The New York MTA attempted to turn subway cars into reefs. It didn’t go as planned

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Photo: MTA via Wikimedia Commons

When the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York withdrew its old “Brightliner“Subway cars, he sent more than 1,000 of them to the coastal areas of Delaware, New Jersey and Georgia and dumped them at the bottom of the ocean. It was all part of an artificial reef program. This all happened about 10 years ago. At the time, artificial reefs were designed to accommodate recreational fishing, which generated an estimated $15 billion in state and federal taxes at the time.

The program made sense for all parties involved, according to fast business. The subway cars were welcomed with open arms by the scuba diving and fishing industries – and the MTA saved millions because it didn’t have to scrap the trains.

Brightliners were supposed to last underwater for over 25 years, but there was a little problem. They started falling apart just a few months after they were put in place. This came as a bit of a surprise to the MTA. A few years earlier, they had done a similar program with an older model subway car, called Redbird. These cars are still at the bottom of the ocean to this day.

But why did the Redbirds thrive where the Brightliners died? Well, it’s for a very good reason: building materials. The redheads are made of carbon steel, which helps prevent corrosion. Brightliners, by comparison, are stainless steel. It may have been better for the cars on the track, but it proved disastrous for their survival underwater.

Daniel Sheehy, an environmental consultant, told Fast Company that the project failed for two reasons, the first being the way the trains were welded together. They created the possibility of corrosion formation. The second problem was the corrugated pattern on the outside of the cars, which made it easier for the underlying waves to adhere and the trains to separate.

Sheehy explained that there are a few things needed to make an artificial reef successful. The surface is very important because it provides more space for the growth of corals and sponges. This eventually forms habitats for marine life. Weight is also paramount; the heavier something is, the less likely it is to be flipped or moved by an undercurrent.

In terms of materials, Fast Company says everything from concrete rubble to salvaged cultivators and damaged telephone poles can be the foundation of a good reef.

So, like many other programs in my beloved home in New York, there may have been good intentions, but the follow-through and execution leave a lot to be desired.

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