The MTA’s last examples of the R-42 subway car, first manufactured and entering service in 1969, are finally being shuttled off to the MTA Retirement Village (making repair facilities and the Transit Museum their new stomping grounds this week in February 2020). The cars, manufactured by St. Louis Car, were something of a reaction to the slant-front R-40 fleet, whose shape proved impractical; later versions of the R-40 closely resembled the successor cars R-42 and R-44. Manufacturer St. Louis Car went out of business long ago, in 1974!
The cars first saw revenue service on the Sea Beach Line in Brooklyn, then as now serving the N train, but where used on most BMT and some IND lines over the years. The title card shows it on the M train in the early 1970s, when M trains were represented by light blue before they went to brown and now orange (subway bullet colors are determined by their Manhattan “trunks”).
Few films contain more recent forgotten New York scenes than 1971’s The French Connection. Extensive on-location shooting along with director William Friedkin’s penchant for showing the gritty realism of the city make this one of the easiest ways to see what New York was like circa 1970. Winner of five Oscars, including Best Picture, The French Connection is often remembered for what might be the most incredibly staged car chase on film, as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, played by Gene Hackman, desperately pursues drug smuggler Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi) aboard an out-of-control R-42 consist along the West End el branch by driving down Stillwell Avenue, 86th Street and New Utrecht Avenue at breakneck speed, a scene that was filmed without official sanction in real time with stunt driver Bill Hickman narrowly missing pedestrians along the way. The chase begins at the Bay 50th Street station and runs to the 62nd Street stop.
Here, an R-42 consist enters the West 8th St. station. G trains usually do not get this far south, but occasional weekend operations bring them to Coney Island.
For me, the J train is among the lines I use the least. But in recent years I always looked forward to riding it because the J train has been sort of a rolling museum, employing R-32 cars first introduced in 1964(!), brand new R-179 cars, and fifty remaining R-42 cars. The R-42s were finally going to be retired on December 31, 2019, but issues were discovered with the new R-179s, namely that the doors were opening with the train in motion between stations, a very dangerous situation. The new cars were recalled for repairs and the old reliable R-42s were again pressed into service; on a recent visit to Woodhaven on January 9, 2020, I was lucky enough to snag an R-42 consist on the way back to Manhattan.
On a recent visit to the NYC Transit Museum, I was sure to take a look at a pair of R-42 cars in its collection. The K train ended service in 1988; it was a local 8th Avenue service, with the C largely replacing it.
The R-42 fleet has one more run in it. On Wednesday, February 12, you can ride it one last time. An R-42 consist will run on the A line:
- Leaves Euclid Avenue at 10:30 AM to go to Far Rockaway, making all A stops along the way
- Leaves Far Rockaway at 11:30 AM to go to 207 St, making all A stops along the way
- Leaves 207 St at 1:30 PM to go back to Euclid Av, making all A stops