Leaving Citifield after a Mets game in April, I spotted something unusual in the Corona subway yards serving the IRT Flushing Line that runs between Hudson Yards and Flushing Main Street. Though more recent subway cars such as the
R-160 R-142 and R-188 have pretty much taken over the route (which still used R-33 “redbirds” until 2003) some older trainsets featuring R-62A cars are still running on the line for a short while more, at least.
The R-62 cars were introduced in the early 1980s on IRT lines. They still make up most if not all cars on the #1 and #3 lines and much of the #6. Given the gauge, R-62s run only on IRT lines. One of the features that endear me to the line and most subway lines built from the 1960s to the 1980s is the presence of a large, illuminated roll sign in the front of the lead and end cars, with color bullets showing the line designation. More recent models simply show the ID number or letter electronically in a red circle or diamond.
In the 1980s, when these roll signs were produced, every number between 1 and 13 was included, just in case they may be needed. However, no new IRT lines have been constructed since they early 1920s, with only the one-stop extension of the #7 representing new IRT-gauge construction since 1968, when the #3 was extended to Powell Boulevard. Why then would numbers going up to 13 be needed?
The answer is simple. The MTA included them in case the nomenclature for express lines was ever changed. Presently the #2 and #3, in Manhattan, are express versions of the #1. Similarly, the #4 and #5, in Manhattan, are express versions of the #6 (with a Bronx express getting a diamond 6). As for the Flushing Line, its express is designated by a diamond 7. However the MTA made provisions in case a numeral was going to replace a diamond, designating express. As well, different numbers or letters can represent rush hour skip-stop service. In the 1990s, the #9 was a version of the #1 that served stops not served by the #1. To this day, the Z makes stops the J does not.
Thus, the #11 bullet is there in case the MTA wanted to rename the Diamond 7 as a different number. The 8 and 10 stand ready to serve the Lexington line, and the 12 and 13 are ready, if called for, on the 7th Avenue. The #8 bullet? It’s been “taken” already–until 1973, the #8 was used for the Third Avenue elevated from 149th Street to Gun Hill Road. The cars on that el were so old, they didn’t have front and end roll signs, so the #8 never appeared on them. For whatever reason the MTA is loath to reuse a letter or number taken out of service for a different route.
In the photo, we see two different methods the MTA devised to indicate the Flushing Line Express. The R-62 cars will be phased out on all lines within a few years, and with them, the “#8 through #13” trains.
New R-211 cars, to be used on former IND and BMT routes, will bring back the front and end color bullets–so that design element isn’t quite dead yet.