New York City subway trains stop at 468 stations each day. But whatever their regular route, many cars no longer fit to run the rails have the same final destination: the bottom of the ocean.
The external structure of a subway car contains asbestos, which isn’t harmful once submerged in water, but is expensive to recycle on land. Since 2001, New York City Transit has given its retired Redbird cars a second life by sending them to Davy Jones’s locker in five states, forming artificial reefs that benefit the ocean’s ecosystem. Because of its proximity, Delaware has received the majority of NYC’s cars (1,329 to date).
Much of the ocean floor is naturally muddy and often sandy, with very few rocks to be found. The stainless-steel cars, with their windows and internal components removed, are the perfect structures to encourage marine life such as muscles and oysters, which require a firm surface to grow. Jeff Tinsman, Delaware’s artificial-reef program manager, says divers monitor the reef on a regular basis. Since the first cars were sunk, the team has “seen a 400-fold increase in the amount of invertebrate biomass available as food for fish on the reef structure, when you compare it to what would occur on the natural bottom.” The cars also provide the fish with shelter from predators.
While New York has no more trains heading for retirement in the near future, the reef will continue to expand. Delaware has partnered with New Jersey and Maryland to sink a 563-foot-long navy destroyer in the next few months.