chilling journey

Cold Train: Staten Islanders Shiver as New Rail Cars Still Years Away

Riders board a Tottenville-bound SIR train from Grant City, on Nov. 23, 2019.
Riders board a Tottenville-bound SIR train from Grant City, on Nov. 23, 2019. Photo: Clifford Michel /THE CITY

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Staten Island straphangers are in for at least three more years of cold commutes.

A fleet of new state of the art subway cars for the borough won’t be operational until September 2022, and then have to go through several months of testing, THE CITY has learned.

Until then, riders will continue to be served by the Staten Island Railway’s (SIR) fleet of 47-year-old ”R44” train cars — a model that has been retired from all other lines in the city since 2010.

The R44s were built and delivered for use throughout the MTA in 1971 and 1972. But now the SIR — which travels along Staten Island’s East Shore and stretches from the St. George Ferry Terminal to Tottenville in the South Shore — is the sole operator of 61 of them.

Staten Islanders told THE CITY that the aging trains responsible for serving 30,000 riders a day aren’t properly heated during the fall and winter.

‘Always Freezing’

“It’s always freezing here,” Buki Ifatusin, a Clifton resident, told THE CITY while riding the train to the St. George ferry terminal. “The next few months, I’m going to be wearing my jacket the whole way.”

Marie DeAmicis, of Tottenville, said: “It’s uncomfortable, it gets very cold. Sometimes you can even see your own breath. If this happened for even one day in Brooklyn, they would riot. But it’s Staten Island.”

Assemblymember Charles Fall, who represents the borough’s North Shore, told THE CITY he had been expecting the new subway cars to arrive by 2020.

“I usually try to stay away from the doors,” said Paul Cappello, riding the SIR.
“I usually try to stay away from the doors,” said Paul Cappello, riding the SIR. Photo: Clifford Michel/THE CITY

“The Staten Islanders that rely on public transit every single day, they have to deal with these cars that aren’t insulated properly,” said Fall, a Democrat. “They pay their share and it’s just not fair that you have cars that are updated in other parts of the city, but the people on Staten Island that work so hard are not being treated with the same level of service.”

‘No Viable Stopgap’

MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek said that replacing the entire fleet of R44 cars is the agency’s only option.

“The solution to that problem is to replace the cars with brand new ones; there’s no viable stopgap available on these very old cars,” Tarek told THE CITY in a statement.

The MTA’s board approved purchases for 75 new state-of-the-art R211 subway cars for the SIR in January 2018. It was part of a larger order of 535 R211 subway cars, including 20 open-gangway cars.

The first five R211 prototypes will begin to be delivered in December 2021, according to the agency. The remaining 70 cars, which will replace the SIR’s entire fleet, are scheduled to be delivered starting in September 2022.

But given that qualification testing for new MTA cars takes about half a year, the old fleet likely won’t be completely replaced until sometime in 2023.

“If they don’t have these anywhere else in New York, then why are we stuck with them?” asked Paul Cappello of St. George.

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