Hop on a Train to Beat the Heat

As the third heat wave of the season soaks into the City’s concrete and asphalt, thermometer-bursting temperatures are prompting the inevitable seasonal question: “When are you going to air condition the subways?”

It’s an age old query, one that’s been asked and answered many times over the years, but it’s an answer that bears repeating. Air conditioning subway platforms is a costly endeavor and one that would provide only mild relief for a seasonal problem.  Plus, open at both ends as they are, trying to air condition subway platforms would be like trying to air condition an infinite space. 

The fact remains that climate controlled subway cars are the best use of scarce capital dollars, and provide the maximum benefit to our customers year round.  That is why each and every one of the system’s 6,300 subways cars maintains a comfortable temperature year round. 

Air conditioned subway cars are a relatively new amenity, dating back only as far as 1967, when a ten-car train of R38s began cooling off sweltering F Subway Line customers.  Except for a portion of the R40 fleet, which was delivered with ceiling fans, all subsequent car classes ordered for lettered line service came equipped with factory-installed climate-control systems, but riders who took the 1 Subway through 7 Subway trains were forced to endure sweltering rides alleviated only slightly by open windows and ceiling fans until an efficient climate control system could be retrofitted to the smaller subway cars serving the IRT.

By 1993, all New York City Transit subway cars, except for 40 7 Subway Line redbirds received air conditioning systems either as original equipment when ordered or retrofitted when older cars were sent through the rebuilding process.

Of course, with the introduction of “New Technology” trains in 1999, the climate control system was improved over the older system to operate more efficiently and be easier to maintain.  The modular, roof-mounted HVAC systems are designed to use less energy and contain less Freon than older cars with “split” air conditioning systems. The systems also boast variable speed compressors capable of matching the cooling capacity with the required load. Simply put, this means system power consumption can be reduced during periods of light ridership.

Just how smart are these newer cars? The HVAC system and the lights shut off automatically when the train is taken out of service. All new cars also employ scroll-type HVAC compressors rather than the piston compressors found in conventional subway cars. This design is more efficient, particularly during the hot summer months when power shortages are possible.  Maintaining the systems is also a simpler affair.  On the occasion that a system fails, the car is brought into the shop and the unit is simply lifted from the roof and replaced with another unit, limiting the time the train is out of service.

When will the platforms be air conditioned?  We really can’t say, but we work hard to make certain that no one stands on a hot platform for too long, because a nice cool train is only a few minutes away.