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NY Subway Cars to Help Atlantic Ecosystem - 2001-08-20

Some 400 New York City subway cars are heading to a final resting place on the bottom of the ocean off the shores of the small state of Delaware. But the retired cars will still be working - this time for an environmental cause.

The dark red cars, called Redbirds by subway train workers and fans, were a part of New York's image for more than 40 years.

Introduced between 1959 and 1964, the Redbirds carried tens of millions of locals and tourists around the five counties that make up New York City, from Coney Island, at the tip of Brooklyn, to the Queens County site of the 1964 World's Fair.

Last year the Redbirds did double-duty, carrying baseball fans back and forth between Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Shea Stadium, the Queens home of the New York Mets, when New York's two baseball teams vied for the baseball championship in the famous "subway series."

Now the 30-ton cars are being shipped by barge to Delaware where they will be taken out to sea and sunk in the Atlantic Ocean. New York City transit official Albert O'Leary says they will be used to create an artificial reef, helping to rebuild a marine ecological system on the barren floor of the ocean. "People who like to dive, people who like to fish - this is going to be the Disney World of the Eastern seaboard in a couple of months," said Mr. O'Leary.

Times change and technology moves forward. The subway fare was fifteen cents when the Redbirds first took to the New York City tracks. It is now ten times that. A new fleet of brightly-lit, air-conditioned cars with automated public address systems are replacing the old cars. Still, the Redbirds will be missed by long-time transit workers such as Joseph Hoffman, who says "they have been a part of my life. I feel bad about it. I started two tracks over and two cars down in 1970, doing overhauls. I put in most of these components that we have taken out."

Transit workers are cleaning the old cars and removing any items that could harm divers or damage the environment.

"We went out of our way," says Mr. Hoffman, "taking painstaking measures to make sure there is absolutely no grease on these cars, nothing that could float to the top, nothing that could damage the environment. These cars are inspected both by the Coast Guard and by the state of Delaware before we put them on the barge."

The first shipment of 20 cars will be sunk on Tuesday. City transit officials say it is far cheaper to ship the subway cars to Delaware than to dispose of them in a landfill.