The 10 train and an appreciation of soon-to-be-extinct rollsigns

An alternate universe NYC subway train arriving at Columbus Circle on Tuesday night. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

An alternate universe NYC subway train arriving at Columbus Circle on Tuesday night. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

After work last night, I took a trip to my old stomping ground on the Upper West Side to catch Mike LeDonne’s Hammond B3 organ quartet at the jazz club Smoke near 106th and Broadway. It’s been a Tuesday night tradition for over a decade now, and I’d highly recommend it. Usually, I’d take the 1 train from Midtown, but the MTA had a different idea. When the West Side IRT local pulled into Columbus Circle, the train proclaimed itself, oddly enough, a green 10.

A few passengers waiting for the train did a double-take, similar to the surprised looks that fill unsuspecting subway riders’ faces when the Nostalgia Train rolls up, and then, everyone got on. For the transit literati among us, it’s always a treat when a train with an improperly set rollsign shows up because it provides a window to a subway route that never was (and likely never will be). The 10 is just one of those routes.

As is evident from the green 10 bullet, at one point in developing the rollsigns on the R62 and R62A cars, the MTA reserved this route designation for the Lexington Ave. line. The agency never assigned the 10 to a route, but it’s safe to assume it would have served to differentiate today’s 5 trains. Perhaps the 10 could have been used for Nereid Ave.-bound East Side IRT trains.

The 10 isn’t alone as an unused route bullet. The 11 train was reserved for the 7 line. It could have indicated express service, but the MTA went with a diamond 7 instead. Other rollsigns have been known to offer a glimpse at a green 8 or 12, also indicating potential route designations for Lexington Ave. service. There’s a red 13 out there and, of course, the dearly departed 9 train should the West Side need extra route numbers as well.

Ultimately, though, these are a dying breed. When the R62 and R62A rolling stock sets are completely phased out by the end of the 2020s, the IRT rollsigns will go with them. Instead, colored bullets on train cars will go the way of the dodo, and we’ll have what we have today on new cars: bright red lights that don’t allow you to see what train is arriving until it’s nearly in the station. Of course, the IRT’s countdown clocks obviate the need for such a distinction, but I’ve always found something endearingly comforting about the subway bullets. They match the colors of the route lines on the subway map and system signage, and they otherwise give cohesion and character to otherwise anonymous subway cars. An N is a Q at the touch of a button, but the 10 train I rode in is a quirk of human error.

All good things must come to an end, though, and much like the rail fan window, the rollsigns — which look pretty cool when unfurled — will join transit history. As long as we get those open gangway trains sooner rather than later, though, I’ll bid the 10 train, and the 13 and 11 and 8 and 12, a fond farewell.

Categories : Rolling Stock

17 Responses to “The 10 train and an appreciation of soon-to-be-extinct rollsigns”

  1. Eric says:

    They should auction off the old rollsigns.

  2. Marsha says:

    This picture is a classic. Check out the comments in the Twitter version.

  3. Gorski says:

    I keep hoping that–since large LED screens are pretty cheap now–that eventually we’ll get big screens on the R300s where the rollsigns are on the older trains.

    • BruceNY says:

      I’ve been irked how all of the LED’s are red (thank you Mr. Kabak for pointing out the pitfalls of only having one color). With today’s technology, why can’t they incorporate the line colors into these signs some how? Look what they were able to do with the flashing blue SBS signs on the M15 bus.

      I wonder if the R62’s will really be phased out in the 2020’s? After all, it seems the R32’s will still be in service! How about the R68’s? Those have roll signs as well.

      • Al says:

        Previous MTA capital plans had R32 retired by 2009 and 2014. OTOH, these plans also called for the 80’s era R62 and R68 after 50 years in service (2034 to 2040). The same 50 year retirement was also supposed to apply to R46. Considering how slowly the MTA is managing the CBTC rollout, they should concentrate resources on signals, not rolling stock. Considering the surge in ridership, and MTA’s debt load, it would be prudent to hold onto R46. It also makes no sense to replace R46, R62, R68 if the signals aren’t there for ATO or semi-ATO.

        • Brooklynite says:

          The 46s have possible structural issues which means they may need to be retired by the 211s at the latest. Judging by the MTA’s perennial funding issues they might not have enough money to order enough 211s to replace the 32s and 46s at once…

          The 32s, with a major overhaul, can last several more decades. Some of the components aren’t doing so well but structurally they are solid.

  4. AMH says:

    I agree that the colored bullets are so much better than the tiny LED signs. I hope we can at least get larger colored LED signs on new rolling stock.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    The 13 train is still my favorite…

  6. Peter says:

    With LED technology having improved, its possible that some of the next car orders could have multi-colored bullets.

    • Eric B says:

      Hope so. The buses are already getting RGB signs, though currently, they’re only using blue for SBS, and regular routes using this simulated amber color to emulate the other signs.

  7. John-2 says:

    Back in the old days of the pre-R-40 hand-cranked route and destination signs, having a train with the wrong route or terminal used to be commonplace. The only differences were whether or not the wrong listing was believable (and I’ll admit, if there was an empty car I’d spin the knob to see what the terminal or route options were for, though in the pre-bullet era having the wrong route was less obvious).

  8. Alex says:

    The reason why the new led route signs are red is for visability and recognition for train operators. A green bullet (as with for Lexington Ave for example) can easily be misinterpreted for a green signal (and not because the tech isn’t there or is affordable).

    • Brooklynite says:

      I’m not sure about that. How would that not apply to a backlit green rollsign?

    • Eric B says:

      I wondered if that would be given as a reason, but if that were the case, we could mistake the green on another track then, and there are regular red signals preventing coming up close enough to a train to think it’s a green signal, plus the reds on the back of the train itself.
      And if they used a white letter 9and made the circle only color changing), that would make it look different. And then, the 4,5,6 and G would be the only lines with that problem, and it would be useful on the other B Div. lines.

  9. Peter Zeigler says:

    Who could restore the 10 train? That kind of train might get restored.

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