MTA Nostalgia Train: Unstoppable!

By January 3, 2011blog
Nostalgia Train pulls into 2nd Avenue Station to pick up passengers

The NYC MTA runs their Nostalgia Train for a few weekends around the winter solstice, but don’t let the name and the maudlin posters of yesteryear fool you – as spirited as any New Yorker, this subway train and its crew are all business, running regular passenger service on the main line, making each stop as timely as the modern cars and just as ruthlessly closing its doors on the dumbstruck and laggard alike.

Nostalgia Train pulls into 2nd Avenue Station to pick up passengersNostalgia Train pulls into 2nd Avenue Station to pick up passengers

Of course the train is clearly not of our era – there is no air conditioning; the ten cars are a variety of ages (40 – 80 years old) and do not match; the finishes are generally not vandalized but instead are deeply-worn and layered with repairs; the lighting is dim, the sounds are loud and clanky; breezes flow through the cars from leaky windows & open doors; and a half-dozen operators are constantly roving through the cars to attend noises, stuck doors, and other signs of mechanical insubordination.

Nostalgia Train interiorAn operator quickly unjams the door before departure; note exposed lamp bulbs, whirling fan blades, and glorious lack of waivers to be signed

But since this string of ancient machines performs its essential task in the exact manner of a modern train (people get on, people get off), using the same rails and power, it offers an interesting comment on the nature of preservation and technology, manifest in the astonishment of fellow straphangers who board warily, as if stepping upon an apparition, but are soon washed by a commuter’s blank face and circumspect eyes, establishing a timeless normalcy on this diehard jalopy.

Nostalgia Train: unpolished appeal of the functioning rough & tumbleThe unpolished appeal of the functioning rough & tumble

And there is something else: mired in a recession and a sense of sagging national confidence, there is something magnificent about having this old bird make its way down the line, kept running through frugal ingenuity, plenty of human labor, a thorough soundness of design & engineering, and a bit of shared sacrifice. There are worse ways for us to travel.