R32 (New York City Subway car)

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MTA NYC Subway J train leaving Lorimer St..JPG
An R32 train on the NYCS-bull-trans-J.svg at Lorimer Street.
Interior of an R32 by David Shankbone.JPG
Interior of an R32 car.
In service 1964-Present
Manufacturer Budd Company
Built at Philadelphia
Replaced BMT Standard, BMT D Triplex
Constructed 1964–1965
Entered service September 14, 1964
Refurbishment 1988–1990
Scrapped 2008-2010, 2013 (most cars)
TBD (remaining cars)
Number built 600
Number in service 222 (170 in revenue service during rush hours)/additional 10 in work service
Number preserved 4/additional 2 used for training
Number scrapped 360
Formation Married Pairs
Fleet numbers 3350–3949
(3659 renumbered to 3348)
Capacity 50 (seated)
Operator(s) New York City Subway
Depot(s) 207th Street Yard (102 cars)
East New York Yard (120 cars)[1]
Service(s) assigned NYCS-bull-trans-A.svg – 10 cars (1 train; AM rush)
 – 20 cars (2 train; PM rush)
NYCS-bull-trans-C.svg – 64 cars (8 trains, AM rush)
 – 56 cars (7 trains, AM rush)
NYCS-bull-trans-J.svg NYCS-bull-trans-Z.svg – 96 cars (12 trains)
Car body construction Stainless steel
Train length 2 car train: 120.25 feet (36.65 m)
4 car train: 240.50 feet (73.30 m)
6 car train: 360.75 feet (109.96 m)
8 car train: 481 feet (147 m)
10 car train: 601.25 feet (183.26 m)
Car length over coupler faces: 60 ft 3 in (18.36 m)
Width 10 ft (3,048 mm)
Height 12.08 ft (3,682 mm)
Platform height 3.76 ft (1.15 m)
Entry 3.76 ft (1.15 m)
Doors 8
Maximum speed 55 mph (89 km/h)
Weight 79,930 lb (36,260 kg)
(70,000 lb or 31,751 kg when delivered)
Traction system General Electric SCM 17KG192E3, DC propulsion system using GE 1257E1 motors or Westinghouse 1447JR (115 hp or 86 kW per axle)
(retired R32GE cars used 115 hp or 86 kW 1257F motors, all cars originally had Westinghouse 1447JR motors, as do all remaining cars in service)
Electric system(s) 600 V DC Third rail
Current collection method Contact shoe
Braking system(s) WABCO RT2 SMEE braking system, A.S.F. simplex unit cylinder clasp (tread) brake
Safety system(s) emergency brakes
Coupling system Westinghouse H2C
Headlight type halogen light bulb
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)

The R32 is a New York City Subway car model built from 1964 to 1965 by the Budd Company in Philadelphia for the IND/BMT B Division.


The R32s are numbered 3350–3949, but some cars have been re-numbered outside of this range or to different numbers in this range. They were the first cars to introduce all mylar route and destination rollsigns instead of the former cotton cloth or linen type rollsigns found on all older cars.

The R32s were the first mass-produced stainless steel cars built for the New York City Subway. Two previous Budd orders (the BMT Zephyr and the R11s) were limited production orders. The horizontally ribbed, shiny, and unpainted stainless exteriors of the R32s earned the cars the nickname Brightliners.[2]

The R32 contract was divided into two subcontracts of 300 cars each: the R32s (cars 3650-3949) and R32As (cars 3350-3649). The R32As were funded through the proceeds of a revenue bond while the R32s were paid for out of the 1963–1964 New York City capital budget. The two subcontracts differed only in interior lighting; the R32As had interior lighting featuring backlit ad-signs.[3][4]


R32 Transit Improvement

In mid-1963, the New York City Transit Authority contracted with Budd for 600 IND/BMT cars (300 pairs) to replace older equipment (cars that had exceeded the TA's 35-year limit of age), including the BMT D-type Triplex articulated cars and some of the BMT Standards. The cars were ordered for $68,820,000, of which half was provided by New York City and half through the sale of bonds by the New York City Transit Authority.[2] Budd had bid on previous contracts with the NYCTA, but had never won a City contract for a production run of cars until the R32s, as Budd built only stainless-steel equipment and the TA refused to allow a differential in competitive bids for this higher-quality construction.

Budd won the contract by offering the lowest bid of $114,700 per car. Budd low-balled the price to win the contract and introduce stainless steel equipment to the modern New York City subway system, a plan that was met with limited success. NYCTA allowed a premium for subsequent stainless steel contracts, and all subsequent equipment was at least partly constructed of stainless steel. However, the Budd Company never benefited from the change, as Budd failed to win further contracts from the NYCTA, and the company has since halted production of railroad cars.

A ceremonial introduction trip for the new R32 "Brightliners" cars was held on September 9, 1964, operating from the New York Central Railroad's Mott Haven Yards in the Bronx to Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. The new cars were then placed into service on the Q on September 14, 1964, after their New York Central's spring-loaded under-running third rail shoes were replaced with gravity-type overrunning subway third rail shoes.[2] The R32s were originally assigned to the BMT Southern Division service only, initially on the Brighton Line (Q train) and the Sea Beach Line (N train), but were eventually reassigned to the West End Line (T and TT trains).

Cars 3946–3949 were delivered with Pioneer trucks and disc brakes in 1966. These trucks were replaced with standard trucks in 1976.[5][6][7][8][9][10]

In 1974, cars 3700-3709 were sent to Garrett AiResearch's facilities in Los Angeles, California to have test out Flywheel energy storage system equipment. The even-numbered cars received energy conservation machinery with batteries and amber-type digital readout indicating the amount of energy used by the equipment, while the odd-numbered cars remained untouched. These cars were later tested at the UMTA, and the US Department of Transportation's Testing Facilities in Pueblo, Colorado for evaluation, and were returned to the MTA in 1976 for in-service testing on all BMT/IND Lines to check the effectiveness of the technology.

Overhauls and Mishaps[edit]

Car 3659 (since retired) was rebuilt as an even-numbered car and renumbered to 3348 following the loss of its even-numbered mate in an accident. Car 3669 was retired following a derailment, so its even-numbered mate 3668 was rebuilt into an odd-numbered car and renumbered to 3669.

From 1988 to 1990, as part of the NYCTA General Overhaul (GOH) program, most of the R32 cars were rebuilt by Morrison Knudsen at its shops in Hornell, New York. Ten R32 cars, which have since been retired, were rebuilt by General Electric in its Buffalo, New York facility. After rebuilding, they received Luminator flipdot signs that displayed the service letter only, since the air conditioning evaporators mounted on the interior car ends made it rather difficult to change the front route and destination signs. During the rebuilding process, the route and destination mylar rollsigns located above the storm doors were removed and replaced with flipdot electronic route signs. The distinctive marker lights were also removed.

After refurbishment, the R32 and R32A cars were renamed R32 Phase I, R32 Phase II, and R32 GE, with the first of the three types being the only one in service today. The R32 Phase I cars (re-built by Morrison Knudsen) have WABCO Air Brake packages, GE Master Controllers, and Thermo King HVAC units. The R32 Phase II cars (also re-built by Morrison Knudsen) have NY Air Brake equipment, Westinghouse Master Controllers, and Stone Safety HVAC units. The ten R32 GEs are slightly different from the Phase I and II cars as they were rebuilt to R38 specifications (experimental Sigma HVAC Units powered by A/C motors and solid state inverters, original traction motors rebuilt to 115 horsepower instead of the traditional 100 horsepower units, backlit ad signs, and different bulkhead designs).[11][12] Since the cars were sent out to be overhauled based on how poorly they were performing (worst first), there are R32s and R32As rebuilt in both Phase I and Phase II configurations. There are also about a dozen or more pairs which are composed of R32 and R32A mixes.


Initial plans for retirement[edit]

Retired R32 cars being shipped out to the Atlantic Ocean for reefing.
Retired R32 cars awaiting processing at Sims Metal Management in Newark, New Jersey.

The R160s replaced most of the R32s in the late 2000s. They were intended to replace the entire fleet, but this was halted due to structural issues found on the R44s that led to those cars' retirement. The ten GE cars were retired first in the summer of 2007. The Phase II R32s followed a year later, from the summer of 2008 until October 13, 2008. Finally, a handful of Phase I R32s were retired from early 2009 until November 2009, when it was decided to retire the NYCT R44s instead.[13] Altogether, 360 cars were retired by the time the last R160s were delivered.

After retirement, most cars were stripped and sunk as artificial reefs.[14] However, after the reefing program ended in April 2010, retired R32s have been trucked to Sims Metal Management's Newark facility to be scrapped and processed, an action that occurred between April 2013 and October 2013 with several already-retired cars and six cars that were retired in December 2010 due to mechanical issues. This proecess is expected to occur with the remaining in-service cars when they retire.[15]

Some of the retired R32 cars were saved for various purposes throughout the New York City Subway system, including:

  • Phase II pair 3350–3351, set aside for preservation by the Railway Preservation Corp.
  • Phase II pair 3352–3353, also set aside and slated for preservation, but by the New York Transit Museum.[16] These cars were the lead set on the R32s' premiere trip on September 9, 1964.
  • GE-rebuilt pair 3594–3595, being used as NYPD training cars at Floyd Bennett Field.

Prolonged service[edit]

The remaining 222 active cars are maintained at the 207th Street Yard and East New York Yards, running on the C, J, and Z, with one set assigned to the A on an as-needed or standby basis.

Ten additional cars, taken out of revenue service in December 2010, are now used for work service. The number "1" sticker was placed before the former number (i.e. car 3510 became 13510) of some cars. These cars are based out of the 36th-38th Street Yard and handle such tasks as providing traction for B-Division rail adhesion cars and refuse trains.

The remaining active cars had undergone SMS (Scheduled Maintenance Service) or a Life Extension Program back in 2011, at a cost of $25 million, to extend their useful lives through at least 2017.[17][18][19] The cars are planned to be fully replaced by the R179 fleet beginning in 2017;[20][21] however, the MTA is considering keeping around 132 R32s in service through 2017 and then around 110 R32s in service through 2019, due to delays in the delivery of the R179 replacement cars, along with a previously unanticipated fleet expansion necessitated by the renovation of the 14th Street Tunnel and the opening of the Second Avenue Subway.[22] The MTA is expected to spend another $49.2 million to refurbish and maintain some R32, and R42 cars; it will replace some cars with R179s and others with the R211As.[22]

At 52 years (the longest for an R-type car), the R32s are the oldest New York City Subway cars in regular passenger service, well past the specified service life of 35 years, as well as some of the oldest rolling stock of any metro system anywhere in the world.[17] According to railfan James Greller, they often cited for their superior durability and craftsmanship, along with the structural reinforcement done to their bodies during the GOH period; five other car types built after them have been mostly or completely retired.[17] They are also the only cars currently in service that were built for the New York City Transit Authority prior to its merger with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968.

Despite their great structural quality, the R32s have suffered from low mechanical quality in recent years. All Straphangers Campaign surveys since 2010 have found that the R32s have the lowest Mean Distance Between Failures figures, as the overhauls they received during the 1988–89 period were all worn out after 26–27 years.[23] Others have criticized the R32s for their appearance and lack of comfort. In August 2011, the New York Times called the R32s "a dreary reminder to passengers of an earlier subterranean era," and said that "time has taken a toll" on the cars.[17] In July 2015, several local news media criticized the high rate of repairs that the R32 cars required due to mechanical breakdowns, and worn-out air conditioning systems.[24][25] Because of the R32s' unreliable air conditioning in summer months, they were transferred to services with mostly outdoor or elevated portions, namely the A, J, and Z services.[26]

In popular culture[edit]

The cars in the 2008 video game Grand Theft Auto IV are based on both R32 and R38 fleets. All cars in the game are heavily vandalized with graffiti.

A train of R32s was featured in the 2015 film Bridge of Spies, despite the fact that the film is set a decade prior to their manufacture. They were the oldest available rolling stock to form a realistic 10-car train for exterior filming. Interior shots were done with a more period-appropriate R11/R34 from the New York Transit Museum.[27]


  1. ^ New York Subway Barn Assignments – November 6, 2016
  2. ^ a b c Annual Report 1964–1965. New York City Transit Authority. 1965. 
  3. ^ "Showing Image 4981". Nycsubway.org. Retrieved 2013-11-04. 
  4. ^ "Showing Image 4982". Nycsubway.org. Retrieved 2013-11-04. 
  5. ^ "Showing Image 45677". nycsubway.org. 
  6. ^ "Showing Image 45220". nycsubway.org. 
  7. ^ "Showing Image 4972". nycsubway.org. 
  8. ^ "Showing Image 4970". nycsubway.org. 
  9. ^ "Showing Image 45192". nycsubway.org. 
  10. ^ "Showing Image 45677". nycsubway.org. 
  11. ^ "Showing Image 2352". nycsubway.org. 
  12. ^ "Showing Image 38065". nycsubway.org. 
  13. ^ https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/1/d/1l6kZ05gU-4fMhf5rc9GX5igW6d97vq9_nn0WSJkNTxM/pub?single=true&gid=4&output=html
  14. ^ Chalasani, Radhika (17 September 2015). "Watery grave for NYC subway cars". CBS News. Retrieved October 16, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Showing Image 140231". nycsubway.org. 
  16. ^ "Showing Image 88797". Nycsubway.org. 2009-08-16. Retrieved 2013-11-04. 
  17. ^ a b c d Grynbaum, Michael M. (26 August 2011). "For Often-Late Cars of Subway's C Train, Retirement Must Wait". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  18. ^ Page 11 of Document, Page 17 on the PDF reader
  19. ^ "Press Release — NYC Transit — Oldest MTA New York City Transit Subway Cars Getting Their Final Makeover". MTA. 2012-09-07. Retrieved 2015-09-28. 
  20. ^ "Governor Cuomo Announces $600 Million MTA Investment in Upstate Manufacturing | Governor Andrew M. Cuomo". Governor.ny.gov. 2012-03-28. Retrieved 2013-11-04. 
  21. ^ "R179 Staff Summary March 2012" (PDF). mta.info. New York City Transit. March 2012. Retrieved September 12, 2016. 
  22. ^ a b "MTA 2016 Preliminary Budget Financial Plan 2016-2019 Volume 2" (PDF). mta.info. Metropolitan Transportation Authority. p. V-222. Retrieved September 11, 2016. 
  23. ^ "C Line profile" (PDF). Straphangers Campaign. Retrieved 1 December 2014. 
  24. ^ Stevens, Harry (2015-07-07). "Summer in the city brings dreaded hot subway cars". The New York World. Retrieved 2015-09-28. 
  25. ^ "How And Where To Spot the Sweltering NYC Subway Cars". WNYC. 2015-07-07. Retrieved 2015-09-28. 
  26. ^ Mosley, Walter; James, Phyllis (2015-10-12). "Mosley and James: On the platform, waiting for a C". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  27. ^ Lumenick, Lou (October 18, 2015). "Spielberg's 'Bridge of Spies' has a surprise star — NYC subways". New York Post. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Sansone, Gene. Evolution of New York City subways: An illustrated history of New York City's transit cars, 1867–1997. New York Transit Museum Press, New York, 1997 ISBN 978-0-9637492-8-4

External links[edit]