Rahul Sharma (Editor)

AB Standard (New York City Subway car)

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Replaced  1960-1969
Refurbishment  1959-1962
Constructed  1914-1922, 1924
Number preserved  5
AB Standard (New York City Subway car)
Manufacturer  American Car and Foundry Company Pressed Steel Car Company
Number built  950 (2 additional cars delivered with the 1919 group to replace cars damaged the previous year

The AB Standard is a former New York City Subway car class built between 1914 and 1924. It ran under the operation of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) and its successors, which included the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT), the New York City Board of Transportation, and the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA).


In their earliest days of service, operating crews frequently called them Steels to distinguish them from the wooden BU elevated cars. However, these cars were most commonly referred to as BRT Standards, BMT Standards, or simply Standards. Train crews and the car shop departments often referred to them as 67-foot cars, AB-types, or most frequently AB's. For their time, the cars introduced a significant number of improvements to urban rapid transit.

Background information

When the BRT was to begin operating new subway lines that had been planned under the Dual Contracts of 1913, it marked the BRT's entry into providing subway service in New York. Previously, the BRT had only provided passenger rail service on elevated or surface routes. Expansion into the subway meant the BRT had to design a subway car suitable to run underground in tunnels. This also meant the new cars would have to be very different from the BRT's elevated fleet, and significantly stronger. The BRT was a forward-thinking company, and sought to design a car that improved upon those already in use on the IRT subway.

To do this, the BRT hired engineer Lewis B. Stillwell to design the cars, based on his work in the railway industry. It was known ahead of the actual signing of the Dual Contracts that the BRT was to operate subway routes, so the engineering effort actually began prior to 1913. Stillwell completed his initial designs for the new 67 foot Standard cars by 1912. In September 1913, a wooden mockup of Stillwell's Standard design was placed on display in Brooklyn for the public and received generally positive reviews. This was enough to go ahead with an order of the new cars.

Service history

All told, 950 Standards were purchased between 1914 and 1924. 100 motorized cars were ordered every year from 1914 to 1922, and 50 unpowered trailer cars were ordered in 1924. 2 additional cars were delivered as part of the 1919 order to replace 2 cars that had been damaged the previous year. As delivered, all 900 motor cars were "singles", meaning that each could be run entirely by itself if so desired. Trains would be made up of singles coupled together. However, many cars as delivered in later years were immediately coupled into units as indicated below.

The first run of the cars was not until early 1915 when several units specially equipped with trolley poles test operated on the Sea Beach Line prior to its formal opening as a subway line, which took place on June 22, 1915. (The poles were also used to move the cars around the 39th St. Shops where they had been originally delivered in 1914.) From then on, the Standards operated regular subway service. Trolley poles were removed from those cars which had been specially equipped.

During their service lives, the Standards saw time on all four Coney Island bound routes - the West End Line, Culver Line, Sea Beach Line, and Brighton Line. They also ran in the Fourth Avenue Subway, the Broadway Subway, and on the Astoria Line, as well as parts of the BMT's "Eastern Division," which includes the Jamaica El, Myrtle Avenue El, Nassau Street Subway, and the 14th Street – Canarsie Line. During the late 1950s, well into their service lives, the cars also saw service on the IND Queens Boulevard Line once the 60th Street Tunnel Connection was completed and Broadway service was extended to Forest Hills – 71st Avenue in Queens(some units had operated on this line to 179th St. during the 1957 motorman's strike). In 1958, a brief test was conducted using a train of these cars in IND F service between 179th St.- Jamaica and Broadway-Lafayette St.

Several significant modifications were made during the cars' period of service. In approximately 1919 and 1920, the passenger compartment of the oldest cars was upgraded to add fans, additional lighting, and more places for standees to hold on. Also at that time, the cars were modified to operate in new arrangements (see letter designations below). In addition, the cars were also modified to allow an entire train's doors to be opened or closed from one point on the train. Prior to this modification, it had been necessary to station a conductor in every car of a train to operate doors. Following the modification, one conductor could operate the doors for an entire train. This allowed the BRT, and after 1923, the BMT, to reduce operating costs. The modification involved connecting 9 point jumpers between cars to pass along electric door control signals from the conductor's position.

In 1927, platforms along the Southern Division stations were being extended to allow for the operation of full length, 8-car trains. Such trains still required the use of two conductors; it was not until September, 1958 that they began operating using only one conductor.

Further modifications were made in the late 1950s. As the Standards were nearing the end of their useful service life, the New York City Transit Authority set up a plan to retire the cars by the end of the 1960s. Trailers were to be retired first, in the early part of the 1960s. This was a matter of practicality since all trailer cars in the New York City Subway were being phased out. Motor cars would be retired next, starting with the oldest cars (cars 2000–2299, along with a few 2300's). The rest of the fleet would need to serve longer until new car orders could replace them, so cars 2400–2799 were to receive a light overhaul to allow them to serve through the 1960s. Car 2899 was also overhauled, as it was part of a three-car set with two cars (2700's) that fell within the scope of the program. Cars 2800–2898 were not overhauled as they had a non-standard group box switch. The remaining 2300's and the 2800's were retired during the mid-1960s; and the overhauled cars continued in service until the last train operated on August 4, 1969, in Myrtle-Chambers service.. Overhauled cars received sealed beam headlights to illuminate tunnels. In addition, their interiors were revitalized with new light fixtures and seat cushions. Overhauled cars also received a more modern General Electric propulsion control package during this time, which was believed by the Transit Authority to be an upgrade over the older Westinghouse packages. About half the overhauled cars were so equipped.

Retirement and preservation

The Standards began being taken out of service during the 1960s, beginning with the trailer cars and progressing on to the older motor cars which had not been overhauled. Then, the rest of the fleet went too. The last of the cars were retired from passenger service in 1969, making a final run on the Myrtle-Chambers Line. The 1969 date meant that the oldest of the cars had lasted for over 50 years in service, a remarkable amount of time for a New York subway car. Following their removal from service, the majority of the cars were scrapped, but five Standards have survived:

  • Car 2204 is on display at the New York Transit Museum
  • Cars 2390, 2391, and 2392 (owned by Railway Preservation Corp.) restored to operating condition. Cars ran in shuttle service from Brighton Beach to Ocean Parkway for the 100th anniversary of the opening of the BRT 4th Avenue Subway Line on June 27, 2015.
  • Car 2775 is preserved by the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, Connecticut.
  • Construction and design

    The Standards, when ordered, were a noticeable upgrade in the quality of New York's urban transportation. Their longer (67 feet) and wider size (10 feet) distinguished them from smaller IRT subway cars. There would be more room in each car and more space for seats. Unlike the IRT cars, end side doors were offset from the ends of the cars to aid better passenger flow. This design is covered under U.S. Patent 1,142,263, with Mr. William S. Menden (chief engineer, and later general manager of the BRT) as the inventor. In addition, there was also a center side door, making for a total of three doors per side. Each door consisted of two leaves separated by a center post, which allowed more than one person to use it at once. This arrangement proved superior to all previous designs.

    The cars were built with a very strong frame that utilized truss construction and allowed thin metal to be used for the side plating. This made the Standards, foot for foot, lighter than similar all-steel IRT subway cars, but with a body twice as strong. Therefore Standards were considerably safer than any previous design, as they would not telescope in a collision. The strength of the design proved itself over and over again. Even in the 1960s, when the Standards were at or approaching 50 years of age, a couple of cars were involved in minor yard collisions with newer cars. Yet in each case, the Standard appeared to have gotten the better of the collision afterward.

    Motorized Standards (motor cars 2000–2899) were built with 2 "maximum traction" type trucks where wheels closest to the center of the car were 341/4 inches in diameter while wheels closest to the ends of the car were just 31 inches in diameter. The motors were attached to the axles that bore the larger wheels. This design was believed to better distribute the car's weight to provide the best adhesion between the wheels and the rails to prevent wheelslip. Unpowered Standards (trailer cars 4000-4049) used more conventional trucks where all wheels were 31 inches in diameter.

    Innovations for riders

    Seating was designed to be comfortable and spacious. The Standards had short rattan benches arranged in both transverse (forward- or rear-facing) and longitudinal (sideways-facing) positions. Two to three people could fit comfortably on each bench. This gave each rider more legroom and personal space. Supplemental seats located by each side door could be folded down for rider use at a conductor's discretion. When lowered, these seats would block side door leaves, so they were protected by lock to ensure only a conductor could lower them. Under regular conditions, 78 seats were available for riders in each car. During the 1950s, many (but not all) of the rattan seats were replaced by sprung leather or a plastic compound (velon) that replicated the feel of rattan.

    For standees, the cars featured four poles by each side door and small handles on the ends of transverse seats. Due to higher than anticipated ridership, metal straps were added above longitudinal seats to improve standee accommodations in 1919–1920. All orders of Standards delivered later (cars 2600–2899, 4000–4049) came with metal straps already in place. During the late 1930s, many (but not all) of the cars saw the metal straps replaced with horizontal steel bars. These accommodated even more riders than the straps had, further improving the cars. With the earlier ACF built cars, all but around 93 of these cars underwent this conversion; of the later Pressed Steel cars, just under half were converted.

    As delivered, the Standards were particularly luxurious for a subway car. Each window came with a shade that could be drawn down to block out sunlight, or raised if a rider desired more natural light. Soft white glass globes served as enclosures for the car's incandescent lighting, to soften the harsh glare of the bulbs and redistribute light evenly throughout the car. However, the globes were ultimately removed from the cars between 1925 and 1927 and the shades between 1927 and 1938.

    During the winter months, electric heaters under the seats provided plenty of heat. P. Smith heaters were used on cars 2400–2599, and a Gold Car Heating model for the rest of the fleet. In warmer weather, vents in the roof accommodated the influx of fresh air from outside the car. Three different vent types were used on Standards: grill type (2000–2499), box type (2500–2599), and clerestory type (2600–2899, 4000–4049). In addition, riders could open the drop sash side windows for extra ventilation. Initially made from wood (2000–2599), on later cars they were brass (2600–2899, 4000–4049). After early complaints about the summer warmth of the cars, ceiling paddle fans were added during the 1919-1920 modifications. Later Standards came already equipped with fans.

    Innovations for the crew

    The Standards introduced interior conductor's controls. Now a conductor could stand inside rather than outside and between cars when operating the doors. The button board controls only worked if the conductor activated the board by key. This prevented tampering or error. As mentioned above, each car as delivered required its own conductor to operate doors. During the 1919–20 modifications, the Standards were unitized into new arrangements (see letter designations below) and converted to allow one conductor to control an entire train's doors. This made operation of the cars more efficient, and reduced labor costs. However, see note above in regard to the operation of full-length, 8-car trains.

    Like all previously designed subway cars, Standards featured end storm doors for riders to pass between cars. However, due to the car's longer 67-foot length and resultant overhang, crossing between cars was dangerous, particularly on curves. Therefore storm doors were kept locked on Standards, although in emergencies they could be opened pneumatically by the conductor from the button board. For emergencies, the cars also featured emergency brake cords like other subway cars, but added an emergency alarm which could be activated to notify the train crew in case of emergency.

    Electric tail lights and running lights were introduced to the subway with the Standards. Low running lights would display white at the front of the train, while tail lights displayed red in the rear. The lights adjusted automatically depending on the train's direction of travel. This was in contrast to the IRT practice of using kerosene lamps at the ends of trains, which had to be physically changed over when the train reversed direction at a terminal. At the time the Standards were delivered, the white running lights were deemed sufficient for lighting tunnels. However, during the 1950s, the New York City Subway made a system wide shift to sealed beam headlights to improve safety. Therefore the Standards that received overhaul from 1958 to 1960 (cars 2400–2799 and 2899) received sealed beams.

    Coupling and uncoupling of trains was simplified by new automatic couplers. The new WABCO couplers automatically made and broke electric and air connections as trains were coupled or uncoupled. This reduced the amount of work for train crews during the process. For example, IRT crews had to physically connect or disconnect high voltage jumper cables when coupling or uncoupling their trains. BRT/BMT crews on Standards did not. The only jumper a Standard crew would ever have to connect or disconnect was the 9 point low voltage jumper introduced with the 1919-1920 modifications. Coupling and uncoupling therefore were much simpler on Standards than on equipment that came before them.

    The Standards also introduced the rollsign to the New York City Subway, an innovation that would be repeated on many other rolling stock orders. Older cars had metal signs which had to be physically removed and replaced to change. Rollsigns simplified the process by allowing train crews to update the sign's display by merely turning a hand crank. Early Standards (cars 2000–2499) had the rollsigns installed in the windows behind side door pockets, while later Standards placed them in the upper half of side windows for better visibility.

    Propulsion and braking

    Low Voltage propulsion control was coming into style around the time the earliest Standards were being delivered. Therefore it was no surprise the Standards arrived with the feature. On earlier high voltage propulsion control systems, 600 volts ran through the motorman's control stand as well as through the train via the use of jumpers between cars. This had to be the case to make the electrical contacts to allow all of the motor cars of a train to draw power in a synchronized effort from the Third rail. However, this could be dangerous for motormen and shop personnel alike by creating an electrocution hazard. Even unpowered trailer cars had to carry the 600 volts through these jumpers, because it was necessary to pass on the voltage to motor cars behind the trailer so as to synchronize them with the lead car. However, low voltage propulsion control utilized battery voltage (32 volts) to control the train's motors. This battery voltage was what would pass through the motorman's control stand and between cars. Tractive effort throughout the train was synchronized by the battery voltage in this way. Meanwhile, each car would respond individually to the battery voltage, by moving its own 600 volt contacts to direct power obtained locally by each car directly from the third rail toward the motors. Using 32 volts to control the propulsion in this way was a much safer proposition than the 600 volts associated with the older high voltage setup. This also meant that Standards crossing onto a dead section of third rail would not energize it by bridging the gap between it and the previous live section. This was especially beneficial to track workers who had requested third rail power off in performing their duties. All told, Low Voltage propulsion control tremendously improved safety for train crews, shop crews, and track gangs.

    One of the drawbacks of the Standard was its lack of speed. Due to its length, it was a much heavier car than the IRT steel cars of the time. But with only two motors per car at 140 horsepower each, it was actually underpowered for its size, particularly when running in a train with one or more unpowered trailers. Therefore, the top speed of the Standards was somewhat low when compared to other rapid transit equipment that has historically run in New York City.

    One other interesting note about the car's propulsion concerned the placement of the motorman's controls in the cab. Standards stuck with BRT tradition, which placed the train's controller nearest the right hand and the brake nearest the left. This was in contrast to IRT equipment, which placed the controller nearest the left and the brake nearest the right. The city owned IND system would emulate the IRT's practice. Meanwhile, later BMT designs would replicate the Standards. Therefore, the controls in subway cars of BRT or BMT design would appear "backwards" to motormen who were acclimated primarily to IRT or IND equipment once the subways had been unified in 1940.

    Braking was tremendously improved on Standards, as electropneumatic brakes synchronized the braking effort of every car in the train to provide a faster braking response. This newer type of braking, WABCO schedule AMUE, would be standard in New York's subways through the 1930s, and lasted in limited quantity until as late as 1977 (when the R1-R9s, the last of the prewar cars, were retired from service). Additionally, a "Variable Load" feature automatically adjusted each car's braking effort to compensate for uneven passenger loads in different cars throughout the train. The result was a smooth, uniform braking effort that increased passenger comfort.

    Experimenting with new technology

    A handful of Standards became the first New York City subway cars to experiment with a public address system. Several cars received a loudspeaker telephone system in 1923–24 to aid conductors in making announcements. Ultimately, the experimental setup was removed by 1928, but the idea was ahead of its time. PA systems did not come into widespread use in New York's subway until the 1950s.

    Standards were also the first New York City Subway equipment to experiment with cab signaling. The underlying rationale for the experiment was to allow trains to run safely at closer headways to provide more frequent service. An attempt was made in 1916 to test a GRS cab signal system using Standards. While generally working as intended, the experiment did not have staying power. The equipment necessary for its use was removed by 1918. It was not until the 1990s that a similar idea would be revisited in the subway, when MTA New York City Transit installed modern CBTC signal equipment on the BMT Canarsie Line.

    Letter designations

    Over their service life, the Standards used several letter designations depending on the configuration of the cars. Originally, the first 600 cars as delivered could operate singly, and dubbed A-types. During the 1919-1920 modifications, much of the fleet was reorganized into semi-permanently coupled units. The following configurations refer to the Standards in operation over the years:

  • A units were motorized single cars and capable of running independently.
  • B units consisted of three motorized cars that ran in a set. The two end cars retained their operating cabs at the front and rear, but blind cabs were made inactive. Door control button boards were similarly deactivated in the end cars, but retained in the center (master) car. The center car's blind cabs were made inactive.
  • BT units consisted of two motorized cars that ran in a set. Each car retained its operating cab at the front and rear, but blind cabs were made inactive. On these units, there was no provision made for door operation, and thus these units could not be operated independently by themselves.
  • BX units were three-car units consisting of an unpowered trailer between two motorized cars. The two end cars retained their operating cabs at the front and rear, but blind cabs were made inactive. There was a restriction on the use of these units; one such unit was not permitted to operate by itself, nor could two of these units operate together in one consist. In addition, for many years they were forbidden to operate on the Manhattan Bridge, but this restriction was lifted when the majority of the units were reassigned to Coney Island to provide for the expanded service via the 60th St. Tunnel Connection on December 1, 1955.
  • AX units were trailers that operated in connection with a A-Type car, loosely associated. Five trailers were originally set up in this manner, but the arrangement was not found to be satisfactory, and they were ultimately coupled into BX units as the rest of the trailers already had been. Though they did not themselves have motors, the cabs could control the entire train's propulsion. They were typically added onto trains to lengthen them during the rush hours.
  • (Note: this designation was also used much later on to designate cars formally from B units that were detached from their former unitization and independently used in work service.)

    The frequent operating and shop personnel references to the cars as AB's or AB Types were derived from the above letter designations, as the vast majority of the cars were originally A units, and later reorganized into B units.

    Additionally, it is noted that other letter designations were used temporarily involving an extra "A" preceding the unit name. This was done as Standards were being modified in regard to their jumper cable connections. This work went on from approximately 1928 to 1931, and during those years one could see units carrying designations "AA," "AB," or "ABX." The extra "A" signified that the car had been so equipped. These designations with the extra "A" prefix were temporary, and when the entire fleet of Standards had been so equipped by 1931 or 1932, the extra "A" prefix was dropped from the designations.

    Regarding the first 600 cars while they were being unitized, it was found that 2 cars of this series did not fit into the system as it was being set up. These were relegated to work service and not used again until 1953, when two of the regular motor cars were damaged in an accident. Thus these 2 cars were returned to passenger service to replace the 2 that had been damaged. As a consequence, there have never at any time been more than 948 in service and 952 were actually built, but the number 950 serves as a convenient benchmark.

    Regarding the 300 Pressed Steel motors, as they were first being delivered, the decision was made not to unitize the first 150, or half of them, to allow for the operation of more varied train lengths, notably for maximum 8 car length. The final 150 were unitized as B-Types in much the manner of the earlier sets.

    In later years, as the 2400 series was undergoing rebuilding, it was decided not to include the trailer cars in the rebuilding. The first 70 2400's had a 2600 series A-Type car inserted in the unit (a total of 35 of these cars were used for this purpose); these units were designated as B-Types. The remaining 30 2400's just remained as two car BT units, with as before, no provision for door operation in these cars.

    One first that occurred with these newly constituted units was, except for the first units put out, the remainder were equipped with link bar connections rather than couplers, making for a more permanent coupling that could only be broken up with great difficulty in the shops. All new cars subsequently purchased for the system made use of this feature and couplers were no longer used to join component cars in units.

    Summary of differences within the AB Standard fleet

    The following differences existed within cars comprising the fleet of AB Standards:

  • Of the sixth set of cars (4000 to 4049), only 4036 had been rebuilt, removed from service when it was decided not to use trailers in this program. It survived a few years afterward, used as a yard office, and was finally scrapped at the time remaining unrebuilt cars were being retired.
  • See the Description above for more details.


    AB Standard (New York City Subway car) Wikipedia

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