Kethevane Gorjestani

Multimedia Producer and Reporter

End of the line: MTA uses retired subway cars from 207th Street Yard for artificial reef program

Written with Zack Seward

First published on January 5, 2009 in the Manhattan Times

Barge transporting subways on the east river

Barge transporting subways on the east river

Dumping old subway cars into the ocean may seem like bad news for the environment. But by all accounts a Metropolitan Transportation Authority program doing just that is greatly improving sea life along the eastern seaboard.

The MTA artificial reef program takes worn out subway cars and drops them onto the ocean floor. Over 2,400 cars have been sunk off the coasts of six states, from New Jersey to Georgia.

“It’s the ultimate form of recycling,” said Mike Zacchea, who oversees the program for the MTA. “You’re getting a useful life above ground and at the end of its original life you create another life for it, creating habitat for marine life.”

But the journey to the bottom of the sea begins in Inwood.

At the MTA’s 207th Street maintenance facility the subway cars are stripped of everything from seats to signs. Workers also remove liquid pollutants like motor oil, coolant and grease.

What remains in the cars, however, is asbestos. The 40-year-old cars were built with the harmful material in their flooring.

“The issue in all of these cars is that they were built during a time when asbestos materials were commonly used in constructing subway cars,” Zacchea said. “So that presented a disposal problem.”

The MTA started the program in 2000 when the transit agency had to get rid of its entire fleet of “redbird” trains. Before tougher asbestos laws they could sell the cars for scrap. With the new laws, the process of removing the asbestos became expensive.

Zacchea came up with the idea to sink the subway cars after reading about a similar program from the 1980s that sunk military tanks. Artificial reef programs like the MTA’s are meant to create marine ecosystems on stretches of seafloor that are naturally barren.

But also, dumping the cars out at sea was the cheapest way to get rid of them. For the first fleet of redbird trains alone the MTA saved about $12 million.

For the states that receive the cars the program is also a moneymaker. Along with sunken tanks and ships, the subway cars provide hard surfaces for underwater plants to grow on. These smaller organisms then attract fish to the sites, which in turn attract fishing and diving activity.

Delaware’s reef program coordinator, Jeff Tinsman, says that his agency has seen a 300-fold increase in fishing activity since the program began.

Initially the program had its critics. Environmental groups expressed concern that the asbestos would be harmful to the marine environment. Most, including New Jersey’s Clean Ocean Action, now say that its effect is minimal and the benefits to sea life are significant.

The latest batch of cars left Inwood in December, joining the 2,380 that already litter the ocean floor. The 44 stainless steel trains that used to run up and down the city’s lettered lines, headed to their final destination: a site 26 miles off the coast of Delaware. They’re now part of the Del-Jersey-Land Artificial Reef.

Nearly 500 more cars are on tap to be sunk by September 2010 and the MTA says it plans to continue the program.

3 Responses to “End of the line: MTA uses retired subway cars from 207th Street Yard for artificial reef program”

  1. […] the artificial reef program, but I think it’s because they don’t know the details about how it is designed to help the environment. I am fortunate that I have been able to photograph these historical projects that are all tied to […]

  2. Geovani says:

    There are several pinots in this article that I believe need to be segregated, and sifted through.Self directed investing, WHILE IT CAN BE DONE, requires an enormous sacrifice in time and research to asssure at least a chance of good results. With even talented professionals, who study the movements of the market as well as individual issues being no strangers to bad judgment, it would be a daunting task to manage a portfolio on one’s own, with the imited time available to devote to research. The bigger the portfolio gets, the more complex the management of it becomes. If professional and competent advice is rendered, a brokerage account could make sense for a 401(k), as the performance issue could be rendered moot. As for the matter of offering directed accounts only for the highly compensated, this need not be an issue- those with smaller amounts to invest would probably stick with the funds they would normally use anyway, and frankly, if an employee’s account has less than $50,000 in it, individual equity issues, for example, may not make much sense. As far as the fee issue, given the layers of hidden costs in the usual mix of 401(k)offerings of mutual funds and annuities, I would say the individual brokerage account would prove to be cheaper, especially over the long term. One pays a one time fee for a bond, for example, over the recurring fees of the other investments, which will cut into an investors s total return over time.There has been a shift from actively managed brokerage accounts to fee-based ones over the years, with the rationale being that the fee based account will offer less incentive for the advisor to move assets around merely to generate commissions. However, this has resulted in a parallel curse: 401(k) accounts now languish for years, even decades, without the slightest attention given by the wealth manager who is supposed to maintain stewardship over the account. I have seen 401(k) accounts with the self same holdings (usually from a major fund house like Fidelity) through boom, bust and busted, without a single effort made to adjust allocation or holdings. In other words, advisors are now incentivized to do nothing. The far broader array of investment choices over the standard menu of funds gives a brokerage account a substantial investment edge as well. Most stock mutual funds seldom beat the averages, are grossly inefficient and wasteful, and worst of all, are over allocated in a retirement mix. Bond funds come preloaded with what might be a distastrous, pre-loaded interest rate risk that can hurt the investor at the very time they need the principle back. The ability to offer individual pieces which can be better allocated, cheaper to own, more sharply attuned to inherent risks, as well as better liquidity, can help the investor achieve superior results. And results is what it is all about. Every time I read one of these tomes on 401(k)s, I feel I have to remind the people who write them that the point of having a 401(k) is not just to have one. If the vehicle doesn’t give you more money at retirement than what you put in, there is little point in the exercise. And sadly, that is the very result millions of employees are living with right now. I have yet to see ONE rollover account that I would be personally proud of if I had managed it myself. And that is a disgrace.

  3. Rahul says:

    No, because we don’t have the money. Our state geeronmvnt takes enough money every year as is from the MTA for emergency funds to divert to the rest of the state (thanks, Pataki, Paterson and Cuomo). Money is tight, so they’re better off focusing on station renovations and getting the second avenue subway up to 125 St. If someone has a few billion dollars in their couch to pay for platform guardrails, by all means go ahead.

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