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New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving

"Brightliner" Subway Cars

Brightliners Subway Cars reef

~100 "Brightliner" subway cars - NYC Subway system
1963-1964 - Budd Company - Model R32 # 3350-3949
1966-1967 - St. Louis Car - Model R38 # 3950-4149
1967-1969 - St. Louis Car - Model R40 # 4150-4349
1969-1970 - St. Louis Car - Model R42 # 4550-4949
( 60 x 10 ft ) 10 tons ( all, typical, body only )
44 cars were sunk on Atlantic City Reef on April 3, 2008
more in Cape May reef and Delaware reefs
New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority ( MTA )
too many to list, and all gone anyway
Depths vary by location

Brightliners Subway Cars reef

On April 3, 2008, 44 decommissioned stainless steel subway cars were deployed on the Atlantic City Reef site as part of the Artificial Reef Program. The cars are placed in a tight circle pattern to better accommodate divers. More cars were deployed on the Cape May reef, for a total of about 100. When the cars were found to have completely fallen apart after only several months, plans to deploy another 500 were abandoned.

Brightliners Subway Cars reef
4932 - R42M - note fiberglass end cap is missing

"Brightliner" Subway Cars - Artificial Reefs - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- "Brightliner" Subway Cars - Artificial Reefs - New Jersey Scuba Diving
Atlantic City Reef, April 3, 2008

After being stripped of windows and doors, it will be difficult to tell one type from another. The R40s and R42s will also lose their fiberglass end-caps. Compared to the Redbirds, these cars are 10 feet longer and over a foot wider, with much heavier stainless steel construction.

Brightliners Subway Cars reef

Brightliners Subway Cars reef

Brightliners Subway Cars reef
R40 "Slant"

Brightliners Subway Cars reef

Brightliners were named for their gleaming unpainted stainless-steel finish and overall modern appearance, which contrasted strongly with the painted cars of previous generations, such as the Redbirds.

Atlantic City Reef Collapse Yields Lessons

By RICHARD DEGENER, Jul 26, 2009
Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY - Evidence suggests the connections are to blame.

Brightliners Subway Cars reef

Subway cars deployed at the Atlantic City Reef and other reefs along the East Coast are collapsing into a pile of rubble, after mere months in the water, and it likely is because the connections - such as rivets and spot welding, engineered for subway cars to haul commuters down a track - cannot hold up in a harsh marine environment. Structural framing made of low-alloy steel may also be rusting out, causing the cars to collapse.

It wouldn't be the first time a material hailed by the builders of artificial reefs turned out to only be as strong as its weakest material.

New Jersey and other East Coast states jumped at the offer by the New York Transit Authority for free stainless steel "Brightliner" subway cars as reef material.

Why wouldn't they? Earlier "Redbird" subway cars made of lower alloy carbon steel had been sitting on New Jersey's reefs since 2003 and were holding up well. One study estimated they would be 67 percent structurally intact after 14 years in the ocean. Most figured stainless steel would work even better. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the stainless cars should be viable for 25 to 30 years.

New Jersey deployed about 100 of them on reefs off Atlantic City and Cape May and ordered another 500 for three other reefs. South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland also deployed the subway cars off their coasts.

New Jersey gets credit for discovering the problem just seven months after the first cars were deployed in April 2008, and canceling the order for 500 more cars. That led other states to check their reefs, and they found the same problem.

"It's how the components of the cars are connected to each other. The rivets and spot welding are the weak link. The stainless steel skin peels right off," said Daniel Sheehy of Aquabio, a Massachusetts firm that for 30 years has evaluated reefs around the world.

It may take a metallurgist to confirm the problem Sheehy has seen while reviewing underwater video and side-scan sonar reports, but Sheehy said, "It's a common problem with reef programs. People look at the materials and forget the materials are attached to other parts. We need to capture these lessons and learn to get smarter about these things."

The most famous case was the Osborne Reef off Broward County, Fla. where 2 million bundled tires were dumped in the 1970s. The tires were banded together with steel, which rusted out and left 2 million tires to wash ashore in storms, battering ecologically sensitive coral reefs. The military is now helping to recover the tires.

Tire reefs on the Great Lakes and Puget Sound failed for similar regions. Even though New Jersey anchored its tires in concrete, it stopped using them as reef material upon the realization that the concrete would fall apart before the tires.

Information about the subway cars may have been available before they were used as reefs. Sheehy noted the petroleum industry, which often works in the marine environment, has documented problems dealing with stainless steel. Some grades of the metal are not suited for the marine environment, and connections can be difficult.

"People think stainless steel will last forever. The best reef materials pose difficult questions and lots of intangibles," noted Sheehy.

A few years ago, Army tanks were the reef material of choice. Nothing is as durable as a tank, right? But Sheehy said Maryland deployed them in muddy bottom, and they sank right out of sight.

While tanks deployed off New Jersey have been pretty stable on the state's sandy sea floor, it points to another issue. The best reef materials can be put in the wrong place. The wrong place can involve the makeup of the ocean floor, currents or other marine conditions. Even ships have been known to break up due to strong currents.

"This happened off Florida where pieces of a ship dragged across coral and damaged it. They use to blow ships up to sink them until they found out it destroyed their structural integrity," said Sheehy.

Retired reef expert Bill Figley, who ran New Jersey's reef program for decades, said one problem is reef builders don't always get the ideal sites due to considerations such as commercial fishing grounds.

"It's not always the best spot but the best acceptable spot," said Figley.

Currents can be a problem at some of the state's 15 reefs. Figley also noted that, eventually, everything breaks up or sinks into the sand. One ship the state deployed has descended 25 feet into the ocean floor.

"Everything eventually goes down. There's a constant battle with gravity. In a storm, the sand liquefies and it won't hold anything up," Figley noted.

One rule Figley always followed is that the component parts of any reef addition must be stable on their own. He noted New Jersey mostly uses rocks these days; and as they sink, more can be piled on top. Lessons have been learned.

"Concrete, steel and rock is what New Jersey has learned. No plastic, no light-weight stuff, no rubber and no wood. Ninety-five percent of what we use now is bedrock, natural bedrock," Figley said.

The beauty of rock is that it doesn't just attract fish. One debate on artificial reefs is whether they merely attract marine life already in the area or create it. Rock piles are known for growing marine biomass on the lower end of the food chain, and their many crevices serve as hiding places for juvenile marine life. They may create more than attract.

One thing is clear, reef builders are still learning.

"In the old days, it was just pitching tires overboard. There's been a lot of progress," Sheehy said.

Brightliners Subway Cars reef
Black Sea Bass on an intact Brightliner

Brightliners Subway Cars reef
A collapsed Brightliner off Delaware

The lack of marine growth shows just how quickly these cars disintegrated.

Brightliners Subway Cars reef
Side-scan sonar

Even in this collapsed state, the Brightliners continued to support fish and marine life, as evidenced by fishing reports, although the low relief of a collapsed car offers just a fraction of the hoped-for benefit. Also, such low-lying rubble will soon disappear into the bottom. The big problem though was jagged sheets of stainless steel drifting for miles around, and damaging commercial trawlers' nets.

What was hoped-for:

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Division of Fish and Wildlife
Marine Fisheries Administration

Stainless Steel Subway Cars Q&A


What are the benefits of establishing artificial reefs in New Jersey's marine waters?

Reefs enhance our marine ecosystem by providing spawning, nursery, refuge and feeding area for more than 150 species of fish and marine life. Deployed hard substrate materials such as rock, steel and concrete provide an attachment medium for larval encrusting organisms to grow and mature. Encrusting organisms such as hydroids, anemones, barnacles and blue mussels envelope the reef structure and form a thick living reef matrix. A myriad of minute crustaceans such as amphipods and isopods in turn take up housing in this protective environment and from an important component of the reef food chain. Reef-associated fishes such as black sea bass, tautog and cunner utilize reefs as a food source and refuge.

Reefs also provide new fishing grounds for anglers and underwater areas to explore for scuba divers. Artificial reefs are especially important to the marine waters of New Jersey as the seafloor is characterized as sand or sand-mud plain interrupted by sand ridges and swales. The larvae of the encrusting organisms cannot attach to these sand grains and quickly wash away or become covered with sediments.

Is the marine environment being negatively changed by establishing artificial reefs?

The intent of New Jersey's Reef Program is not to change the marine environment, but rather to enhance a small portion of the seafloor to benefit about 150 species of fish and marine life. The benefited species are endemic but are limited in abundance by the lack of hard-substrate habitat. New Jersey's reefs are only artificial in that hard-substrate structures were intentionally placed in the marine environment. Everything that occurs after that is a natural process leading to the formation of an encrusting community of organisms. New Jersey's Reefs only occupy 0.3 percent of the ocean bottom out to 30 nautical miles.


How productive will the subway cars be as reef material?

Studies performed by the New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife and South Carolina Division of Natural Resources show that subway cars develop into fully functional artificial reef habitat providing trophic support for reef fishes by supporting invertebrate communities.

How soon will fish utilize the subway cars as habitat?

Reef-associated fishes such as black sea bass and tautog are inherently structure oriented. Although these fishes will be found in the immediate vicinity of the subway cars after the deployment, utilization will be the highest following two years of soak time when the reef matrix is fully developed. A three-year study conducted by the DFW found that the mean number of fishes found utilizing subway cars as habitat to be 323 per subway car after two years soak time. If this value were extrapolated to 600 subway cars, an expected 193,000 fishes would be found utilizing the subway cars as habitat.

Besides fish, what other types of marine life will utilize the subway cars as habitat? Marine invertebrates such as hydroids, anemones, barnacles, blue mussels, worms and stony corals will colonize the subway cars. In addition to these invertebrates, crustaceans such as lobsters, shrimp and stone crabs will use the reef matrix for refuge and a food source.


How long will the stainless steel subway cars last in the marine environment?

During 1990, the DFW performed a pilot study to determine the effectiveness and durability of subway car bodies as reef material. Five PATH ( Port Authority Transit Hudson ) subway cars were obtained from Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) for this purpose. Thirteen years following the deployment, surveys found the PATH subway cars to be upright and 67 percent intact. Newer subway cars are constructed of type 301 and 302 stainless steel, which is more resistant to marine corrosion than the carbon steel that the PATH and Redbird subway cars were constructed. The US EPA has estimated that the life span of the stainless steel cars to be between 25 - 35 years. This range is comparable to other reef material routinely deployed by New Jersey's Reef Program. The estimated life spans of the PATH and Redbird and subway cars deployed in 1990 and 2004 is 15-25 years.


Do subway cars move on the seafloor after deployed?

A four-year study conducted by DFW found that subway cars do not move once deployed. Immediately following the deployment of 250 Redbird subway cars in 2003, hurricane Isabel hit the New Jersey coast. To verify that the Redbird subway cars had not moved, the DFW performed a side-scan-sonar survey. Results indicated that the deployed subway cars were in the same positions as they were when dropped. Additional monitoring performed during 2004 - 2007 also showed that the subway cars were in the same positions. Stainless steel subway cars are equivalent in weight to the Redbirds and weigh approximately 18 tons each.


What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the common name for several minerals found in some geological formations that can be found in many places including New Jersey. Asbestos fibers naturally occur in surface waters in areas with these minerals. These minerals have been processed into products such as insulators and fire retardants.

Would there be asbestos fibers released from the subway cars?

Asbestos is contained within some materials in the subway cars. However, the asbestos fibers are encapsulated or contained within epoxy material and would not be expected to be released into the water column. Epifauna would most certainly be expected to cover the surfaces of the subway cars. This "growth" would be expected to minimize any release of asbestos.

What if the fibers were released, would they do harm?

In the unlikely case where fibers are released, concentrations would be expected to be low and below levels causing potential harm to aquatic animals (e.g., fish). This is due to the fibers being in an "encapsulated" state and subsequent dilution from ocean currents. Only very high concentrations of asbestos are considered a risk to aquatic animals. The release of high concentrations of asbestos fibers into the water column from a gradual deterioration of the asbestos-containing materials is not expected. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states in their Final Guidance document: "Undisturbed, non-friable (not easily crumbled) asbestos has been found to be relatively harmless."

If the fibers were released, would they get into the food chain?

Since levels would be low or not present in the water column, levels of asbestos in reef animals would also be expected to be low. Animals higher on the food chain (e.g., fish) would not be expected to have greater concentrations of asbestos compared to animals lower on the food chain.

How is asbestos typically dealt with in reef materials?

The EPA recommends removing or encapsulating asbestos material that is exposed, disturbed and deteriorated on materials destined for artificial reefs. Encapsulation with epoxy or other non-water soluble and non-toxic sealer is recommended.

What about the asbestos on the subway cars?

Remaining asbestos material on the subway cars is encapsulated ( e.g., epoxy interior car coating ) and is not considered friable. The danger of asbestos with these (non-friable) types of materials appears to be from grinding, sanding or cutting ( i.e., resulting in release of fibers ). This type of activity is not expected prior to or subsequent to deployment on the reefs.


How much will it cost for New Jersey to deploy subway cars as artificial reefs?

All past and future subway cars received by New Jersey are free of any cost.

South and Mid-Atlantic Reef Perspectives

For everything you ever wanted to know about New York City subways, go to nycsubway.org.



I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

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since 2016-09-11