Chapter 9, New Cars for the Independent

From nycsubway.org

They Moved The Millions · by Ed Davis, Sr.


R38's between runs on the "T" line at Coney Island. By looking at roofs one could tell whether or not the car was air conditioned; the 4045 isn't, the next car to the right is.

Section A: The R38's

Well into the 1950's the Independent, or IND Division, was still thought of as the modern division of the system. With the BMT and IRT both having much of their old equipment, and in fact being older systems, in most New Yorkers' minds the IND was still almost new. While the R1-9 cars were closer in appearance to the era of the 1920's they seemed ageless, much like the old Low-V's, for example, had seemed until new equipment arrived. Nevertheless, the fact was that in 1966 the newest of them was over 25 years old and oldest over 35 years old. While some of the lesser routes of the BMT had much older equipment (the IRT had retired the last of theirs from all of the mainline routes) the heavily travelled IND mainlines thru Manhattan would be getting the new cars.

In 1966 the St. Louis Car Company built 200 cars of contract R-38 which would be assigned to Jamaica Yard on the IND for service on the Queens lines. The original plan was to place them in service on the Concourse-6th Ave-Culver "D" route, the longest on the division (except for a few rush hour E trains from Jamaica to the Rockaways via 8th Ave) which ran 26 miles from the north Bronx to Coney Island. However since the Queens lines were short of cars and the R1-9 cars assigned to Jamaica Yard were in a worse state of disrepair the new cars went to Queens, to be used primarily on the E and F lines.

In appearance the R38's resembled the R32's but were far more attractive. Where the R32's fluting ran up the entire side of the car and on the roof as well, the R38's had fluted siding only on the lower halves of the car sides. The portion of the car end on the number one ends above the end door and cab window, where the route and destination signs, as well as marker lamps were mounted, was made of a piece of fiberglass with a little sculpture around the signs. Interiors were identical to the R32's with the illuminated advertisements, and a newer type fan guard which replaced the grill or louver arrangement.

The motorman's cabs were quite different, with the power controls, indication light, and brake valve all mounted into a nice neat console. Conductor's controls remained the same as had been used on all cars built from the R26 on; pushbutton consoles in each cab. A new, simplified type drumswitch for setting up conductor's positions was used, and at last; a good, clear public address system! An ME43 brake valve was used on these cars and others to follow; operation of it was the same as the ME42 however.


A northbound train of R38's arrives at Kings Highway on the "T" line while a "put-in" waits in the center track for a northbound rush hour run.


A train of R38's on the Culver Line express track, about to pass Bay Parkway station en route to Coney Island. Date was Jan. 23, 1968; the local track which was normally used was out of service due to track work.


R38's on the "N" line, leaving Coney Island on a northbound run.

Another new feature of the R38's was use of an electrical load sensor device which replaced the variable load valve on each car; these were intended to sense the passenger load in each car and regulate braking effort according to tonnage in each car. The load sensor was more electrical than pneumatic in nature and the sigh or puff of air heard when doors were closed and locked was not heard on the R38's nor newer cars.

While the R38 was more attractive than the R32 its braking was not as good. It was smoother in dynamic but not as effective in response to brake valve operation. The basic feel of these cars should best be described as slippery. Acceleration was somewhat smoother and the R38's seemed more stable riding. Another negative feature of the R38's was their noisy ride; the roar from these cars was about the worst of any cars on the system.

The last ten R38's delivered came factory equipped with air conditioning. Happily the experiment was a success this time and air conditioning would soon, but not immediately, become standard equipment on new rolling stock built for the system.

After their introduction on the Queens lines some R38's found their way onto the Sea Beach line of the BMT, and when more new cars showed up in Queens some years later the R38's intermittently appeared on other lines of the system. They have served on several lines of the "B" division but are no longer the bulk of the rolling stock on the E and F lines to which they were first assigned. Their arrival on the system did not result in many retirements of old stock, however there were 50 class R1 cars which had been converted to trailer cars to allow a spare motor supply for the rest of the fleet, and these were retired. Fortunately the next order of new cars that followed the R38's was an improvement.


A southbound train of R40's arrives at Broad Channel en route to Rockaway. When these cars wer delivered the ends were devoid of gates and the monstrous hardware they are mounted on! Safety first - all that stuff had to be added to compensate for impractical designs.

Section B: The R40's

Where nearly all of the new cars for the IRT during the period of fleet replacement were almost identical in appearance, every contract of new cars for the BMT and IND followed a different body design. While the R32 and R38 were modifications on a standard design and differed considerably, another new body style was in the works which looked like nothing that had run on the rails of the system. During the administration of Mayor John V. Lindsay an order for 400 new cars for the IND was about to be placed. Mr. Lindsay brought up the idea that subway cars were too boxy looking and a more stylish body for the new cars ought to be introduced. A contract was let to Raymond Loewy Associates to design the new carbody for what was to become the R40's. This firm was responsible for the ageless (if not radical when new) body styling of the famous GG1 electric crowd locomotive of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Unfortunately traffic and passenger crowding conditions on the New York subway were not taken into consideration while the new cars were being planned.

In 1967 and into 1968 the St. Louis Car Company would deliver the 400 cars of contract R40. By the time delivery was complete the supposed new standard car for the system had been thru two major design modifications.

The ends of these cars was something different altogether! Rather than having perfectly vertical ends, the ends of each two-car married pair set were raked back in a design that might have looked good on the leading end of the train but did not look good where pairs of cars were coupled together and was under all circumstances dangerous. No pantograph gates could be mounted on these cars as built, because the gap at the couplings where married pairs met was too great. Crowds of passengers on the platforms are a way of life on the system and for over 60 years there were gates between cars to keep people from being shoved between cars and onto the tracks. The R40 had gaping spaces where the ends of married pairs were coupled. In addition, the convenience of passing between cars was of necessity curtailed at these couplings by locking the end doors at those locations. There was no way of mounting any hardware for a passenger to hold onto while passing between cars, and a jolt in the ride of the train could cause a fatality to anyone passing between cars at that time.


Slant end R40's await a run on the line at Coney Island. Graffiti was then only beginning to show its ugly face.

This defect would in time be modified by having a mess of ugly hardware added to the slanted ends of these cars which would provide safer passage between cars and also afforded a means of providing the pantograph safety gates at those locations. What might have been a good styling for another railroad certainly wasn't a good idea here. A modified body would be provided on the last 100 cars of this contract but for the first 300 the damage was already done.

In other areas the R40 was sharp looking. For the first time since the construction of the IRT Composites in 1902 a fleet of cars was delivered with a mildly curved side. Picture windows were larger than on prior orders, and the fluting of the stainless steel car side was thinner than on previous orders. Below the window level was a neat semicircular depression a few inches high which added a little spunk. The side signs were mounted above a picture window on each side of the car and the interior side of the signs had a map of stations and connections for the line indicated by the signage. The one big sign had route and destinations, replacing the set of three roller signs which had been used on previous cars. Cranks for changing these signs were not installed on these cars; instead, conductors were issued cranks to insert in a hole to change them. This eliminated tampering by unauthorized persons which caused improper display of routings. The end sign was different too. No more of the small-lettered route and destination signs, no more marker lights to indicate routing to towermen. The end signs were now a big letter about 2 ft. wide and 3 ft. high, such as F, the line to which these cars were first assigned. Background color on the F sign was magenta, E was turquoise, etc. There were several different colors assigned to routes of different districts and this one color for sign background, if not the huge letter, would show personnel and passengers alike which train it was at a quick glance.

Another defect in the R40's was the shape of the fiberglass seat cushions, with a low back and little curvature to allow for seated comfort.

The last 100 of the R40's were delivered with a vertical end which was in all respects better looking and more practical for conditions on the system. These last 100 R40's established a basic "MTA look" which would show not only on subway cars but on suburban commuter rail cars as well, built for cousins of the subway such as the Long Island Railroad.


Class R40M, modified with straight ends, a la R42, is new in this photo taken at Coney Island Yard. These were renumbered later (4450-4549) to be in consecutive series with the R42 which followed. This design was an improvement over the original both aesthetically and practically. New York City Transit Authority. [This is not the same photo as used in the book; almost identical view of R40M 4256 at Coney Island Yard, January 12, 1969. Photo by Doug Grotjahn, collection of Joe Testagrose.

Air conditioning at last! When the order for the R40's was placed, in the era of almost universal air conditioning, this feature was not included in the contract! Mayor John Lindsay was also disturbed by that fact; too bad he hadn't thought of this first instead of styling! In any event, since the system was city owned, the mayor's influence went to work on modifying the order to include air conditioning. Since it was successful on the trial R38's why couldn't it become a standard feature? The deed was done, although it was too late to get the first 200 cars built with air conditioning, the second half of the order had it, at a meager addition of $14,000 to the price of a $114,000 car, Not only were they more comfortable, but the patchwork appearance of car ceilings which had endured since 1954, on all new cars since the R16, was done away with and a better appearance prevailed, although most passengers probably couldn't have cared less. People boarding an R40 train when platforms weren't too crowded looked for a car without the long intake grills on the roof, the ones with the smoother roof and only a few intakes could be spotted as air conditioned cars.

The major change in equipment on the R40 was the use of conductor's controls in the No. 2 cab only; previously they had been in all cabs but now the motorman's controls were at No. 1 end and conductor's at No. 2 end. And like the R38's, these cars had nice clear sounding public address systems. The conductor's controls received a major modification along with their quantity being reduced by half. Where all prior city-built equipment, and the old IRT equipment as well had conductor's door control stations set up with drumswitches and circuits carried thru the train and terminated at the ends by various positioning of the drumswitch, viz on, thru, and off, the R40's would use a system similar to that which the BMT had used on their old A-B cars. Quite simply, the conductor would only have to put in one key to energize controls at the operation position as required, and presto, the entire train was set up for door operation. A second key would be used as a safety feature to pass electric power to the control buttons. With the second key out and the drumswitch key in the conductor would get his door signal when all were closed and locked. The elimination of trainline circuits thru drumswitches was a worthy change and reduced time necessary to prepare a train for service or to change the conductor's position, if necessary.

The R40's wound up delivered in three different types; the slant end, without air conditioning; slant end with air conditioning, and the R40m, vertical end, with air conditioning. So much for a new standard car! Despite the grave error in styling, the R40 in other ways was successful. Braking was far superior to that of the R38, and in most areas the author would have to rate the R40's as the best runn- ing train out of the stainless steel fleet.

The original assignment of these cars was to the IND Queens lines, mostly for service on the F but later appearing on the E line. As these appeared some of the R1-9 cars were transferred elsewhere, many to the BMT (now B-1 division) Eastern section where they would slowly replace the old A-B cars.


These R42's have just "come off the boat", a carfloat in this case. They sit at 36th St. Yard without signs, no doubt would be inspected and road tested before service.

After serving almost ten years on the E and F lines with occasional runs elsewhere, the R40's were replaced in Queens by newer R46 cars in the middle nd late 1970's. They shared Queens turf with everything from the old R1-9 cars to the ultra- modern, nearly automated R46's. When they were transferred out of Queens they went to Washington Heights and Pitkin Yard to serve on the "A" line and replace the aging R10's, they are now to be seen on routes served from Upper Manhattan.

We have elaborated on the R40 due to the many changes on the varying subclasses. One more fleet of cars much like them would nearly immediately follow them, and then the space age would appear on the rails of the New York transit system.

Section C: The Last Chapter of the Postwar Car Saga

Although 23 years had passed between the end of the Second World War and the first delivery of the class R42 cars, these cars were nevertheless a part of the almost continuous delivery of cars for the system, and followed the same basic principles of the R10 cars of 1948. Late in 1968, the St. Louis Car Company began to deliver 400 cars of Contract R42, which were nearly duplicates of the R40m, with vertical ends which had been delivered earlier that year. In 1969 the last of these R42 cars would be delivered; a new chapter in car equipment for the New York City Transit System was in the process of being written. As with the R40's, the R42's were built for service on the B division (combined BMT-IND), and followed the dimensions of the R1-9 classes of cars and their B Division successors.

There were only two exterior spotting features between the R40m and the R42: the stainless steel siding below the window level had a wider fluting than used on the R40, and the neat semicircular groove just below the window level was done away with. These two classes of cars were most similar in appearance of any of the stainless steel stock built up to that time. The interiors were nearly identical except that the seating on the R42 was improved, the shape of the fiberglass "cushions" more suited for comfort of passengers, and a long narrow window on the end doors of the number two end did not appear on the R42; the end doors on both ends of the R42's were identical.


This is the interior of an R42 car; the R40's that are air conditioned are nearly identical. This is much neater than the patchwork appearance of the ceilings of non-air conditioned cars. Compare this to the R27's interior.

As precedent was set on the R40's for air conditioning, the R42's (and all subsequent car orders) were air conditioned.

Mechanically the R42 was nearly identical to the R40 except for a somewhat poorer dynamic brake. Why a nearly perfect system had to be modified for the worse cannot be explained here, but it seems each class of equipment during the 1960's had a different response to the brake valve, although this occurred in earlier orders too, but usually after a few contracts had been built. For instance a mixed train of IRT cars might have had seven or eight different class cars but there would be only three different braking responses. In any event there was no major problem with this and the R42's were not troublesome. There was one major innovation on the R42's: the rotary, motor driven generator for charging the low-voltage batteries for control power, which had been standard equipment on all cars from Ri10thru R40, was replaced by a solid state convertor on the R42. By means of this more modern technology the 600 volts DC line power was reduced to 37.5 volts DC which would be stored in batteries for all control equipment. There was also a device that, by means of capacitors, would keep the main interior lights lit for about 15 seconds after there was no third rail power on the car, hence the car lights would only dim when each car passed over a gap in the power rail. On nearly all prior equipment the lights would momentarily blink out and then re-light when the car was back on third rail power. The only exception to this was the old IRT high-voltage equipment which had a 600 volt DC bus line thru the train, connected by jumpers between cars. On the High-V's, if one car was on the 3rd rail, or contact rail which carried electricity for collection by trains, the entire train would have power for traction and auxiliaries. This was not the case on the R42's though: there was no bus line on them, and only the lights would remain powered over gaps.


A "D" train of mixed consist stops at Prospect Park on the Brighton Line. The prominent cars in this photo are the R42's. Safety gates between cars are obviously lacking.


A Manhattan bound train of R42's arrives at Crescent St. on the Jamaica el. This station, built in 1893, was one of the last to have the "feel" of the original Brooklyn elevateds.

Since the entire R42 fleet was air-conditioned, these new cars were not assigned to one line or district which had been the practice for most new car deliveries in the past. Lots of R42 cars were assigned to all districts of the "B" Division thereby affording at least a few air conditioned trains on nearly all lines of that division. At this time, on the "A" Division, or IRT, there were no air conditioned trains at all. Unfortunately, due to the large signs for route and destination used on the R40 and R42, there could only be designations for about three routes on the signs, therefore if, for instance, car shortage required mixing in Concourse R42's with CC and D signs only to make up an N train or perhaps an F, (both of these were of different districts also) the signs on the Concourse cars would have to left blank rather than incorrect, to the confusion of passengers. The use of the public address system, with the conductor calling the train name out, would partially correct this problem.

With the delivery of the R42's the last of the old BMT A-B cars were retired as surplus R1-9 cars were transferred from Queens to replace them on the 14th Street-Canarsie line, their last holdout. Additionally, scrapping of the oldest (in most instances) R1-9 cars began while this contract was being delivered. The R42 was thought to be the last fleet of cars with "SMEE" brake equipment as the space age R44 class was on the drawing board; however, as we will read later, the tried and true principles of the R10 thru R42 classes would reappear after an absence of 14 years from new car equipment.


R40's await a northbound run to Jamaica on the "F" line at Coney Island. The impractical end design is obvious here. Air conditioned car predominates in this scene. A non-air conditioned model peeks out from the edge of the picture.


An R40M with straight ends poses at Coney Island. These were probably the most attractive of the stainless steel cars of the 1960's.

Copyright 1985 by Edward C. Davis, Sr. Reproduced on nycsubway.org with permission. Webmaster's Note: The photos presented in these articles were in many cases scanned from the original slides obtained from the author. Where the original slides weren't available, scans from the book are used. In a few cases, similar photos from the collection of nycsubway.org were used instead of the low-quality scans from the book. These are all noted as such in the captions.

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