Sorry for the long drought of writing, it’s been a busy few months and little to nothing to write about. This time though I’ve something that has been in the making for ages. It’s the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) annual holiday train.
The Arnines: A subway history.
This recent addition to the New York Holiday scene, consist of subway cars that date back to the 1930’s. The cars are know by their official names as the R-1 through R-9 series or arnines in subway buff speak.
They were 1,703 cars built for the Independent or IND system. The cars are the standard for every subway train design since then. Subsequent generations of MTA rolling stock can trace their design roots from car length, the amount of doors, ceiling height and even the seating layout, to these beauties. The cars can handle up to 228 people during the height of rush hour.
The cars ran from 1933 when the Eight Avenue Line, today’s A-C-E service opened until 1970 when the trains were finally retired due to old age. An overwhelming majority of the cars were scrapped but 19 have made it to the present day, a majority of which are still with the MTA. Eight of the cars are now in use for trip.
The consist is usually a combination of the following: 100-381-401-484-1000-1301-1575-1802. 100 is usually the lead car since it is the actual first car from the entire batch. 1575 which was re-done to look like it’s cousin the R-10, is usually in the middle of the pack and has a distinct light gray, gray-green and orange color scheme. The rest of the cars are painted green, although in historic photos, they were usually painted black.
Between their retirement and the centennial, the Arnines were used mostly for fan trips which were either open to the public or to exclusive members of the New York Transit Museum.
Car 103 on a Fan Trip In Brooklyn. Photo by Joe Testagrose from nycsubway.org
The yearly tradition of rolling out vintage trains for the Christmas season dates back to the subway’s centennial in 2004. In previous vintage runs, they were limited to just five cars. At the time they were running multiple trips on many lines and my dad and I only did one trip along Broadway N-Q-R-W line in Manhattan.
Interest must have hit a peak because in 2007 the trips were restarted and moved to the Sixth Avenue Line were they run today between the 2nd Avenue-Lower East Side and Queens Plaza stations on Sundays.
Also a special Holiday jazz party on the rails is usually held on the 3rd or 4th Sunday depending on the schedule which is cool since you really feel like your back in time. People also get dressed up like it’s 1935 again!
So back in 2012, after years of not riding the train, I decided one Sunday to take it and I wasn’t disappointed. Since then it’s been tradition for me and I’ve met friends and even been featured on someone’s blog when I dressed up one year. The trips also show a unique cross-section of New Yorker’s from train buffs, to classic clothing enthusiasts, jazz musicians and everyday people who want a break from the mundane. So while some look at the tree or the display windows I’m downstairs riding the arnines!
Tips and Schedule
One round trip run time is just over an hour. The best stations to use are either terminal, Broadway-Lafayette Street, West 4th Street-Washington Square, 34-Herald Square, 42nd Street-Bryant Park, 47-50th/Rockefeller Center, Lexington Avenue/53rd Street and the former 23rd Street-Ely Avenue (now Court Square-23rd Street).
I do not advise 14th, 23rd Streets and the 5th Avenue/53rd Street station stops due to their layouts which can prevent you from catching the train. They only have one so if you miss it you’re stuck. On the weekends, there is no direct service to get you from Queens Plaza to 23rd Street or even 5th Avenue/53rd Street to 23rd Street so plan accordingly.
The only time those stops could be used is on the first or last trips of the day. In regards to timing the first run leaves at 2nd Avenue at approximately 10:04 a.m. and the last tain leaves Queens Plaza at 4:44 p.m. but trains on regular service will have priority to leave the terminal stops first to avoid delays. So use the schedule provided by the MTA website as a guideline, especially when you are catching the train mid-route.
The best part is when the train goes under the East River in which the train kicks up it’s heels. All the windows and the walk through doors are opened so you really hear the noise and sounds of steel on steel.
The Jazz party is fun but if you plan to dress up try not to make it complicated it’s the most popular run and it gets very crowded, which makes the train very hot!
Cameras are allowed provided you don’t flash the train operator. Leave the tripod at home.
Pro Tip: The train usually stays at the 207th Street Yard in Upper Manhattan during the runs. So after the last run, listen to the announcer who will notify you of the route.
The Nostalgia Train will run December 11th and the 18th. Due to Christmas and New Years Day landing on a Sunday they will not run the trains on those days. So take a ride if you can!
One Last Thing (or Two or Three)
My good friend John and I usually find things to do so last week we went to the Brooklyn Museum to a very cool exhibit on Sport Photography called “Who Shot Sports” here is a link to his quick blog post which makes this one seem like a dissertation!
Also big thanks to the nycsubway.org who have been the repository of all things subway online when you can’t make it to the Transit Museum. They have thousands of pictures and articles on local transit history which is where I received some of my source material.
I’m not sure if I will post something in the next few weeks so if I don’t have a safe holiday season and see you in the New Year!