Jose Martinez, The City

This article was originally published on Mar 10 6:15pm EST by THE CITY

Joe Oliver stood on the platform at 125th Street, positioning his camera to capture the exact moment the sparkling new A train pulled into the station on its first day carrying straphangers.

“You have a nice curve into the station,” said Oliver, noting that he has been a rail fanatic “for as long as I can remember.”

He was rooting for the rail car’s debut: “I just hope the train is photogenic today, you know?”

At 2:09 p.m., Oliver got his wish, when the first of the new R211 subway cars to enter passenger service came into view, pulling into the Harlem stop on the southbound express track.

The 21-year-old Queens man had been visiting a friend in The Bronx on Friday morning when he learned of the MTA’s first rollout of a new subway car model for passenger service in five years.

“It was all over Twitter, Facebook, Instagram that today is the day,” said Oliver, who took a Bx12 bus across Fordham Road to the D train before catching it south to 125th Street. “I said ‘Ok, I might as well go take a ride on it.”

The maiden voyage from the A line’s northern terminal in Inwood followed months of testing by the MTA of new-look trains that feature wider doors, security cameras and enhanced lighting, and are compatible with planned signal upgrades.

Richard Davey, president of New York City Transit, carried out the conductor’s duty of alerting riders about the next stop on trains that are otherwise equipped for automated announcements.

“Today is the day that railfans — and I know you’re out there, some are here and some are out there — have all been waiting for,” Janno Lieber, the MTA chairperson and CEO, said before the train departed on its first run from the 207th Street station.

For Zicong Lu, a 20-year-old rail aficionado from Staten Island, the rollout to passengers came on a day when he didn’t have classes at Brooklyn College.

20-year-old Zicong Lu filmed everything he saw as the new R211 train made its way to Queens from Manhattan.
Zicong Lu filmed everything he saw as the new R211 train made its way to Queens from Manhattan. | Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

So, he hopped on the train at its first stop at Dyckman Street, snapping photos through a window at the end of one subway car and shooting videos that he will post to YouTube.

“New train, new design, you know?” Lu said. “A better riding experience.”

The passenger-service debut of the R211 followed pandemic-driven delays in production at the Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. plant in Nebraska. The first batch of the 535-car order was supposed to begin arriving in 2020.

The order — which has been expanded to 1,175 cars in all — also includes 20 subway cars with a so-called open gangway design, which replaces the doors at the end of each car with accordion-like connectors that are designed to increase capacity and passenger mobility.

Last month at the Coney Island Yard, the MTA showcased one of the open-gangway trains, which officials have said will start carrying passengers in the last quarter of this year.

But test runs remain a moving target among railfans eager to catch a glimpse of the train.

Its whereabouts are discussed widely among rail fanatics on social media sites. Railfans told THE CITY that some pranksters in the subway subculture have even thrown others off the scent with decoy signs that resemble official MTA documents — but which give wrong information on when and where the test train is running.

“We’ve seen it in drawings, we’ve seen it in videos,” said Darien Williams, a 19-year-old subway buff from Brooklyn. “But to actually have it happen, it’s like, ‘Wow!”

Commuters and train enthusiasts from across the city ride on the inaugural R211 trip from Inwood in Manhattan to Far Rockaway.
Commuters and train enthusiasts from across the city ride on the inaugural R211 trip from Inwood in Manhattan to Far Rockaway. | Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

For now, railfans will settle for rides on the first new trains since the order of the R179 trains, which came into service in 2017.

The $600 million order from manufacturer Bombardier was plagued by problems which led to all 298 R179 subway cars being pulled out of service in January 2020 and again six months later.

The new R211 trains — which will run on the A and C lines, as well as on the Staten Island Railway — are replacing ones that have been in service since the mid-1970s.

“We’re excited to give them their AARP card and retire them for good,” said Davey of NYCT.

On Friday, railfans saved their excitement for the first of the new cars.

“It’s going to improve NYC,” said Simaya Johnson, a 13-year-old girl, who went to the 125th Street stop along the A after watching videos of the new train on TikTok. “And maybe they will fix all the other trains, too.”

The first R211A train leaves the 207th Street station.
Marc A. Hermann/MTA

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