For many straphangers, riding the C train is like taking a step back in time—to when corrugated stainless steel was hip, windows were not, and air conditioning in subway cars was a novel idea.
Over the summer, things were different: The C train got newer, better-air-conditioned cars. But they went offline two weeks ago, and it’s not clear when the line will get a permanent update.
Running from 168th Street in Washington Heights to Euclid Avenue in Brooklyn, the C uses the subway system’s oldest cars, R32s, which date from 1964. Years worth of graffiti residue stains the walls and seats, and the doors between cars often don’t seem to close properly.
The C was ranked the worst line in the city last year by transit advocacy group Straphangers Campaign, largely because of its outdated trains.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority gave commuters a temporary reprieve over the summer by installing newer, better air-conditioned R160 cars to help them deal with the heat, which reached 99 degrees in late July.
“We switch the trains that go aboveground with cars that have better air conditioning,” MTA spokesperson Deirdre Parker said. The program has been in place for a few years as the MTA juggles the system’s aging cars. This year, they chose the C line.
But now, the R160s have moved on, and C train riders are forced to go back to the R32s. According to the Straphangers Campaign report, trains on the C line break down every 64,000 miles, compared with every 816,000 miles for trains on the E line, which has the system’s lowest breakdown rate. The C also placed worst in terms of cleanliness and second-worst in announcement intelligibility.
Because of ongoing budget issues at the MTA, R32s are slated to be running until at least 2017, the New York Times reported in 2011. Even then, it’s uncertain whether they will be replaced by brand-new cars or by less-old cars from other lines.
Though the MTA has an order for 300 new subway cars, due for delivery by 2017, Parker said a committee will still have to sit down and decide where the new trains will go.
Riders on the C bemoaned its old cars with a usual dose of New York cynicism.
“It rarely comes, and I’ve been late to work waiting for it for 30 to 45 minutes in the morning,” said Ally Courson, who called the line “not dependable.”
“There are no announcements, and no communication,” she said.
“It gets me where I need to be,” Damien Taylor, a C train commuter from Harlem, said. But, he conceded, “It runs a little slower than most other trains.”
Mary Ellen, who first arrived in New York City in the 1980s, remembered subway trains that lacked air conditioning and had noisy, leaking fans.
“I think they’re fine,” she said of the current C trains. “They’re much better … but I’m sure eventually they’re going to have to change them.”