Must be 7th heaven: Vintage ‘Redbird’ trains survive at Queens train yard

For The Retrologist, the highlight of riding the No. 7 train was jumping on a 1960s Redbird train — that is, until Nov. 3, 2003, the day the trains went out of service.

Stepping into the cars was truly like riding back into the 1960s. What made them all the more significant (and frankly, fun to ride) was the fact that the Redbirds retained actual straps that “straphangers” could hang on to, just as commuters had since the early days of subway service. Indeed, the Redbirds were the last New York City Transit trains that actually had such straps. (Though yes, they were not unsanitary leather straps, as was the case decades earlier. The Redbirds used what are more accurately called “hand grabs.”)

The Redbirds, however, haven’t entirely gone away. Many were sunken off the Atlantic Coast to serve as artificial reefs, a fate that has captured the imagination of divers and Hollywood writers. (An episode of “CSI: NY” involved the sunken cars.) Old Redbirds remain in service as service cars; they mysteriously roll into IRT stations from time to time, sending those in the know reaching for their cell-phone cameras. A Redbird survives in a historic display outside Queens Borough Hall. 

And then there are these six cars photographed here, parked at the Corona Yard train-service facility that is between Citifield and Flushing Meadows Corona Park. They stand out as sentinels of old New York amid the sea of metal from the 1980s-era trains that now serve the No. 7 line.

Perhaps the neatest tribute to the Redbirds is at Sunnyside Gardens park, where children can play in a mock Redbird, below. Sunnyside, of course, relied on the Redbirds as the neighborhood’s only direct rail link to the outside world.

The Redbirds have been gone for almost 10 years, but they are very much still riding the rails of New York’s imagination.

Text and photos: Rolando Pujol

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