Home Rolling Stock A last-gasp $25 million Brightliner makeover

A last-gasp $25 million Brightliner makeover

by Benjamin Kabak

Transit’s R32s are undergoing their final rehabs before the end of the line arrives in a few years. (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Patrick Cashin)

The MTA’s R32s are a holdover from the Swingin’ 60s. Budd’s Brightliners made their debuts in 1964 and have been rolling along for nearly 50 years. Today, these cars aren’t holding up so well. They have the lowest mean distance between failures, and regular riders on the A, C and E come to fear their air conditioners in the summer. When they debuted, they had ceiling fans, but the 48-year-old cars underwent some fairly comprehensive reworking about twenty years ago.

Last year, the MTA announced another six years for the R32s. Because of structural problems with the R44s, Transit had reprioritize rolling stock replacement, and the R179s would likely be on hold until 2017. To ease the end of life, though, Transit will invest some $25 million into these train cars, overhauling the remaining 222 cars over the next few months.

On Friday, with the rehab moving along and some photos floating around, Transit announced some details concerning the investment. The agency is calling the work a “limited-scope maintenance makeover.” The goal is to improve performance and reliability as we await the R179s, now slated to start arriving in 2014. As the R32s generally make it just over 57,000 miles between failures as opposed to a fleet-wide average of over 171,000 miles, anything to improve service will be welcome for IND riders.

“The work currently being performed on these cars will help increase customer comfort and insure service reliability until their replacements arrive,” Carmen Bianco, Senior Vice President of the Department of Subways said in a statement.

For $25 million, the MTA is going to upgrade numerous car components and systems including air brakes, auxiliary electric, car body, couplers, car body hoses, door systems and propulsion systems. Vandalized windows — scratchiti is a hallmark of these cars — will be replaced as well. Furthermore, the AC/HVAC systems will be improved in advance of next summer. Perhaps the summer switch will go smoother in the remaining few years.

Despite promises from the MTA of a 2014 arrival date for the R179s, the truth is that only the initial models will arrive then. Tests are set for the end of that year with more cars arriving beginning in 2015. Some of these R32s will have to last until 2017, a whopping 53 years after they made their New York City debut. It’s hard to believe that some of the system’s rolling stock actually predates the MTA itself, but there you go.

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Justin Samuels September 10, 2012 - 12:28 am

The E is all R160, you never have R32s on it. This summer the R32s have been pretty much on the A train, with the C being mostly R46s (and the A has run R46s as well as R42s). The R42 as I’m sure you know is set to be junked along with the R32, when the R179 comes in.

Someone December 12, 2012 - 11:48 am

That was only the summer assignment. In the winter, the C changes back to R32s. In the summer, the A uses R32s and R42s because A trains are 600 feet long (8 75 ft cars or 10 60 ft cars) and C trains are only 8 cars long (8 75 ft cars, 600 ft or 8 60 ft cars, 480 feet). There are 144 R32s in service, and that can make 14 A trains or 18 C trains. The 30 R42s almost make up for the shortfall.

When the R179 comes in, the R160s on the M can then be transferred over to the C.

R. Graham September 10, 2012 - 1:45 am

Just goes to show how poorly built the R44s were for them not to survive being junked prior to the 32s and 42s.

Alex C September 10, 2012 - 12:10 pm

They were carbon steel, that stuff started to deteriorate. Budd built the R32s (stainless steel), and they did an amazing job like they did with everything they built.

Spendmore Wastemore September 10, 2012 - 3:53 am

When I first saw these I nicknamed them the “Indestructibles”

I didn’t know their history, they simply had a solid, old-school feel about them. The new cars will be obsolete and nearly unserviceable due to electronics issues long before the chassis wear out.

Remember when Made In USA meant built to last? I had a spare fridge from the ’40s, it was still going 100% when I moved in 2002.

They don’t make’em like that anymore.

Nathanael September 12, 2012 - 10:50 am

Well, you can get stuff like that, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg.

There’s a dirty secret about business: it’s more profitable to sell cheap products with “planned obscelescence” than it is to sell durable ones. Over the course of decades, people will pay a lot more replacing their items over and over again, a lot more than they would have paid upfront for one really good item.

R160 Al September 10, 2012 - 7:27 am

Any word on the fate of the R42s?

Justin Samuels September 10, 2012 - 9:03 pm

The r179 order retires both r32s and the last few r42s.

Someone December 16, 2012 - 6:11 pm

Relax. The R179’s are not coming until 2015…

peter September 10, 2012 - 7:49 am

These cars bring a welcome glimmer of classic NYC grit to the system. I’ll take the creaky, bumpy R32 any day over a slick R160 with its too-cold A/C and monotonous announcements. Just squint a little and you can still see these cars splashed with graffiti. I realize that’s nostalgia for a system that was actually much worse for its riders, but I appreciate the connection to the past.

SEAN September 10, 2012 - 8:04 am

Every so often you will find an R-32 on the R, but not lately.

If you saw Men in Black II, the subway cars featured resemble the R32’s.

Andrew September 10, 2012 - 7:19 pm

The R uses cars assigned to Jamaica, and Jamaica hasn’t had any R-32’s in a long time (at least two years, I think).

West September 10, 2012 - 8:05 am

Yes, but just the idea that now 171,000 miles between failures as a fleet-wide average is awesome.

Jeff September 10, 2012 - 9:52 am

That’s almost the distance from the Earth to the Moon (240,000 miles), and roughly the lifespan of the typical automobile. What I’m saying is… I, too, am quite impressed!

Hoosac September 10, 2012 - 8:13 am

It’s no doubt true that the R32s have outlived their useful life. But I will be sorry to see them go on one count: They are one of the few (only?) car types still in use which permit the railfan to look out the front window and get a motorman’s-eye view of the trip.

Matthias September 10, 2012 - 2:26 pm

The R42 is the only other model still in service that I am aware of that provides this view. It is truly a feature to appreciate.

Bruce M September 10, 2012 - 4:34 pm

I feel bad for all the kids in coming generations that will never get to experience that view! At least the new cars have a (albeit somewhat blurred) window in the cab door so you can get some view. New cars on the LIRR and PATH do not even have that.

Someone December 12, 2012 - 11:49 am

The R142s (somewhat) give a motormans’ eye view.

Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog New York City September 10, 2012 - 9:01 am

[…] MTA’s Oldest Subway Cars Get Rehab to Make It Through Final Few Years (SAS) […]

Larry Littlefield September 10, 2012 - 9:13 am

Since the R62s were refinaced for a 50 year life so Generation Greed could re-spend the proceeds, you wonder why they are replacing them at all. They’d better last that long, or longer.

LLQBTT September 10, 2012 - 9:16 am

They could probably almost equal or out-live the R46. They are no longer on the lines I regularly use, mostly ntt’s, but it’s a treat to ride these and the R42 once in a while.

John-2 September 10, 2012 - 9:17 am

The R-32s owe their long existence in part to the Ronana-era MTA’s failure to take the graffiti problem seriously when it broke out in 1971. Had they been proactive in dealing with the issue in 1971, instead of waiting until the mid-1980s, the non stainless steel parts of the R-38, R-40, R-42 and R-44s wouldn’t have been submitted to the repeated acid bath graffiti removal washes they were and wouldn’t have rotted out at the roof lines or belt lines. Which also would have likely meant the cars would have been retired closer to the order in which they arrived.

The TA wasn’t thinking of a glut of graffiti-covered equipment when the R-32s were ordered, but that’s what they had to survive, and the completely stainless-steel bodies turned out to be the best ones to deal with the spray paint and corrosive washings assault. I’d actually like it if (other than the AC) the MTA took this final rehab opportunity to restore the blue seats and blue walls of the R-32s as originally delivered (especially since blue is once again the favored choice of seat colors for the MTA), but as I understand it, outside of trying to scratchitti protect the windows, all the current work will involve components in the cars, and not the aesthetics.

Alex C September 10, 2012 - 12:13 pm

A lot of the seats and interior walls of the R32s could us a paint job. They might as well do what you suggested and give them their old colors back if they paint the insides again.

Ace September 10, 2012 - 1:00 pm

I don’t know the different R numbers of the D vs. F. But I do know what matters to me and others with long rides from the outer boroughs.

As a rider with a 45 minute commute each day I really really appreciate getting a seat. My D train can seat 2 times as many as the F train. I hope that somwhere along the line the MTA relizes this and does not impose the bench seating in all the new train cars.

Spendmore Wastemore September 10, 2012 - 3:05 pm

Expect bench seats everywhere.

Transit agencies like making riders uncomfortable, and Federal rules encourage this. Transit planners seem to like rider misery even more, and plan the system based on moving bodies by the numbers, not moving them in a less assaulting environment.

Tower18 September 10, 2012 - 4:50 pm

Does this have anything to do with the bench seating, or the 75-foot length of the B and D cars vs the 60-foot length of the F train cars?

I have no problem with the bench seating. In fact, I prefer it over the stupid longitudinal seats in the B, D, and A and some remaining F cars that no one can fit in.

Someone September 23, 2012 - 7:25 pm

1. The F uses R46s, which are 75 feet long.
2. So does the A, C, R, and Rockaway shuttle lines.
3. The B, D, G, and Franklin shuttle lines use R68/As, which are also 75 feet long.
4. So 9 subway lines in total use 75-foot-long cars.
5. I still long for the times when there were graffiti, 4-car trains, front rollsigns with destinations, and blue doors on the R32s.

Andrew September 10, 2012 - 7:23 pm

A full D train has 560 seats (70 seats per car in each of 8 cars). A full F train has 432 seats (42-44 seats per car in each of 10 cars). That’s 30% more seats on the D, not 100% more.

Seats are nice, but when trains get crowded, total capacity including standees becomes more important. At the same time, ease of circulation within the car is important in keeping dwell times to a minimum.

Ace September 14, 2012 - 12:02 pm

The 3-2-2-3 configuration currently used in D trains holds 10 people, when replaced by benches you will see 5, rarely 6 riders in the same space in a bench configuration.

Standing in bench configuration is alwful as well. Being forced to reach up and pressing towards seated passengers is uncomfortable. In the current D configuration there is a natural migration where those riders who must stand and will be on longer go towards the center away from the doors. There are poles from seat top to ceiling that one can hold onto without reaching up.

Design based upon statistics without thought to practical use is wrong. I ride the trains every day; I have no idea what “dwell time” is.

Andrew September 16, 2012 - 2:56 pm

In my experience, the six-seat benches on the F are much more likely to be fully occupied than the ten-seat clusters on the D. And you’ve completely ignored the fact that the cars used on the D are longer than the cars used on the F, so there are fewer of them on a train!

The cars on the D leave little room for interior circulation, practically begging riders to stay by the doors. The cars on the F make it easy to get all the way in and out. If you don’t want to use the overhead railing, there’s a vertical pole in the middle of each of the six-seat benches.

Dwell time is the time a train is stopped in a station. The longer it takes for people to get on and off, the longer the train has to remain stopped. Not only does that slow down service, it can also cut into track capacity. Keeping dwell times short is important.

And this isn’t “statistics”; it’s simple multiplication.

Phantom September 10, 2012 - 7:17 pm

I love these old trains. I remember when they were brand new, on the N line, in all their shining magnificence.

Long may they run.

The Obalt Devil September 10, 2012 - 11:43 pm

Meh. The old Myrtle Ave El had wooden cars built in 1903 running right up to the el’s closure in 1969. The Staten Island Rapid Transit’s first electric cars intro’d in 1925 ran for 50 years. A little spit and some duct tape and these cars will run til 2020 easy!

Nathanael September 12, 2012 - 10:59 am

The Myrtle Avenue El coaches — 63 years — may be a record. London Transport was running wood-bodied coaches built as early as 1898 up until 1961, which is similarly long. (Five of those coaches are still operational as museum pieces.)

Obviously this sort of lifespan is never planned; in the UK’s case the war, depression, war, and postwar austerity all did their part to keep old rolling stock in service; in NY’s case disinterest and refusal to fund upgrades was probably more the main issue.

Bolwerk September 16, 2012 - 3:37 pm

I heard somewhere the stated excuse for the Myrtle El’s demise was all the structure could support were the wooden cars.

Will September 12, 2012 - 2:57 pm

Use thses cars for north – south bronx shuttle lin on the Centerl line on MNR

Bobby D October 2, 2012 - 4:12 pm

The Myrtle Avenue El was originally built from the Brooklyn Bridge to Wycoff Avenue by the Union Elevasted Company which was later merged with the Brooklyn Elevated Company. Brooklyn Elevated operated Brooklyn’s first el, the Lexington Ave. line. Both companies used solid steel track girders, unlike the Kings County Elevated(Fulton
St.el) which used cast iron cantilevered track girders. The Fulton St.el could only support wooden cars or the lightweight aluminum subway cars built for the BMT in the 1930’s. South of Broadway, the Myrtle Ave. el probably could acccomodate steel cars providing station platforms were shaved back to accomodate 10 foot cars and the 55 lb third rail was changed to 150 llb rail to accomodate the higher amperage requird by the heavier cars. Nonetheless some reinforcement of the structure may have been required in some places.

Someone December 17, 2012 - 1:45 pm

See here for drawings (and picture) of R32.

Someone December 21, 2012 - 3:08 pm

On another note, did anyone see a 11-car R160 train on the F?

Chuck Fleece May 31, 2013 - 5:45 pm

I still can’t believe they didn’t move these “R46s” from the A line to the C line for the summer.

It’s absolutely UNBEARABLE on the C line right now, almost 80% of the cars on that line have broken or barely-functioning A/C. This is starting to go beyond a passenger comfort issue, it’s rapidly becoming a serious public health problem. Just the other day a diabetic had to be carried off the C train at 103rd Street by EMS because of the blisteringly hot temperatures on the C train.


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