Retired subway cars make a splash
Seventeen-ton retirees, some 600 of them, will soon be living out their golden years on the Jersey Shore, where they will see plenty of scuba diving and fishing.
They are part of more than 1,600 stainless-steel passenger and work-crew subway cars that will head to their new homes off the Garden State and farther down the Eastern Seaboard starting in the late fall. Some have zipped down the track since the early 1960s and will continue to work in retirement — as artificial reefs housing schools of fish while providing divers with an underwater glimpse of New York icons.
“They create a cave-like structure that let young hatchlings mature,” said Mike Zacchea, a self-described reef dean for New York City Transit who is also an assistant chief of operations. “Within 30 days, marine life attaches to the car body.”
The MTA board approved a $6.3 million contract this week to send the cars that run on the C and E lines, among others, to the coastlines of New Jersey, Delaware and other oceanside states. Among those cars are the first subway trains that had air-conditioning and stainless steel.
Their replacements will have the same amenities of the new-generation Lexington Line cars, with brighter interiors and electronic messaging.
This is not the first time that subway cars have met a similar fate. Two-hundred and fifty of the so-called no. 7 line Redbirds were dumped along the coast starting in 2001.
But asbestos in those cars as well as their potential durability as a reef, sparked a debate with environmental groups. The New Jersey environmental department decided not to take any more cars until it studied the impact the cars posed to aquatic life.
The department announced last week that the cars offer a durable habitat and pose negligible impacts on the environment, a spokeswoman said. The news delighted fishermen but troubled environmentalists, who aren’t convinced they are safe.
Once the latest batch is submerged, transit will still have more than 1,000 asbestos-containing cars on the tracks.
There’s no date set for their retirement and it’s unclear if they’ll eventually be home to black sea bass like their cousins headed to the shore.
One thing is clear: The agency is saving millions of dollars by dumping them at sea. If transit otherwise scrapped them, the agency said removing asbestos, which is in the interior walls among other places, in those cars would cost $27 million more.