird characters with cameras poured out. Who are THESE people?!?!?! The older folk recalled the train but wondered what it's doing off of its normal line. Others were freaked out that such contraptions ever existed. We let them look inside thru the doors to gawk at the primitive fittings and furnishings. Some pointed out that the roll sign was wrong. Yes, they are, from being out of the mid 20th century. Some got really wigged out; they thought our train was on one of the new routes just changed on February 22nd!
It's your turn ------------ These nostalgic coaches until now are used for special trips, like this one for the March of Dimes. With 2004 being the centennial of the first subway line, the Transit Authority is refurbishing them to run with the current cars. You may ride them on your regular fare, not the premium ticket! The crew didn't know if there'll be timetables so you can meet the train. If so, you can have some fun watching out for the R-1/9 train at Broadway-Nassau at 15:33 on Wednesdays. Otherwise, you just have to be lucky as it rumbles into your station unannounced. The crew also didn't know how the roll signs will be treated, since they were printed for routings now mostly extinct. The Authority has vintage trains for the BMT, the 'Triplex's, and IRT, the 'Lo-V's. They will roam their system's lines to round out the three divisions of the City transit network. One thing I should note. The centennial marks the first UNDERGROUND subway, which was the initial section of the IRT on Manhattan. New York had elevated or aerial railroads since the 1870s, some of which are still running today. So we're celebrating the SUBWAY, not transit, centennial.