Nostalgia Rides brings antique trains back for the holidays


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Hanseok Lee, Contributor

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the MTA has announced that it is reviving its annual tradition of Holiday Nostalgia Rides. Every Sunday until Christmas, New Yorkers and tourists can ride antique trains that once carried thousands throughout the city.

Since 1976, New York City Transit Museum has run various Nostalgia Rides in collaboration with MTA, bringing its vintage fleet back to life again on the subway tracks. Riders will be presented with “Train of Many Colors” in honor of the museum’s exhibit “Reign of the Redbirds.”

“Train of Many Colors” is exactly what it sounds like, earning its name from a wide range of colors painted on its cars and often made up of different models. For this year’s Nostalgia Ride, the museum has selected models R-33, R-33WF and R-36, all produced in the 1960s. The train will feature “Tartar Red” and “Gunn Red” redbirds, Kale Green “Green Machines,” blue-and-silver “Platinum Mist” and two-tone robin’s egg “Bluebird” schemes.

Each color is a representation of a different era in the subway’s history and has an interesting story. The turquoise “Bluebird” scheme was painted on trains to match the colors of the 1964 World’s Fair hosted in Queens, welcoming regular riders and guests along the 7-line. “Bluebirds” were repainted “Redbirds” in the 1980s to fight against the graffiti rampant at the time. Once the mainstay of the MTA “Redbirds” fleet was retired from service in 2003, many of them served as artificial reefs in the Atlantic.

While the exterior painting alone is enough to evoke nostalgia, the interior of the train complements the journey to the past. Some of the trains have rectangular windows, which stand out against the streamlined ones of the current models. On the ceiling are now-gone metal straps, which gave subway riders the nickname “straphangers.” Retro signs and advertisements, or analog roll signs, show how much subway rides have changed over time.

The Holiday Nostalgia Train will run on a new route this year, along the local 1-line track. It begins at Chambers St. and makes express stops until 137th St.-City College station. The uptown train leaves Chambers St. at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m; to go back downtown, it departs from City College station at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. NYPD officers and MTA workers have been deployed to ensure a safe and smooth ride for everyone. 

Memories are at the heart of holidays. People share nostalgic moments with their loved ones and create fresh ones upon them–that’s why Nostalgia Rides are perfectly suited for the holiday season. For some, the antique trains are a reminder of what once was, but for others, they serve as a window into a world they would have never experienced.