“Birding” Through Manhattan
The New York Transit Museum recently offered a singular opportunity to reminisce about New York’s colorful past with a nostalgic train ride. On November 4th, they hosted a trip on the iconic “Redbird” trains that wove through the city from 1959 to 2003. The 90-minute ride took passengers from the historic Old South Ferry station along the 4/5/6 line through Manhattan and into the Bronx and back. Participants put on their best 1960s garb and experienced a blast into the past.
The event commemorated the retirement of the Redbirds 20 years ago, and the 60th anniversary of the R-33S “Bluebird” cars that sported a blue and white livery for the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. Participants got to admire original details like mosaics and terracotta artwork at the Old South Ferry station, which has been closed to the public since 2017.
The Redbird trains, including the R26 through R36 series, were a staple of New York City’s subway system for approximately 40 years. Contrary to popular belief, these trains were not originally red with round porthole-style windows. They were delivered in various colors and were later painted a deep red, known as “Gunn Red” or “Broad Street Red,” in the late 1970s and early 1980s to combat graffiti. The nickname “Redbirds” became popular after this repaint.
The R-33S cars, also known as the Bluebirds, made their debut in 1963. These cars were not specifically designed to promote the World’s Fair but were purchased for service on the IRT Flushing Line (the 7 train), which was the closest line to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. They were originally painted in a light blue turquoise “Bluebird” scheme. The Bluebirds, along with the R36 World’s Fair cars, ran along the 7 line in Queens.
The special train consisting of both Redbird and Bluebird cars departed Old South Ferry and traveled up Manhattan via the 4/5/6 lines before connecting to the 2/5 line in the Bronx. It continued to the 239th Street Yard and Maintenance Shop, allowing riders a rare glimpse of the behind-the-scenes operations. The 90-100 minute roundtrip ride then returned to the 1905-vintage Old South Ferry station.
The scenic nostalgia ride offered a rare window into New York City subway history. Participants were advised to arrive on time to admire the vintage trains and take photos before the Redbirds and Bluebirds took flight on their celebratory ride through New York’s subway system.
Train lovers of all ages can continue to experience the wonder of the historical subway fleet at the New York Transit Museum. And the denizens of EVGB’s luxury apartment rentals can readily admire the more modern offerings of the MTA every day through the new L train entrance on 14th Street and Avenue A: a few short steps from home.