R38 (New York City Subway car)

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An R38 train on the C at Kingston–Throop Avenues
R38 4028 interior.jpg
Interior of an R38 car
In service1966–2009
ManufacturerSt. Louis Car Company
Built atSt. Louis, Missouri, USA
Entered serviceAugust 23, 1966
Number built200
Number preserved2
Number scrapped198
FormationMarried Pairs
Fleet numbers3950–4149
Capacity50 (seated)
Operator(s)New York City Subway
Car body constructionStainless steel sides with carbon steel chassis, roof and underbody, with fiberglass top front and top rear bonnets.
Car length60 ft (18.29 m)
Width10 ft (3.05 m)
Height12.08 ft (3.68 m)
Platform height3.76 ft (1.15 m)
Doors8 sets of 45 inch wide side doors per car
Maximum speed55 mph (89 km/h)
Weight77,420 lb (35,117 kg)
Traction systemGeneral Electric SCM 17KG192AE2/H7 propulsion system
Traction motorsGeneral Electric 1257E1
Power output115 hp (86 kW) per axle
Braking system(s)Westinghouse Air Brake Company E2 "SMEE" Braking System, American Steel Foundries simplex unit cylinder clasp (tread) brake
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge

The R38 was a New York City Subway car model built by the St. Louis Car Company from 1966 to 1967 for the IND/BMT B Division. Two hundred were built in married pairs. The R38s were built to supply extra trains for service changes resulting from the 1967 opening of the Chrystie Street Connection. The R38 was the second subway car order to be built with stainless steel exteriors, and the first subway car fleet to have air conditioning installed.

The first R38s entered service on August 23, 1966. In 1987–1988,[2] all R38s were rebuilt by General Electric, and the original rollsigns and express/local marker lights at the end of each car were replaced with flipdot signs.[2] The R160 order replaced the entire fleet of R38s, the last of which ran on March 18, 2009. After retirement, all cars but one pair, which is preserved by the New York Transit Museum, were stripped and sunken as artificial reefs.


The R38s were numbered 3950–4149. The cars were arranged in "married pairs" of two cars semi-permanently coupled together by a drawbar. Even-numbered cars were known as "B" cars, while odd-numbered cars were known as "A" cars.

The R38 was the second subway car order to be built with stainless steel exteriors, the first being the R32 order in 1964. The cars were built with aluminium roofs, vandal-proof fiberglass seats, and with indirect fluorescent lighting, which also provided illumination of the advertisement cards as well, a similar setup to the last 150 R32 cars delivered in 1965 numbered 3800–3949.[3]

The R38 was the first successful subway car fleet to have air conditioning installed after earlier prototypes failed on older subway cars. The last ten cars delivered (4140–4149) came factory equipped with Stone-Safety 10-ton split system air conditioning system featuring the compressor/condenser units mounted under the cars, while the evaporator units were installed on the top interior ends of the car in 1967.[4] The first six air conditioned cars came into service on the F train on July 19, 1967.[5] The six-week experiment was a success after past failures, and air conditioning would soon, but not immediately, become standard equipment on new rolling stock built for the system, since the first 200 R40 cars were built without air conditioning. The air conditioned cars cost $40,000 more than the non-air conditioned cars.[6] From this point on, the New York City Transit Authority began adopting air conditioning as standard equipment on all new cars, and older model cars were retrofitted with AC units to make life much more bearable throughout the subway system. The Stone-Safety Air Conditioning system was adopted from their standard railroad and commuter coach air conditioning systems, and it proved very successful.


In March 1965, the New York City Transit Authority, continuing its program of car replacement, ordered 200 additional cars for the B Division from the St. Louis Car Company.[7][8] These cars were the first to replace cars for the IND since it started operation in 1932. They also supplied extra trains for the Chrystie Street Connection, which opened on November 27, 1967. St. Louis was chosen after the first three bids were deemed as too high, with the cost savings totalling $500,000.[3]

The first two trains of R38s were placed in service at Queens Plaza after a brief introductory ceremony attended by Mayor John V. Lindsay, NYCTA Chairman Joseph O'Grady, and NYCTA Commissioners Joseph Gilhooly and Daniel T. Scannell on the E and F on August 23, 1966. Though there were controversies about diverting these cars from their original assignment for the D, it was decided to introduce the R38s on the IND Queens Boulevard Line, as the line was short of cars and the R1-R9s assigned to Jamaica Yard were in a bad state of disrepair.

Overhaul and mishaps[edit]

Cars 3990–3991 & 4000–4001 were involved in an incident on June 11, 1972, at the bumper blocks within the relay area east of the Jamaica–179 Street Terminal. These cars were stored in very heavily damaged condition at Coney Island Yard until they were scrapped in 1983.[9][10][11]

In 1987–1988,[2] the 196 remaining R38s were rebuilt by General Electric at its Buffalo, New York facility. During the rebuilding process, the R38s were fully equipped with air conditioning systems. Prior to rebuilding, the R38s featured mylar curtain route signs on their bulkheads displaying the service bullet and destination, similar to past B-Division R-type cars. After rebuilding, they received Luminator flipdot signs that displayed the service letter only, since the air conditioning evaporators mounted on the interior car ends made it rather difficult to change the front route and destination rollsigns. The distinctive "EXP" (express) and "LOCAL" marker lights were also removed. Like the R32s, the rollsigns on the sides of the cars were updated and retained.

The first ten R38s were sent to General Electric in early January 1987, along with ten R32s. The first rebuilt train of R38s entered service on the A on May 28, 1987. The last unrebuilt train of R38s made its last trip on the A before being sent out to be rebuilt on July 11, 1988. By December 28, 1988 all rebuilt R38s were in service.[2]


The R160 order replaced the entire fleet of R38s. The first cars were taken out of service on October 31, 2008, and the fleet was gradually phased out until the last pair made its final trip on the C on March 18, 2009. After retirement, all cars except for 4028–4029 were stripped and sunken as artificial reefs.

Cars 4028–4029 are preserved by the New York Transit Museum.[12] They were restored to operating status in 2013–2014 and have been operating on New York City Transit Museum-sponsored excursions since August 3, 2014, specifically on the Train of Many Metals (TOMM).[13]

In popular culture[edit]


  • The opening scene of a 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever shows a train of R38s on the B, prior to refurbishment.[14]
  • The subway scene in a 1988 movie Crocodile Dundee II features an R38 train on the A, after refurbishment.[15]
  • The scene on a subway train in a 1988 movie Coming to America was shot on an R38 on the E, also prior to refurbishment.[16]
  • The subway scene in a 1990 movie Ghost features an R38 train on the A, also after refurbishment.[17]

Video Games[edit]


  1. ^ 2012-03-bulletin.pdf
  2. ^ a b c d https://erausa.org/pdf/bulletin/2012/2012-03-bulletin.pdf[dead link]
  3. ^ a b Perlmutter, Emanuel (March 3, 1965). "200 cars on IND to be replaced; Cost Is Put at $22.5 Million -- Central Adds Units". New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  4. ^ "Air-Conditioned Train To Get Subway Test". The New York Times. June 26, 1967. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  5. ^ New York City Transit's Facts & Figures Celebrating 90 Years of Subway Service 1904–1994. New York City Transit. 1994. p. 3.
  6. ^ Teltsch, Kathleen (September 5, 1967). "AIR-CONDITIONING A HIT ON SUBWAY; Riders Young and Old Find Coolness on the 'F' Train". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  7. ^ NY orders 200 cars for subway Railway Age March 8, 1965 page 31
  8. ^ Annual Report 1964–1965. New York City Transit Authority. 1965.
  9. ^ "Showing Image 5027". nycsubway.org.
  10. ^ "Showing Image 5028". nycsubway.org.
  11. ^ "Showing Image 5029". nycsubway.org.
  12. ^ "Showing Image 144513". nycsubway.org.
  13. ^ ERA Bulletin, September 2014, page 18. https://erausa.org/pdf/bulletin/2014/2014-09-bulletin.pdf
  14. ^ skyMTV. "Saturday Night Fever (Opening Credits)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-13. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  15. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Crocodile Dundee II (1988) - Clint Eastwood Scene (2/10) | Movieclips". YouTube.
  16. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "late 1980's new york subway graffiti scene (sorry not sure why the audio is low!!)". YouTube.
  17. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Ghost (1990) - The Subway Scene". YouTube.
  18. ^ Guy, R62A. "GTA IV HD 60 FPS: Ridding all trains in Liberty City Subway System (Full Subway tour)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-13. Retrieved 17 August 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sansone, Gene. Evolution of New York City subways: An illustrated history of New York City's transit cars, 1867–1997. New York Transit Museum Press, New York, 1997 ISBN 978-0-9637492-8-4

External links[edit]