Duke Ellington immortalized it in a famous tune, now MTA has unveiled a fresh new remix — but you’ll need your wits about you and a little luck if you want to Take the ‘A’ Train, 2023 style! Reporter Sarah Beling went on a weekend quest to find the elusive, newly-released R211 subway car.
The R211 cars debuted on Friday — nearly three years after they were originally scheduled to run — and boasts a few key design adjustments from previous models. The first new car released since the rocky implementation of the R179 in 2017 and decades beyond the R46 (built between 1975 and 1978), the R211 features 58-inch entry doors, a wider corridor between two sets of long bench seating, additional flip-up seats that can be folded to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs, a new digital route display, brighter lighting, security cameras, and darker blue floors and seats as well as gold accents on the outside of the train and lights outlining the subway doors. 20 of the 1,175 new cars will feature an open gangway to allow for easier travel between cars. Though the gangway technology was unveiled in a R211 showcase model on Coney Island this February, it won’t be phased into regular ‘A’ train routes until later this year, officials say.
“It’s wonderful to hear that the MTA is bringing brand new subway cars to the line,” said Hell’s Kitchen Congressman Jerry Nadler. “This subway line currently has the oldest cars in the system, and finally the riding public on the 8th Avenue line will have modern new cars that feature 58-inch-wide door openings. That’s eight inches wider than existing standard subway door openings! These wider doorways will speed up boarding and reduce train sit times in stations, enabling faster service for the riding public along the entire ‘A’ line.”
“The new cars are going to give our riders a more modern passenger experience, so riding the subway no longer feels like a step into the past,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber in a press release. “We’re investing over $6 billion in new train cars as part of the historic $55 billion MTA Capital Program and it’s not just for aesthetics, because these new train cars enable us to run more frequent service.”
New York City Transit President Richard Davey added: “Faster, cleaner, safer is what we often say is our goal within NYC Transit, and what we’re delivering with the R211s are faster, cleaner and safer trains. These cars feature security cameras and digital displays along with wider doorways that will help speed up boarding times and run more reliable service.”
Crowds of eager commuters lined up on Friday to join Davey and Lieber on their inaugural R211 ride, where dozens of riders tweeted and posted their way through the experience. But despite the R211’s heavily publicized first voyage downtown, there’s currently only one train being beta-tested across the entire ‘A’ route from Inwood to Rockaway Beach.
So how can public-transit enthusiasts be sure to catch the R211? As it turns out, spotting the sole R211 involves much of the usual trial and error required to navigate our city’s sometimes unpredictable transit system — as evidenced by Sarah’s experience.
Chasing the New ‘A’ Train — A Reporter’s Log
I have a long ride planned from Manhattan into Brooklyn and back, and I’m hopeful that I might catch at least one new R211 on one of my trips. I wait through several of the ‘A’ route’s 1970s-era brown and orange-clad R46s before I decide to give up or risk never making it to my destination — will continue the search later. The R46 is slow and takes nearly twice as long as I’d wanted to get through Manhattan. Here’s hoping the new R211 is faster.
Later on in Brooklyn, I stop at Jay Street MetroTech and chat with a few MTA employees, who haven’t seen the R211 either, and aren’t sure when it will arrive. “Any time we get new equipment, it’s exciting,” said one 30-year vet of the agency, who added that he hadn’t gotten the chance to ride the R211 yet. “That’s not my train line, so I doubt I’ll ride it anytime soon,” said another employee, who shrugged when asked if he was eagerly anticipating the new car.
Back in Midtown Manhattan for one more search mission, most people are unaware that a new train is being released at all — or willing to talk about it with a stranger. I take another R46 from 59th Street that is both decidedly not the shiny new R211 and running local at the speed of molasses. Until tomorrow!
Random sampling having failed as a strategy, I head up to the 190th Street station and ask another MTA employee, “Mr M”, if he knows the whereabouts of the R211. “I’ve just come back from vacation, so I haven’t seen it at all, but I’m ready to check out the train,” he replies, and suggests that I try to find the car at its source: 207th Street in Inwood.
It’s at the 207th Street Station that I spot the true R211 enthusiasts. “It’s nice to see the wider seats,” said MTA employee Dandrade, who adds that it takes a few hours for the new model to return, as another MTA worker tells me it will be worth my while to stick around.
One young New Yorker and his mother had been waiting nearly two hours for the R211 to show up, cameras at the ready. “I’m really excited to see it!” said Pierce, fresh off a morning of baseball tryouts. “He’s the real train enthusiast,” said Donna, who added that Pierce’s passion for public transit started years ago when she would take him to watch the subway cars arrive at the station for fun.
As we all wait in the center of the platform, a pair of unusually bright lights shine from the end of the tracks. Though the scene is significantly more muted than the initial launch — “I met a ton of people here on Friday!” says train enthusiast Clinton, back at 207th Street and looking for another ride — nearly everyone at the station whips out a phone when the R211 finally comes barreling in. It is quite shiny, and so clean that it resembles the amusement park-version of a subway car. The standing area feels roomier, accommodating a fairly full car of passengers by the time we’ve left the first station.
The ride itself is not unlike the experience of the R179 car — a little brisker and certainly smoother than the sometimes-jolt-happy R46. When we pull into W42nd Street, there’s a fairly full platform of passengers waiting to hop on, many of whom don’t seem to register, or aren’t phased by the new model. But one gentleman does point to the car as he gets on, looking around in awe before remarking to no one in particular, “Wow, it’s pretty beautiful.” Stand clear of the closing doors!