After a hiatus of two years during the pandemic, the first trip on Sunday, November 27 went well, as did the one on December 4. Upcoming Sundays of December 11 and 18 will be a chance for every Manhattanite, NYC resident, and all from near and far to sample a subway ride in vintage subway cars from the 1960s.
The New York Transit Museum has been offering “Nostalgia Train Rides” since the Subway Centennial in 2004, in collaboration with MTA New York City Transit. The rides, a special holiday treat on Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, are always a special seasonal event for New Yorkers.
The Museum, extremely fortunate to have some of the oldest running Subway equipment in the U.S., was delighted to run The Train of Many Colors for the holiday season this year, with a route that favors stations on the West Side of Manhattan.
This year’s route mimics that of the #1 train, but stopping at express stations and also West 125th Street and Broadway, the train travels from Chambers Street to West 137th Street and return. The train will transport its passengers back to an era when trains had no shiny exterior surfaces – instead, they were painted in different hues.
While most of the route is underground, the West 125th Street Station, built in 1904, has platforms that stand more than sixty feet above 125th Street, perfect for picture-taking of both the train and the new Columbia University Manhattanville Campus.
The Museum, in its careful and deliberate stewardship, has curated a fleet of cars from the Kennedy-Johnson years, restored to almost-original details (air-conditioning was added after original manufacture). The placarded advertisements above the doors and windows tout brand names long ago forgotten, Miss Subways competitions and effecting proper social behavior. The mix of signs is far removed from today’s versions on sleek equipment.
Beyond the prose are the experiences of the ride. With a few round trips taken on the first day of November 27, my ride revealed how much the riders broadened the experience of taking the journey. With a crowd that could best be described as an accurate sample of New York City’s varied population, subsets seemed well-defined.
Subway aficionados could be spotted by their clothing choice, varied photographic gear, recording devices, and, one case, a fairly accurate model of the subway car I was riding in ... in Legos! The passion and loyalty of the crowd added to the buzz and excitement of the event.
Quite a few people dressed in clothing of 50 years ago and beyond. Men in fedoras, long coats, suits and ties, women in elegant cocktail dresses with appropriate accessories all seemed similar to a cast of a Technicolor musical. Fashion that had been long gone resurfaced on the train, although every rider could not avail themselves of a token for passage. The people so dressed were poised to be the subjects of many digital pictures.
No Fancy Lighting
Others, either along for the ride either made a conscious decision to ride the trains, or did so unwittingly; it was the latter looked dazed and confused upon entry to the 10-car train. In a conversation with two gentlemen chatting on the platform, they announced that they were riding the train — and they were from Ukraine.
As to the equipment used on the Nostalgia Train, the oldest ones you can ride date back to 1962. No fancy lighting, no electronics, just dependable mechanical and operational systems, built in the United States by venerable manufacturers, who have long since built their last subway cars.
Most cars had a Transit Museum volunteer, assisting with loading, unloading and the queries from riders with all sorts of questions. Passengers can ride in cars with “Tartar Red” and “Gunn Red” redbirds, Kale Green “Green Machines,” blue-and-silver “Platinum Mist” and the striking two-tone robin’s egg blue and cream “Bluebird” paint schemes.
The runs are weather permitting, and cars are subject to change. Trains leave Chambers Street on the even hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., with returns from 137th and Broadway on the odd hour between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.; normally the ride is about 35 minutes in each direction.
To avoid frustration, try catching the train at one of the express stops. And, as a sophisticated Manhattanite, if you leave the train at 125th Street, go down the stairs and climb up on the other side, a ride all day back and forth can be done for one fare. This is not possible at 137th Street, though you can change platforms at Chambers Street.
And the best news? There are no special fares or fees for your ride. It’s one Metrocard or OMNY fare.
For more information, contact nytransitmuseum.org