It might be time to begin saying goodbye to the R-46 subway car, which currently works the A, F and R subway lines; in fact the A fleet is still nearly all R-46. Unofficially, the “R” in front of New York City subway car designations stands for “revenue” though I have heard other words substituted for it. The designation was first used for traincars of the Independent Subway, the lines that NYC built between 1925-1940 to compete with the Interborough and Brooklyn-Manhattan. The very first car in passenger use on the IND was the R-1, and examples of it can still be found in the Transit Museum and emerge for fan trips and holiday specials.
Though the R-46, and other warhorses such as the R-32 (C, J), R-42 (J), R-44 (still in use for Staten Island Railway trains) and R-68 (B, D, G, S, occasionally N and W) have a few years of life left, a contract has been awarded to Kawasaki Heavy Industries to construct a new fleet, the R-211, that will replace these cars beginning in 2020.
The R-46 and its near-twin, the R-68 (introduced in 1986, also produced by Kawasaki), are my favorite subway cars. The fronts have large illuminated bullets with the letter identification, I find the orange-yellow seats and wood panel trim comforting (the blue and white esthetic used for new subway cars since then reminds me of a dentist’s office) and I liked the “bing-bong” door opening sound effect that has been in place ever since these cars, built by Pullman, first debuted in 1974; a door-opening sound effect has appeared on all makes ever since. Also: the support bars by the door and square and not cylindrical! The glass panels that formerly occupied the space between the bars were removed years ago, as miscreants were fond of spray painting them or smashing them. The chief difference between the R-46 and R-68, at least esthetically, is that the R-46 has wallpaper with the NYS state symbol while the R-68 simply has a banded metal finish on its interior sides.
Best of all: only the R-46 and R-68s have window-facing seats. I like to sit looking out the window; even when the train is in a tunnel, I observe the station decor and the passing panoply of people on the platforms. I can rarely get a seat by the window on the A with the crowding, but when boarding the R at 95th Street (pictured) it’s easy to snag one. The R is in a tunnel its entire route, but the A and F spend considerable time on els and the A even crosses Jamaica Bay.
The city has apparently gotten away from window-facing seats because, if you’re on the inner seat, you need to climb over a seat mate to leave the train, and apparently people don’t like to do that, the MTA heard their complaints, and aisle-facing seats are all that are ever built anymore; it’s too bad. (It hasn’t stopped the Long Island RR and Metro-North from producing window-facing seats on new cars.)
Over the next couple of years, I’ll try to feature these soon-to-disappear subway cars, some of which go back as far as 1964 (R-32).