Farewell, R42s. You Served New York City Well

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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St. Louis Car Company built 400 R42s from 1969 to 1970. The last run took place on Feb. 12, 2020. Photos: Marc A. Hermann and Jessie Mislavsky/MTA New York City Transit.

MTA New York City Transit retired the last remaining R42 subway cars from service on Feb. 12, 2020, ending a 51-year run that began in May 1969. The cars have been used on all NYCT B Division lines, each accumulating more than seven million service miles. After a sendoff ceremony at the New York Transit Museum, the official last run took place on the A line from Euclid Ave. to 207 St. and back.

The St. Louis Car Company built 400 R42s between 1969 and 1970 for the B Division (IND/BMT) as replacements for the remaining BMT Standard cars. They were the last 60-foot B Division car built until the R143 in 2001, the last car class to be configured in married pairs, and the last to be equipped with the WABCO RT-2 or SMEE braking system until that system returned in 1983 with the R62s on the A (IRT) division. (The WABCO RT-5 or P-Wire braking systems had been used on the R44s and R46s of the 1970s.)

Photos: Marc A. Hermann and Jessie Mislavsky/ MTA New York City Transit.

The R42s, numbered 4550-4949, featured several firsts for a New York City subway car. They were the first fleet fully equipped with Stone Safety 10-ton air conditioning systems, which had been installed on the last 10 R38s (4140-4149) and all R40As. They were the first to use solid-state converters, replacing motor-generators as standard equipment,

Due to carbody and mechanical similarities, the R42s and often operated in the same consist. On May 9, 1969, cars 4554-4555 entered service on the N line as part of a mixed consist with R40As. By Jan. 5, 1970, all R42s were in service.

In 1973, married pair 4764-4765 was sent to Garrett AiResearch in Los Angeles to test Flywheel Energy Storage System equipment. Car 4764 was fitted with batteries and amber-colored digital readouts indicating the amount of energy used by the equipment; 4765 was not modified. These cars were later tested at the USDOT Transportation Test Center in Pueblo, Colo., and returned to the MTA in 1976 for in-service testing on all B Division lines.

Photos: Marc A. Hermann and Jessie Mislavsky/MTA New York City Transit.

Between 1988 and 1989, 392 R42s were rebuilt, with Morrison-Knudsen overhauling 282 and NYCT’s Coney Island Yard complex overhauling 110. Among the upgrades were stainless steel doors; the original Westinghouse XM829 cab master controllers were retained.

The R160s replaced most of the R42s, beginning in 2007. Many retired cars were sunk as artificial reefs up until April 2010, when Sims Metal Management of Newark, N.J., began scrapping them as they came out of service. In December 2009, NYCT decided to retire the R44s in their place because of structural problems; 50 cars remained in service on the J/Z line and underwent SMS (Scheduled Maintenance Service) cycles beginning in 2016.

Bombardier R179 cars replaced the remaining R42s; by late April 2019, they were no longer assigned to revenue service, becoming a contingency fleet. The last run was intended for Dec. 30, 2019, but on Jan. 8, 2020, the old standbys once again answered the call of duty when the R179s were pulled from service due to technical problems. By Jan. 24, the R179 problems had been addressed, and the aging but proud soldiers went back to the yards. They were officially retired on Feb. 12, 2020.

NYCT Senior Vice President Subways Sally Librera. They moved people to work, to events, to school, to community family gatherings, so many events that built and grew our city,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful example of how deeply woven the subway system is in the fabric of New York City.” Photos: Marc A. Hermann and Jessie Mislavsky/MTA New York City Transit.

Several R42 cars have been preserved:

  • 4572-4573, repainted and set aside for the New York Transit Museum. This set was used in the famous chase scene in The French Connection. It has been used on several recent NYTM fan trips, specifically as part of the “Train of Many Metals.”
  • 4665 (and its R40A mate 4460), preserved by the Railway Preservation Corp. and stored at Coney Island Yard.
  • 4736-4737,  donated to East New York’s Transit Tech High School in April 2009, replacing R30 8337.
Tony Lo Bianco points a gun on a subway in a scene from the 1971 movie The French Connection.

The R42 wasn’t the only celebrity on Feb. 12. Outgoing NYCT President Andy Byford was on the the last run, “and was greeted by a cheering crowd when the old cars opened their doors to the public,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle writer Paul Frangipane reported. “Transit enthusiasts at the Euclid Avenue A station rushed into the soon-to-be retired subway car as Byford smiled from inside. Before the train departed, there were pleas for him to stay in his position, selfies and praise galore. As the wheels on the train began rolling, cheers broke out and someone yelled, ‘Three cheers for Andy Byford, hip hip hooray!’

Outgoing NYC Transit President Andy Byford. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Daily Eagle

“‘It’s two 50-year-old relics that are coming out of service,’ Byford quipped, referencing his departure as NYCT President and the R42s’ retirement. ‘It’s right that today we’re celebrating the end of a legendary train, the R42. New Yorkers loved these trains, so I wanted to be part of history today.’”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was nowhere to be seen.

Photos: Marc A. Hermann and Jessie Mislavsky/MTA New York City Transit.
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