- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — When the old maroon subway cars left Times Square on their final run to the Queens borough, the passengers included — or so it seemed — every former teenage oddball who ever rode up front with nose pressed to the glass, watching the onrushing tracks.

There also were the city’s top transit executives, a small army of television and print journalists, uniformed subway employees and even some regular commuters, puzzled by the sudden hoopla on the No. 7 platform.

The occasion Monday was the retirement of the last of the all-steel cars called “Redbirds,” the backbone of the New York subway fleet for more than 40 years but now the victims of a $2 billion upgrade program that includes modern cars with stainless-steel bodies and features like digital signs.

Officials said about 100 of the original 1,400 Redbirds will stay in service as work trains and a few will go to the city’s Transit Museum, but most are destined to be sold and sunk into the Atlantic Ocean as artificial reefs.

The Redbirds were the last subway cars built in the United States, by the former St. Louis Car Co., in Missouri. The latest cars are built in Canada with some parts from France and elsewhere.

There were some genuine laments as the 11-car No. 7 train, which serves 200,000 people a day and runs to the Mets’ Shea Stadium, emerged from the East River tunnel and became an elevated train.

Several riders noted that the Redbirds are the last cars to have straphanger straps; newer models are short of handholds for standing commuters. Others said they found in the Redbirds a certain romance, or a sense of community that is now lacking.

“If you keep regular hours you get to know the other people, the conductor, even the token clerk. It’s more like a local train, or a local railroad,” said Mia Mather, a computer expert who rode the No. 7 for years before moving to Manhattan.

Daniel Wrynn, 39, a 17-year subway conductor, was handpicked, along with train operator Michael Rubino, 46, for the last run to Willets Point in Queens.

“This is my favorite train right here,” Mr. Wrynn said. “They have a flavor, the old-fashioned kind. If it was up to me, I’d want them to run forever.”

Michael Perez, 24, of the Bronx, agreed: “I love the subway. It’s a somber moment. I’m going to have tears in my eyes when we get to Willets Point.”

Was he ever one of those children who liked to stand at the front window of the lead car?

“Hey, I still do that today,” he said.

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