New York’s Subway Lives On in the Atlantic Ocean as Artificial Reefs

by Alexandra White

The oldest trains running for the MTA are the C trains, built more than fifty years ago. Residents of Manhattan and Brooklyn sighed heavily when the MTA delayed new train cars until 2017, while all other lines had enjoyed replacements. But what will happen when these cars are finally retired?

Up until 2010, retired cars were sent to a watery grave, where in turn, they brought new life.

Starting in 2001, the Redbird Reef project allowed MTA to dump retired subway cars into the Atlantic Ocean and create new habitats for sea creatures. This project was inspired by the State of Delaware’s artificial reef program, wherein companies had sank decommissioned naval ships and tankers to the bottom of the Atlantic. The loose sand and silt had made it impossible for natural reefs to form, which protect fish from predators as well as generate mussel and shrimp colonies.

The project wasn’t started for purely environmental concerns; according to MTA’s Assistant Chief Operations Officer, the decision was made due to the absurd cost of recycling the cars (thanks to the cost of removing asbestos). Sending the cars to a deep sea grave was a mere two-thirds the cost. In ten years, over 2,500 retired subway cars found their way to Redbird Reef in Delaware and to the coast of Georgia, creating 15 underground reefs supporting fish and crustaceans alike.

These cars are still actively monitored to make sure they are safe for undersea life.

Despite the fact the Redbird Reef project has now ended, some New Yorkers still hope for a dramatic departure from the torturous C trains. Hopefully in 2017, when the shiny new cars arrive, MTA will either recycle the old trains or make some more fish very, very happy.

Don’t miss Life on the Reef, Wednesdays at 8 p.m., starting July 22 on THIRTEEN.