For the R32s, another six years of keep on keepin’ on

By · Published in 2011

The R32s, seen here along the E line in 2008, will have to last a few more years. (Photo by flickr user gmpicket)

When the MTA first unveiled the 2010-2014 Capital Plan back in 2008, the rolling stock investment of course drew some attention. In that document, the MTA put forth its plan to purchase the so-called R179s that would replace the R44s and R32s. Optimistically, we even expected them early on in the five-year plan.

Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and as the MTA has struggled to get its financial house in order, the R179s have become a victim, for now, of the budget knife. In the three-year budget released this week, the MTA announced that the R32s, already 47 years old, will have to last until 2017 when the MTA can bring the R179s on line. Fifty-three year old rail cars will be a sight to behold.

The full text follows:

Due to the accelerated retirement of R44 cars caused by structural defects, the older 222 R32 car fleet is required to remain in service beyond their normal service life. The R32 cars are currently 47 years old and already well past the standard expected useful life of 40 years. Now these cars will be required to remain in service for at least another 6 years until 2017 when new R179 cars are delivered.

The R32 cars received their last SMS work in 2007 and require a new SMS cycle to maintain acceptable performance levels for the next six years. R32 car MDBF is the worst by far of any car fleet now in revenue service; in April 2011 12-month average MDBF for the R32 fleet was just 57,210 compared with a fleet-wide average of 171,553 for the same period. The failure to perform this needed SMS cycle would result in unacceptable further deterioration of this already low level of performance. The R32 SMS cycle will require an addition of 52 positions and costs of $7.9 million per year for three years.

Already, these cars are in poor condition, and riders along the C train have been complaining of failing air conditioners and generally decrepit cars. For another six years, we’re stuck with them.

90 Responses to “For the R32s, another six years of keep on keepin’ on”

  1. Phil says:

    I love these old cars. Granted they may be unreliable now, the MTA should always try to squeeze as much as they can from equipment as long as its cheaper than getting new equipment.

    • Christopher says:

      Clearly you don’t have to take the C very often …

      • Someone says:

        Yeah, look at how much the R32s break down. Just a little gum and spit, and it should last until 2017…

        Or not.

      • kc says:

        I do ride the C train a lot and I agree they are wonderful old trains! Keep in mind the old r 46’s on the A are not that far apart in age from the 32’s! The r 46’s which are only 9 years apart from the 32’s break down the most! The average that they is explained is giving you and average of how many miles the cars can run before they need to be serviced not how often they are in the middle of being in use and then break down! The frequency of that belongs to the ugly r46’s!

    • Bob says:

      I agree. What’s often forgotten is that in 1990, the R32s were almost completely remanufactured by Morrison Knudsen, so an asterisk could be placed next to that 47-year age. Also, they never had air-conditioning prior to 1990, but ceiling fans, hundreds of exposed vents and stainless steel grab-straps. The reason for their sorry state now is that it was expected the would be heading to scrap, so they were only receiving the bare essentials in maintenance. Once, they were even being considered for being stripped down to their stailness steel shells and rebuilt similar to the R160’s with all the technology. The cost of converting the proposed “A” units of an A-B-B-B-A configuration (from current married-pairs) line-up doors to accomodate the full-length cabs was ultimately found to be unfeasible. The A-B-B-A 75-ft. R46’s are much more likely candidates for such a re-fit.

      • kc says:

        The r 46’s sucks and they are very ugly! Those ugly trains breakdown more than any other train! I am an old timer and I know the real deal through experience!

  2. Benjamin says:

    Anyone else been noticing a lot of 10-car R46s (or whatever the model is on the A) trains along the C line lately?

    • John-2 says:

      Supposedly, due to the problems with maintaining the R-32s AC systems during the recent hot weather, some of them were swapped with the R-46s on the A, so that the 32s would have longer runs where the doors were closed (keeping what cool air there was inside the cars longer) and the 32s were moved into Rockaway Shuttle service to get them out of the even-hotter-than-outside tunnels.

      (You would think with the AC problems, the natural change would be to swap some of the eight-car 160s out of East New York with the R-32s on the C, since the J/Z has all of eight stations underground on its Broad Street-Jamaica Center run. But the MTA might be a little worried about how the 32s would hold up during the summer if they had to run in M rush hour service on Sixth Avenue and Queens Blvd.)

    • Kid Twist says:

      FYI: Those are eight-car trains of R46s. The ’46s are 75 feet long, so eight of them are the same as a 10-car train of 60-footers.

    • Someone says:

      R46s are each 75 ft long. The A trains are ~600 ft long. There are 8 cars in a 600-ft R46 train. Supposedly due to AC problems on the C (which is completely underground), the A, a partially aboveground line, uses R46s, R32s, and a few spare R42s so the R32s could have a run without boiling everybody

  3. Scott E says:

    I’ve often wondered if the M3’s being phased out from the Long Island Rail Road could be retrofitted for use on the subway. They’re comparable in dimensions and use the same type of traction power, I believe, and are likely in better shape since they’re not subject to the many starts and stops of a subway car. Remove/reorient the seats, seal off the restroom, add a route-destination sign, and you’re good. I’m sure I’m missing something…

    • Bolwerk says:

      IIRC, they’re a few inches wider.

    • Noah says:

      two fewer doors on each side would make loading and unloading a nightmare and probaby greatly increase station dwell times.

    • Alex C says:

      M3 are six inches wider at the curves than BMT/IND max width, same width at threshold as BMT/IND cars. Unfortunately, the width isn’t the only issue…they’re 85 feet long (10 longer than R44/46/68, 25 longer than R32/42/160). Way too big to operate in some parts of the subway.

    • Bob says:

      They’re 85 feet long, so they would be useless on the subway. However, as the Staten Island Railway is a class-B commuter railroad (modified R44’s run under a special FRA waiver), that would be the best place to send them as married pair two-car trains (the SIR’s standard platforms only accomodate four 75-ft. R44 cars). Interestingly, 75-ft. LIRR MP70 trains DID run on the SIR before its R44’s arrived. Then, the MP70s were returned to the LIRR to be converted into push-pull diesel coaches after finishing their electric careers on the SIR.

    • Someone says:

      No. M3s use a different voltage (overhead catenary as opposed to 3rd rail), are longer, and have different specifications as NYCS rolling stock. The M3 is designed for commuter rail, and so cannot be designed to operate on subway line. There are only 3 doors along the 80-foot length of the car, so using that on NYCS would be a literal nightmare.

  4. SEAN says:

    R32’s mostly are rellagated on the C line, but I have sene them pop up on the R from time to time. They need to replace the R40’s through the 46’s ASAP.

    • Donald says:

      Why? There is nothing wrong with the R46s. I guarantee you they will be in service well past 2020. Only if they suffer catastrophic cracking like their R44 cousins will they be retired before then.

      • Bolwerk says:

        ASAP might be 6-7 years away, but it probably makes sense to think about replacing them. They’re only going to get harder to maintain.

      • Bob says:

        That won’t happen because unlike the R44 cars where St. Louis Car went on the super-cheap and shotwelded stainless steel to a carbon steel structure (where the weld points have dangerously corroded), Pullman-Standard built the R46 cars Budd-style: all quality stainless steel. In spite of all the initial scandal and MTA design flaws (inisting on the Rockwell HP-2 truck that had never been tested on a 75-ft commuter car train as a straight purchase on all 754 cars), the R46 has always displayed one Pullman-Standard quality feature: the dependability of its overall body construction. When the amazing R32’s finally finish their extraordinary run, the R46’s will be the last cars produced by an American company left on the system.

    • Kid Twist says:

      The R40s are gone. There are a few 42s left in East New York to help make service on the Jamaica El, but that’s it.

    • Someone says:

      R32s are assigned to 207 St Yard right now. The R uses R46 cars from Jamaica Yard.

      Besides, the R46 can be in service until 2020. It doesn’t need to be replaced ASAP, as there is nothing wrong with the R46s. Unless, of course, the R46s were to develop an universal chassis problem.

  5. Noah says:

    why weren’t R168s added to the a/c lines? i remember when the R168s first arrived, i used to see them being tested on the 8th Ave line and even rode one in service once.

    • Henry Man says:


      • Noah says:

        R160, i have no idea why i typed that.

        • Dan says:

          I recall hearing the R160s couldn’t handle something about Rockaways service.

          Not an R32 fan myself but supposedly they are in OK shape other than the A/Cs needing to be monitored during summer and as noted they could get another SMS just to be safe.

        • Andrew says:

          Because the R160’s were never intended to replace everything else, so some lines obviously end up not running them. The B, D, and G don’t run them either.

          • SEAN says:

            I have sene the R160’s on the D once or twice.

            • Andrew says:

              They’re not assigned there and they don’t run there on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean that they can’t ever appear there if needed. The southern terminal of the D is shared with three lines that run mostly R160’s, and there’s a large yard down there that houses R160’s, so the D may sometimes borrow a train.

    • Someone says:

      The A/C are assigned to the Pitkin and 207 St Yards. R160s are assigned to ENY, Jamaica, and CI yards, and run on the J, L, M, Z, E, F, N, Q, R lines (and occasionally the B, D, and G.) I heard that there was some problem in operating R160s in the Rockaways, so they discontinued R160s on the A.

  6. capt subway says:

    Hell I was a Motorman and drove the R32s years ago. Great, fast train. And I still ride them frequently on the “C” – no problem there. And one very definite plus of any of the older cars: you don’t have to listen to those idiotic announcements such as THIS IS AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM THE NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPT…… Yeah right!

    Glad to see they will be making it to 50 years of service. They will then take their rightful place alongside other long lived rapid transit cars, such as the BMT “AB” and “Q” cars and the Paris Metro Sprague-Thomson cars.

    • Those things really could cruise. I remember being in the front of a 32 on the (N) going through the 60th Street Tunnel, looking into the motorman’s cab as we climaxed at 60mph.

      Fasted tunnel in the system, it seems to me.

      • capt subway says:

        Yes 60th St is the fastest river tube. It was specifically signaled for a higher average speed in the late 1980s. Previously it was actually one of the slower tubes with the way the grade timers were set. It was hard to get up sufficient speed to carry you up the up grade. Coming right up on top of the timer just as it changed from red to yellow was part of the deal and a real art – an art which seems to have been totally lost, as amply displayed by the way the trains are presently operated.

      • Jason says:

        I thought the fastest stretch of tunnel would be btwn 59th and 125th on the West Side?

        • capt subway says:

          The fastest under river tube. And since, with the way the timers are set, you can take power on the downgrade in the 60th St tube I’d venture to say it’s the fastest piece of track in the system now, or damned close to it.

          And the new signals up between 59 and 125 have slowed things down somewhat. It was definitely faster with the original IND signals.

          • Bruce M says:

            This raises a good point:
            Why is the run from 59th to 125th so boringly slow anyway?
            Why are all uptown 8th Ave. expresses forced to slow
            down around 23rd. St.? Same for uptown 7th Ave. expresses at Christopher?

            • Alex C says:

              Grade timers. http://nycsubway.org/articles/signals_timesig.html
              Meant as a safety measure. MTA panicked after that Williamsburg Bridge collision. Since then, grade timers anywhere and everywhere to keep speeds down.

              • Andrew says:

                Not quite. The entire purpose of a signal system is to prevent one train from hitting another. If it doesn’t do that, it’s not doing its job. If a train passes a red signal, its emergency brakes kick in and stop the train – but there have to be enough red signals behind any train to ensure that the following train has enough room to stop, even if it’s traveling at top speed.

                When one train hit another on the Williamsburg Bridge, the signal system wasn’t doing its job. Why? Because trains have gotten faster but the signal system was never tweaked to account for greater stopping distances.

                So the trains were slowed down as an immediate fix, and over time the signal system has been brought up to safe standards (or perhaps the work is still ongoing). In some cases that means GT’s.

                That’s prudence, not panic.

                • Alex C says:

                  I was referring to the severe slowdown of certain parts, not the existence of grade timers and signal blocks themselves.

                  • Andrew says:

                    Wasn’t CPW resignaled in the early 90’s? That was before the Williamsburg Bridge crash.

                    • Alex C says:

                      I’m not sure, you may be right. I understand grade timers in the last block before the switches, but their general slowdown of the stretch seems rather pointless.

                    • Andrew says:

                      On express tracks, the usual approach seems to be to gradually slow trains over several blocks. I don’t know if that’s actually necessary, although it probably makes for smoother rides.

            • al says:

              There is a switch set north of 23rd st as the 4 tracks become 5 on the 8th Ave IND. The purpose is to prevent derailments and reduce wear on the switch. If they want to increase speeds on this segment while retaining safety and wear, they would need to alter switch layout for high speed operation (might not be possible due to tunnel clearances) and/or adding self steering axle trucks on rolling stock.

              The MTA should seriously consider procuring lightweight rolling stock that have better curve/switch performance, acceleration and deceleration. It would allow the trains to safely run closer together and cut travel times. They main point would be to get the trains to clear the station more quickly, and allow them to stop in shorter distances in operations/emergency situations. The gains would be most pronounced on (semi)isolated lines (1, 6, 7, L, S, SIRT). They would replace the remainder of pre 80’s rolling stock. New trucks with self steering axles would improve 80’s era rolling stock curve/switch performance.

              • Alex C says:

                They should, but they didn’t. The gigantic R160 contract…60 foot cars weighing 85,000 lbs. Compared to (still running strong) BART A and B cars that are 70 feet long while weighing 56,000 lbs and the upcoming 7000 series WMATA cars which despite being safe and stainless steel and having all new equipment and such will weigh 80,000 lbs and be 75 feet long. The MTA cheaped out on the huge R160 contract, so I doubt any future ones will actually be modern lighter trains.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  BART cars are about the most expensive rolling stock you’ll find, except for some (not all) high-speed trains. Everything has to be custom-specified.

                  For the record, the short-haul EMUs used in Japan, which is the world leader in rolling stock cost and weight reduction, are 20 meters long and weigh 23-33 metric tons, the motorized cars weighing toward the upper end and the trailers toward the lower end.

                  • Alex C says:

                    Part of the reason is that at the time (1968-1972) the technology that went into building them was (quite literally) aerospace technology. The other factor is the 5.5 foot Indian broad gauge railroad they run. All their equipment is custom made. And obviously, their at-the-time state of the art signaling equipment drove prices up. When the R160 order was placed, there was no reason for the MTA to not have ~60,000 60-foot cars that are incredible safe and crash-worthy. They cheaped out (or just horrible design) and got an overweight beast.

              • Andrew says:

                That would require wholesale replacement of the signal system. Much easier said than done. Where the signal system is replaced with CBTC, trains do move faster. The new cars have their top speed (or acceleration?) capped when they are not running in CBTC.

                As for lightweight, the last time NYCT tried running lightweight cars (the R46’s with their original trucks), it proved to be a big failure. Of course, the tracks were in pretty bad condition then, so perhaps it’s time to try again.

                • John-2 says:

                  Not that it’s NYCT’s fault, but all the publicity over the last few years about the crash durability problems of the lightweight Breda 1000 series WMATA cars pretty much guarantees the weightier cars are going to continue to be preferred by the MTA when the R-179 (or whatever new contract number it might get a few years from now) is finally ordered.

                  • Alex C says:

                    Light weight doesn’t mean unsafe. The 1000 series cars were the issue. The newer Alstom cars are much safer. Heavy = Safe is how we end up with Acela Express and the R160 while sane countries have perfectly safe lightweight rolling stock.

                    • John-2 says:

                      I don’t dispute that. But the MTA is probably looking at the problem and thinking how easy/difficult the education process would be if they did order lightweight cars and some local paper and/or TV station came out with a blaring report that, “MTA’s new rolling stock’s weight similar to D.C. “death cars’“.

                      Not worth the grief in the agency’s eyes to go through the explanation process and the fight against the inevitable legal challenges. Better not to do it at all and just stick the heavier units that have worked in the past (the corollary here is you could never build a new section of elevated line in the city today because of how New Yorkers think of el construction, even though new el sections in places like Washington or San Francisco are nothing like was was put up 80-115 years ago).

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      Maybe they should go even lighter than WMATA, so that the headline would be “New subway cars’ weight similar to Tokyo’s.”

  7. capt subway says:

    And BTW: an MDBF of 57,000+ doesn’t seem all that bad, especially when compared to the bad old days of the late 70s/early 80s when the system wide average was around 60,000, with some cars like the R16s and R44s (the 44s always were lemons – from day 1) hovering around 10,000.

    To quote the old Virginia Slims ad, “You’ve come a long way baby.”

  8. Al D says:

    I have mixed feelings. They are definitely long in the tooth and down right primitive if you get 1 direct to/from a R142/143/160 transfer.

    On the other hand, if there is a current icon of the system, the ubiquitous (back in the day) R32 should be it. They were ground breaking when they first arrived, toured the entire B divison and in good numbers.

    May they outlast the R46!

    • Alex C says:

      They just might. The R46’s BTW aren’t exactly in great shape either at this point. Then again, we might be spoiled with the NTT trains.

    • Bruce M says:

      Long live the R32–the last of the classic “R-series” design. Though I thought the R38’s were the best looking. It’s also the last subway car where you can get an unobstructed view through the front window. I feel bad for little kids today being deprived that joy; and the situation on the railroads is even worse–not even door with a window to see through.

  9. Kevin Walsh says:

    I like the R32s — when the air conditioning works, they’re iceboxes.

    As for running decrepit equipment, look where the C goes. Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

  10. Larry Littlefield says:

    “The R32 cars are currently 47 years old and already well past the standard expected useful life of 40 years. Now these cars will be required to remain in service for at least another 6 years until 2017 when new R179 cars are delivered.”

    Of course when the MTA refinanced bonds as apart of the 2000 to 2004 capital plan, it claimed that doing so was OK because the R62s would last 50 years. So let’s be clear, the new expected life is 50 years plus, or else. And the R32s are going beyond that because the R44s stunk.

    • Kevin says:

      The R62’s and newer will probably be able to last around 50 years or so because they came into the system without dealing with the hell older cars went through. Even a GOH wasn’t enough to correct the problems that developed on older cars due to poor designs and years of deferred maintenance.

    • BrooklynBus says:

      When M-K overhauled the R32s and 42s at the same time, they told the MTA that the 32s will outlast the 42s although they were newer, because the 32s were better cars. Looks like they were correct.

  11. Dan says:

    Incidently, the R68s for the B/D (sometimes G also) may get a minor facelift and even FIND. Those also could possibly get to 45-50 years of service before all is said and done.

    • Alex C says:

      I’d rather they not not. They’re heavy (92,720 pounds…insane), slow as molasses on acceleration, and break terribly. Combined with their interiors being a scratchity vandal’s wet dream, they’re just not that good.

    • pete says:

      No. MTA loves to buy new equipment. They scrap buses after just 10 years now.

      • Alex C says:

        Buses have a much shorter life span than railway equipment, so you’re comparing apples to oranges here. MTA’s policy for railroad rolling stock is 40 years. The R68/68A’s are not being retired any time soon, they still have 15 years of service in them. Next in line to be retired are the R46’s starting in (if all goes well) 2015.

  12. Andrew D. Smith says:

    Can anyone comment on how the new cars would improve upon the old, beyond being less prone to broken AC?

    Are they rated to go faster between stops?
    Do they cut interior noise dramatically?
    Are they articulated?
    Are they ready-to-roll with driverless systems?
    Do they have more open door space without sacrificing seating (not sure if that’s possible, but maybe good design)?
    Are they light enough that they save a ton of power?

    I’m shocked at how little subway systems have improved over the years and at how people think they can keep competing with cars, which keep getting better and are about to get dramatically better when they go driverless.

  13. Mistral says:

    So, you think the R188s are gonna suffer the same treatment?
    Honestly, unlike the R32s, the 62As are pretty decent, especially on the long, straight route of the 7 train. I’d really rather see the 32s gone than the 62s, if we’re being forced to choose.

    • Alex C says:

      R188 contract is apparently already underway.

    • Andrew says:

      The R188’s are not replacement cars – the cars currently on the 7 will move elsewhere. The 7 is getting CBTC and it doesn’t make sense to add CBTC equipment to 30-year-old cars.

      • Alex C says:

        Yeah, we mentioned that in another thread. All they’re doing is adding an 11th C-car to the 10 car sets of R142s and installing CBTC equipment.

      • Dan says:

        And some of the forums say it will be the Lex, although that line will still have R142s as well and some could go to the 1 or 3 if any of their stock breaks down.

        • Alex C says:

          Yeah, the cars on the 7 will go to the 6, while the R142A’s from the 6 (R188 when this happens) will serve the 7. Though this is still some years away.

    • Someone says:

      The ’62s are going to the 6. There aren’t any replacements, and the 6 is actually adding 3 new trains with the swapping of rolling stock (the R142As on the 6 will be R188s for the 7.) The R188s are being fitted with CBTC, something that the R62As cannot have.

    • kc says:

      The r 62’s sucks and they are very ugly! Those ugly trains breakdown a lot! I am an old timer and I know the real deal through experience!

  14. Frank B. says:

    Thanks for nothing, Cuomo! Thanks for nothing Albany!

  15. Miami lawrence says:


  16. Miami lawrence says:

    R32 cars are reliable ,no matter what anyone thinks ,fast & sleek for a subway car close to 50 years old.Keep them as long as you need MTA & thanks for placing them on the A line where they belong ,longest line in NYC from the northern hills of upper Manhattan to the outskirts of Long Island.

  17. kc says:

    The report that you are hearing about is about the amount of miles the cars are in service before they need servicing. Not how the trains are in service and then in the middle of being in service they suddenly just break down! The most frequency of that belongs to the R 46’s who’s age is only 9 years apart from the r 32’s!

  18. Joel Ang says:

    humph. Never ever taken r32 train before.

  19. Joel says:

    This r32 must be really old! I love the r32 train.


  1. […] and entered service in the mid-1960s. They will be past 50 by the time they are shelved, and their current upkeep and maintenance stats show their age. These cars breakdown more frequently and require more maintenance than the […]

  2. […] year, the MTA announced another six years for the R32s. Because of structural problems with the R44s, Transit had reprioritize rolling stock replacement, […]

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