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Behind the Scenes: Subway manufacturing

by Benjamin Kabak


Wrapped subway cars, the world’s best present. (Photos by NGC/ Hoff Productions)

Tonight at 8 p.m. the National Geographic channel will go behind the scenes of the subway car manufacturing process. The latest installment in the Ultimate Factories series, tonight’s show will follow the manufacturing process for one of the new R160 cars as it goes from France to Brazil to upstate New York before arriving in our subway system.


Neil Genzling, TV critic for The Times has already seen the show, and he praises it for the clips of the reefing process.

For regular users of the subway what’s likely to get the heart really racing comes near the end, when the program takes a brief detour to show what happens to retired subway cars. That’s when we see the gray monstrosities being deep-sixed 20 miles off the Maryland coast to create an artificial reef for marine life.

Watching those cars going under feels like revenge, or vindication, or something, for all those appointments missed because the R and the N — the Rarely and the Never — didn’t show up, or because an indecipherable intercom failed to convey that the E train was going to skip the next 20 stops, or insert your own subway nightmare here.

For those further interested in the companies that make the trains, Infrastructurist’s Yonah Freemark has published a series of posts about train manufacturing companies. He started with Alstom, moved on to Bomardier, then examined Talgo and looked at the Japanese newcomers. Good stuff.

After the jump, a four-minute video preview of tonight’s show.

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Julia November 12, 2009 - 1:18 pm

Do you know if it will be possible to watch this online at some point?

Marc E November 12, 2009 - 3:06 pm

NatGeo is a premium cable channel, so probably not, at least not for free. I can’t wait until they make it available for purchase on iTunes or Amazon…

E. Aron November 12, 2009 - 1:48 pm

Awesome, I’ve always been curious as to how they piece these together. I’ve always thought they’re much more complex than they seem. Thanks for sharing!

Marc E November 12, 2009 - 3:08 pm

Manufacturing processes these days and the sheer volume of cars they produce for the MTA has allowed these manufacturers to produce them relatively quickly. Modular assembly has certainly helped.

Jerrold November 12, 2009 - 3:28 pm

I believe I once heard that those subway cars that were dumped into the water to serve as breeding grounds for fish have been falling apart a lot faster than predicted.
After all, they were not MADE to remain intact underwater.

nyctaxiphoto November 12, 2009 - 6:46 pm

sounds good! thanks

Matt November 12, 2009 - 9:05 pm

Well it was pretty interesting. I didn’t realize how much work was done Upstate. The footage was pretty old though. Testing the cars on the A, 9 train… And the music was a little dramatic.

Good watch, thanks for letting us now!

JE November 13, 2009 - 9:35 am

The opening footage included what appeared to be a railyard and subway cars in Chicago.

petey November 13, 2009 - 7:37 am

don’t know about that narration, but yes a very cool video.

Matthew November 13, 2009 - 8:49 pm

It repeats next Thursday, November 19 for those who missed it. (Including myself!)


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