3/13/95 | Index | Next | Back

Space-age train wows riders

By J.D. Heiman, Staff Reporter

Lakeisha Norris said she couldn't believe her eyes when she stepped onto the new and improved No. 2 at Simpson Street.

"This train is too nice," said the 14-year-old Crotona Park resident. "It's like a future train."

Well, Kawasaki's vision of the future anyway. It's the New Technology Train -- a spotless five-car people-mover complete with strip route maps over the doors and a computer display showing the estimated time of arrival at the next stop.

Instead of the garbled bark of a conductor announcing station stops, there's a recording of the dulcet tones of Olga Meredez, who does the MTA's radio commercials.

Like a refugee from Washington's space-age Metro, the new train has been making stops between Wakefield and Flatbush since last summer. Along the way it's melted the hearts of jaded borough straphangers.

"I love this train!" Norris gushed.

Elsa Cruz, 52, a Manhattan woman visiting family in Tremont, agreed. "Oh, it is beautiful isn't it?" she said, bouncing her grandson Hector on her lap. "I just hope people don't mess it up."

That kind of exchange is heard all day on the experimental train -- a Rolls Royce among the 30 jalopies that ply this branch of the IRT.

If officials are pleased with the new train's performance, about 300 Kawasaki cars will be bought for the system by the year 2000. By then, the old red cars will have limped through borough neighborhoods for 37 years.

But it hasn't all been smooth chugging for the new train. There have been problems with the automatic doors on some cars. So instead of rumbling past Intervale Avenue or Freeman Street, they're often having their kinks worked out in the Brooklyn subway yards.

Then there's a minor tempest brewing about the number of seats on the new train -- about 12 less than on older ones. Seaton said the agency removed seats to provide room for the handicapped.

"It's a lie," said Joe Rappaport, a spokesman for the Straphanger's Campaign, a rider's advocacy group. "They want to stuff more people on the trains so they can run fewer trains."

But Norris and Cruz weren't concerned about the lack of seating. What really bothered them was the graffiti on some of the train's windows.

"If I caught somebody scratching on this train I'd ask them why they have to go and ruin something so nice," Norris said.

Seaton said that it costs about $170 to replace window panes damaged by scratching, adding up to thousands of dollars in repairs on some trains.

"Most of the scratching seems to take place right after schools are dismissed for the day," said Alan O'Leary, a Transit Police spokesman. He said that police were experimenting with hidden video cameras to catch vandals in the act.

Scratch marks included, Norris thought the New Tech train was a dream well worth a buck twenty-five.

"I could ride this all day," she said as the train whooshed smoothly under the Grand Concourse. "It's a magic trip."

The Bronx Beat, March 13, 1995