Brooklyn Boro

Historic Brooklyn subway cars take their last journey — Brooklyn-style

R-32s were featured in several Hollywood movies

March 1, 2022 Raanan Geberer
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If you’ve seen the movies “Bridge of Spies,” “Spiderman: Homecoming” or “Joker,” you’ve seen the subway system’s now retired R-32 cars, the first cars with stainless steel exteriors.

But even if you never saw those movies, you’ve seen these cars if you’ve ridden the subway system at any time from 1964, when they were introduced, until this January, when their last ceremonial run was made. 

Among the many lines they’ve traversed over the years were the Brighton Beach, Sea Beach and West End lines in Brooklyn; the A and C lines; the J and Z lines, and more.

Now, according to the MTA, four of these iconic cars have begun their final journey  — a Brooklyn journey.

On Monday morning, the subway cars were transferred from the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal to the 65th Street Yard by a New York New Jersey (NYNJ) Rail locomotive, via street-level tracks on First Avenue in Sunset Park.

This R-32 train is being taken through the streets of Sunset Park, from the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal to the 65th Street Railyard. MTA photo by Marc Hermann

At the rail yard, the R-32 cars are being disassembled by separating the car bodies from the trucks. They will then be placed and secured onto Frontier Industrial Corporation’s flat cars. 

Next week, the cars will be floated across the Hudson River on a Port Authority barge to Jersey City where they will be placed onto CSX freight trains for shipment to Ohio. There, they will be scrapped for recycling.

The R-32s were the first large fleet of mass-produced stainless-steel cars purchased by what is now MTA New York City Transit, comprising a total of 600 cars. Built in Philadelphia by the Budd Company, they were nicknamed the Brightliners because of their washboard-like stainless steel exteriors. 

The first revenue train ran on Sep. 14, 1964 on what is today‘s D/Q line, or the Brighton line. The cars’ last hurrah, on trips organized by the New York Transit Museum, was likewise also on the Brighton line.

With a state-of-the-art design for its time, the Brightliners quickly became a crowd favorite and continues to be a nostalgic favorite to many. Notably, the R-32 cars are the last subway car class in service to have a front window that passengers can look out of.

Drivers on First Avenue were no doubt surprised to see this locomotive pulling a group of retired subway cars. Downtown Brooklyn is in the background. MTA photo by Marc Hermann

Several posters on Twitter, as well as Wikipedia, have pointed out that although R-32 cars are featured in “Bridge of Spies,” the film was set in 1957, years before they actually made their debut.

Earlier in this century, many decommissioned subway cars were taken out to sea in rafts, then sunk in order to form artificial reefs. The first group of R-32s that were replaced by more modern subway cars, in 2007, 2008 and 2009, met this fate. However, the “reefer” program eventually came to an end.

A set of R-32s has been preserved by the Transit Museum.

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