News Culture

Iconic New York City Subway Cars Retire After 57 Years of Service

These stainless steel symbols of the Big Apple are probably a familiar sight to you regardless of where you're from.

Even if you’ve never visited New York City, much less navigated its tunneled underbelly, there’s a good chance you recognize its subway cars. Rolling around since 1964, the R32 (no, not the Nissan) has become part of the backdrop to daily life in the country’s most populous city, and a symbol of the Big Apple. Nothing good lasts forever, though, and on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, NYC’s iconic R32 subway cars ran their final passenger service.

The stainless steel-bodied “Brightliners,” as they were dubbed, were bleeding-edge at their time of introduction, weighing some 4,000 pounds less than other stainless-steel-bodied subway cars of the era. Their gleaming silver bodies and front windows (giving standing occupants a view out the end of the train) made them an instant hit when they entered service on Sept. 9, 1964—several months before the Metropolitan Transit Authority itself was founded.

MTA R32 on its final passenger service, Metropolitan Transit Authority

The 600 cars initially ordered by the MTA were reportedly projected to remain in service for 35 years, but the R32 soldiered on, staying in regular passenger service into 2020, by which point they were some of the oldest operating subway cars in the world, according to the MTA. It was only fitting, then, that these venerable machines responsible for moving countless billions of people over the years be honored before retirement with one final excursion along the route on which they first served New Yorkers: the Q line. And there was no shortage of R32 diehards there to see it off.

“This is the end of an era,” MTA rider Zorick Johnson—who showed up for the final ride with a model of the R32 and a conductor’s cap—told AMNY. “It is an honor for me to be here on this final run to say goodbye to a workhorse of the MTA.”

“They’ve been through snowstorms, graffiti, violence, scratchiti from the glass, and the cars are still going, they’re still strong,” he added.

“They’re one of the coolest looking cars on the outside that we ever had,” added Jodi Shapiro of the New York Transit Museum. “Even on a day like today when it’s cloudy out and overcast they still look fantastic.”

“I grew up riding them and I just like them better than the other models,” chimed in MTA bus driver Javi Batista. “I just wanted to see them for the very last time, before they’re gone.”

MTA R32 on its final passenger service, Metropolitan Transit Authority

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