More than a year after retired Number 7 subway cars were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean, the last remaining Redbird car was installed in front of Borough Hall to become a Queens visitors’ center.
Car 9075 was lowered into place at the corner of Queens Boulevard and 82nd Avenue after midnight last Wednesday. The 50-foot, 40-ton car was once used to transport visitors to and from the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
“When I found out that these cars were being lowered into the Atlantic Ocean to form a barrier reef, I asked the Transit Authority if we could rescue one for use as a tourist information center,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. “The agency complied with our request and I am grateful for their cooperation in moving this relic of Queens history to a suitable home.”
According to Dan Andrews, a spokesman for Marshall, the train was bought for $1. Over the next three months, display cases and computers with Internet access will be installed.
The Borough President’s Office is working with the Queens Economic Development Corporation on the project. Although Andrews said it will cost “a fair amount of money,” he doesn’t anticipate running into problems coming up with the funding. The information center will be staffed by volunteers.
Beginning in 2001, the Redbirds were replaced with more reliable stainless steel cars. They were the last of the painted passenger trains, and the last to have tear-shaped metal hand grips for straphangers.
“The Redbirds did a great job serving New Yorkers for almost 40 years,” said New York City Transit spokesman Charles Seaton. They were named for their color and speed.
The cars were built between 1959 and 1963. Those built last had windows that were larger than usual to provide a better glimpse of the World’s Fair as the subway approached Flushing Meadows. Originally the cars were cream colored, but because of a war against graffiti in the 1980s, they were painted red.
An acrimonious battle between New Jersey environmentalists and local fishermen began in 2001 when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority offered as many as 1,300 Number 7 cars for use as artificial reefs. Environmentalists were concerned about asbestos and rusting metal polluting the ocean. Supporters said while airborne asbestos can be a hazard, underwater it did not pose a threat.
New Jersey eventually sank 250 of the cars between July and October 2003 at 5 different locations. Each of the cars was stripped of tanks, plastic and grease before being released into the ocean. An eight-year review by scientists that began in the fall of 2003, has not to date revealed any harm to marine life.
“As far as we can tell, the program has been successful in providing a habitat for fish and also providing great fishing and diving,” said Peter Boger, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Studies of the reefs have shown that as many as 200 species of fish now make their home where straphangers once made their morning commutes. Captain Steve Nagiewicz, who leads diving tours in New Jersey, says the reefs have become a “destination for the curious.”
“When you dive around the cars there are a lot of fish. It’s almost as crowded and dark as the subway,” he said. “Now there’s just another clientele.”
Nagiewicz has led tours to see the cars—which are approximately 100 feet deep in the ocean—about a half dozen times. He has videotaped people straphanging underwater and diving with their MetroCards.
“For a lot of people it was somewhat traumatic to see the cars go away,” he said. “The dive has become like a trip down memory lane.”
To see photographs and videos of the artificial reefs, log on to www.njscuba.com.