Our newest tinplate project is a Standard Gauge replica of a New York City R-17 subway train - the first-ever tinplate subway and most likely the largest regular production subway model ever built. Our model will accurately reproduce the signature details of the R-17, including its porthole end windows and the three-part rollsign on each side, with the top two lines indicating the train's end terminals and the bottom showing the train's route. Our R-17 will also include a detailed, lighted interior.
Like the Standard Gauge trolleys shown elsewhere in this catalog, the Proto-Sound-equipped R-17 will feature Station Stop Proto-Effects. You'll be able to program the R-17 to stop automatically at designated station stops, even in Conventional Mode. When configured to run on automatic, the R-17 will stop itself at locations you define and call out station names that you select in advance; the train will essentially run itself. And when you program the R-17 for an out-and-back route, it will reverse itself and head back downtown when it reaches the end of the line - stopping along the way at each station to broadcast the name of the stop and the hustle and bustle of passengers coming and going.
On June 1, 1940, the City of New York acquired the two subway systems it didn't already own - the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit Co.) and the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corp.) - and consolidated them with the city-owned IND (Independent Subway System). It was readily apparent that the city's fleet of aging subway cars was desperately in need of replacement, and immediately after World War II, management began to develop a new car that would be standard throughout the system and incorporate the latest advances in subway design. This effort was complicated by the fact that portions of the IRT had tighter clearances than the IND and BMT, so all future designs would incorporate a shorter, narrower IRT version.
Beginning with contract R-10, and IRT-sized contract R-12 delivered in 1948, the new cars featured welded steel bodies, fluorescent lighting that made them considerably brighter than prewar cars, and seating made of foam rubber covered with velon, a new plastic material that replaced the rattan seating of older cars. A major improvement was a new type of brake system known as Straight Air Motor Car Electric-Pneumatic Emergency (SMEE), which combined ordinary air brakes with dynamic braking, in which a car's electric motors, by having their polarities reversed, were converted to generators in order to slow the car. This significantly reduced brake shoe wear and maintenance costs. Beginning with the R-12, the postwar IRT cars were known as the SMEE fleet.
The 400 cars built under contract R-17 were part of the 1950s expansion of the SMEE fleet, which also included the similar-looking R-15, R-21 and R-22 cars. As was normal practice at the time, the 400 R-17 cars delivered by St. Louis Car Co. in 1955-1956 were evenly split between General Electric and Westinghouse electrical gear, with each company equipping half the cars. The R-17s could be operated independently or with any other SMEE cars, and various SMEE types were often intermixed in trains. Ten of the R-17s were delivered with factory-installed air conditioning. The experiment proved unsuccessful, however, and the AC was later removed. Also removed were the comfortable velon seats, which proved an easy mark for vandals and were replaced by hard fiberglass benches.
Preservation and Movie Roles
You can still ride an R-17 today in New York and Connecticut. Both the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn and the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, Connecticut have a restored, operational R-17. In fact, the Shore Line's Car 6688 appears in the recently released movie The Amazing Spider Man 2. Other film appearances by R-17s include The French Connection, Ron Howard's Night Shift, and an interior shot in the opening credits of Oliver Stone's Wall Street.