When it was a train: The Brown Diamond R



Generally, spotting an R train running from 95 Street in Brooklyn to Continental Avenue in Queens isn’t an occasion for a photograph. The R makes that run numerous times a day.

A few weeks ago, Evan Schweitzer spotted something off-kilter on the R. Instead of the familiar yellow circle with a black letter, his R train featured a white R in a brown diamond. What, Evan wanted to know, was going on here? The answer reaches all the way back to the current origins of the New York City subway’s naming conventions.

In the early 1960s, the current R train went by the moniker of RR. A few years later, after the Chrystie St. connector opened, the norther terminus of the RR shifted to Astoria, the current end of the N/W runs. A sister line used the Nassau St. Loop and went by the designation RJ.

Things grow slightly confusing after that. A few months after the RJ debuted in the late 1960s, the line was truncated with a northern terminus at Chambers St. and a southern terminus in Bay Ridge. From then until May 1985, this route was also known as the RR. In 1985, the MTA eliminated double letter designations and referred to this Bay Ridge-to-Chambers St. rush hour-only service as the R with a brown diamond.

The last brown diamond R train ran in on November 20, 1987, and since then, the MTA has worked to streamline route designations. Outside of the 5 trains in the Bronx and the A in Queens, no longer do two distinct routes share the same number or letter. Now and then, though, the roll signs are rolled incorrectly, and those brown diamond blasts from the past rear their heads.

11 Responses to “When it was a train: The Brown Diamond R”

  1. Evan says:

    Thanks so much for answering my question!!

    • I heard about this story on I already kenw this was the BMT Nassau Street Line’s special.Go to,and go to subway maps,and when you see the year 1987,you see the NYC Subway map,and see the diamond brown R.

      Thanks for writing this story.First phase of the Second Avenune opens in December 2016!

  2. Scott E says:

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “Outside of the 6 trains in the Bronx — also designated with a diamond — no longer do two distinct routes share the same number or letter”. The diamond-6 shares the same route as the circle-6, just with fewer stops (as an Express) – same as the 7 in Queens. Meanwhile the 5 in the Bronx has two dramatically different routes to either Nereid or Eastchester/Dyre, with no difference in number or symbol. Similarly, the southern end of the A diverges to either Ozone Park, Far Rockaway, or Rockaway Park.

    • That was an error. I meant the 5. The A is also part of that list although the Rockaway service is technically the A on one end and a shuttle on the other.

    • R2 says:

      When the 5 goes to Nereid, it was shown as a diamond on the map, but oh wait…..I remember, the rush hour service to Flatbush (does rush hours to Nereid) has been extended through daytime hours just recently… yeah, looks like map has been updated and now there’s no distinction. Wonder if the 5 also does Nereid during the daytime too.

      And the A had a diamond for Rockaway Park, at least on paper maps I’ve seen. While I have an idea of the conventions, I figure the A and 5 are perhaps exceptions (cuz branching off happens “late” and the service pattern is identical otherwise [not like one is express & the other local during the main trunk routes])

  3. Kai says:

    Also, a good number of rush hour Es go to 179/Jamaica. Also not on the map, but it’s on signs in the stations under Hillside Avenue.

  4. James Scully says:

    I saw the R Diamond this morning while waiting for a train on Prospect Avenue. I’m a subway history nut (but only 22 years old and too young to remember one) and the existence of the R Diamond rolling sign is even new to me! It was actually quite nice, as many of the cars both inside and outside has the R Diamond rolling sign present.

  5. Joe Wong says:

    From Paulsboro, NJ 08066

    The Brown was also known as the “BANKERS SPECIAL” which only ran from Bay Ridge 95 Street to Chambers Street during the morning rush hours and from Chambers Street during the evening rush hours.

    When the (R) (aka #2 or RR) operated from Astoria-Ditmars Blvd to Bay Ridge-95 Street from 1949 to 1987, the service was relatively reliable and you can set your watch by it. However, when it swapped its Queens terminal with the (N) in 1987, service on this line deteriorated and plummeted from reliable to spotty and unreliable at best with its one hour and 36 minutes running time end to end, similar to the old (QJ) which operated from the now demolished 168 Street-Jamaica to Coney Island via Brighton Local from 1967 to 1973.

    I hope this helps.

  6. Liability Girl says:

    I just saw a roll sign on a C train stuck halfway showing a brown diamond R and thought I was HALLUCINATING, but a friend referred me to this post and I am quite excited! It was on Dec 11, the night that smoke conditions and other disasters delayed every single train in the entire system and may people didn’t get home for hours, so I guess I’m doubly lucky since my train arrived quickly and wasn’t even crowded. 😀


  1. […] A brown Diamond R exists on some rollsigns. It was used briefly to designate the Nassau Line rush hour specials (Nassau Line trains use brown signs), and sometimes turns up on the regular R trains to this day as a mistake. […]

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>