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New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving

"Redbird" Subway Cars

Redbird Subway Car - in service

250 "Redbird" subway cars - NYC Subway system - steel bodies / frames
1959-1960 - American Car & Foundry - Model R26 # 7750-7859
1960-1961 - American Car & Foundry - Model R28 # 7860-7959
1962-1963 - St. Louis Car - Model R29 # 8570-8805
1962-1963 - St. Louis Car - Model R33 # 8806-9345
1963-1964 - St. Louis Car - Model R36 # 9346-9769
( 51 x 9 ft ) 15,000 to 18,000 pounds (body)
50 cars were sunk on the Cape May Reef on July 3, 2003
50 cars were sunk on Deepwater Reef on July 16, 2003
50 cars were sunk on Atlantic City Reef on July 25, 2003
50 cars were sunk on Garden State North Reef on Sept 3, 2003
50 cars were sunk on Shark River Reef on Oct 14, 2003
619 cars were sunk on Delaware Reef 11 from Aug 2001 to Nov 2003
New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority ( MTA )
Environmental group Clean Ocean Action lobbied aggressively and almost successfully to prevent the use of these subway cars as artificial reefs in New Jersey, resulting in most of the cars going to other states.
too many to list, and all gone anyway
Depths vary by location between 80 ft and 130 ft.

Redbird Subway Car Dimensional Drawing

Redbird Subway Car Dimensional DrawingIn 2001 New York City offered as many as 1300 subway cars for use as artificial reefs, but the project was de-railed by a single person. Cindy Zipf and her Clean Ocean Action organization raised enough unreasonable fears over the longevity of the cars in the ocean and their asbestos content, that the state government refused them. Many of the cars went to Delaware and South Carolina, which were happy to get such a windfall. After much public outcry and government consternation, the last 250 cars were finally accepted for use as reefs in 2003.

The conclusion that the subway cars did not hold up well as artificial reefs was apparently based on a survey of a single car that had been hit and torn apart by a dragger. Airborne asbestos is harmful when the tiny fibers are breathed and lodge permanently in the lungs. It has never been shown to be harmful to anything in the water at the concentrations that are expected, which are nearly unmeasurable.

Studies of sunken Redbirds in Delaware and other states have so far found nothing of consequence. Nonetheless, in exchange for these subway cars, New Jersey was saddled with an onerous, expensive, and unnecessary eight-year environmental study and moratorium on the use of subway cars in reef building. Fortunately, that semi-illegal agreement proved to be non-binding. ( It never went through a public review and approval process, but instead was forced upon the people and the state by environmental extremists. Such a thing should never be permitted to happen again. )

The MTA Redbirds - Artificial Reefs - New Jersey Scuba Diving The MTA Redbirds, by Captain Steve Nagiewicz, discussing the issues relating to using the cars as reefs.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Depth Plot
15 of the cars on the Shark River Reef were sunk on one of the huge rock piles, placing them rather shallower than the 130 foot bottom.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Rock Pile
The cars found so far are laid-out like this, but I would expect the first nor'easter to topple them all down off the top of the mound into deep water.

Seven of the fifteen cars on the rock pile have been located so far. Looking back through all my pictures from the day, the following numbers were dropped somewhere on the Shark River reef: 9569, 9577, 9592, 9593, 9599, 9624, 9625, 9647, 9648, 9654, 9655, 9662, 9663, 9677, 9678, 9719, 9754.

Four years later in 2007, these same cars had all tumbled most of the way down the slope to deeper water ( as expected ) and were completely intact. A car surveyed further south was also found intact - see below. So far, Clean Ocean Action, American Littoral Society, Sierra Club, and other environmental extremists have proven to be completely wrong.

Swim Around Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Artificial Reefs - New Jersey Scuba Diving Diving the Redbird Subway Cars Reef off New Jersey, 5 years after they were sunk. A swim over, around, and through several of the underwater subway cars. These cars are now no more than scrap heaps, but back then they were pretty interesting.
The soundtrack is just me huffing and puffing to push the bulky camera rig in front of me with both hands, while going in and out of the cars with just my fins for control. Didn't crash into anything either, but I never used a tank of air so fast. I was back at the surface empty in about fifteen minutes.

2016 Note:
With the rapid deterioration of the subway cars in the ocean, the underwater photos and videos you see here are likely to be the only ones ever. They were shot with the equipment of the day. Given the murkiness of the water, 'HD' would not make any difference.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - In Service
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Scapping Line
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Loading on Barge

Here are probably too many pictures of subway cars being pushed off a barge on the Shark River Reef:

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Loaded on Barge
The barge loaded with the last 50 Redbird cars.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Loaded on Barge
The wheels and undercarriages were removed for scrap, leaving just the bodies. The same barge ( Weeks 297 ) has been used in other reef projects.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Loaded on Barge
The big crane moved the nine-ton subway cars around like toys. The guys on the observation boat couldn't get enough of this, while the only female in the party fell asleep.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Pushed off Barge
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Pushed off Barge
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Pushed off Barge
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Pushed off Barge
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Pushed off Barge
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Pushed off Barge
Note the way the cars are manhandled by the crane, and the resulting damage to the roofs and sides. Four years later, this is still the only visible damage.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Underwater
The first diver ever approaches the new reef

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Underwater Immediately after sinking
A Redbird just a few minutes after landing atop the rock pile.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Underwater Immediately after sinking
I couldn't make up my mind which picture I liked better.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Underwater Immediately after sinking
Colors are hard to capture underwater, and red is the hardest of all.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Underwater Immediately after sinking
Looks just like Dutch Springs. Soon, the cars and rock will be overgrown with marine life, and that will change.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Underwater Immediately after sinking
The same car in life: IRT Flushing Line, Route 7, 52nd St. & Lincoln St. - 7/11/2000

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Interior
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Interior Stripped

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Interior - Underwater Immediately after sinking
Compare this interior shot with the one above.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Interior - Underwater Immediately after sinking
Looking out from inside

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Roof - Underwater Immediately after sinking
It will be interesting to see what this bare roof looks like in a year.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Numbers - Underwater Immediately after sinkingRedbird Subway Cars Reef - Numbers - Underwater Immediately after sinking
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Numbers - Underwater Immediately after sinkingRedbird Subway Cars Reef - Numbers - Underwater Immediately after sinking
For all you rail fans out there, here are four more.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - intact underwater 5 years after sinking
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - intact underwater 5 years after sinking
One of the same cars in 2008, five years later. Now at a depth of 130 feet, I surveyed five cars, four of which were completely intact, and one (below) was flattened.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Upsidedown & crushed after sinking 5 years after sinking
Another one that landed upside-down has crushed itself. Note that this still provides excellent habitat for many creatures. Few of them land completely upside-down like this.

Ristori: Subway cars OK'd, Future Ones Halted

Thursday, April 03, 2003
Star-Ledger Staff

Two years of controversy and political intrigue over 650 subway cars offered by New York City for placement on the state's artificial reefs at no charge ended yesterday when Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell, at a meeting in his Trenton office, accepted the last 250 cars remaining but also imposed an eight-year moratorium on taking any more.

Tom Fote, representing the State Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, opposed the moratorium as being of no value and nothing more than a political payoff to Clean Ocean Action's Cindy Zipf, who was the individual preventing acceptance of the entire 650 cars originally offered by the New York City Transit Authority to New Jersey. Zipf's first objection was on the basis that the state was making a junkyard of the ocean floor. When that didn't fly, she latched on to the minimal asbestos content in the cars.

Scientific evidence provided by the federal Environmental Protection Agency proved that the asbestos was innocuous, and the project was approved by every federal agency involved, but acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco still turned down the cars. That was just fine with Delaware, which held public hearings, brought out all the facts and accepted a multimillion-dollar bonanza for their reefs at New Jersey's expense.

The first 250 cars were lost at that time, but 400 were still available when Gov. James E. McGreevey took office with a commitment to revisit the issue. In the meantime, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia were also eagerly snapping up whatever cars they could obtain. It was only due to the good will of the transit agency's David Ross that these last 250 were held for New Jersey.

Having already lost millions of dollars' worth of free reef material involved in 400 subway cars, Fote and other sportfishing and diving leaders objected to the imposition of the eight-year moratorium, which will prevent the state from accepting any other subway cars that may become available during that period.

While everything so far has been done behind closed doors, Campbell did promise to hold public hearings on his Policy Directive 2003-02, which sets new artificial reef standards -- including the moratorium and doubling the structural integrity of materials from 15 to 30 years.

EPA regional oceanographer William Muir has estimated that the subway cars will last 25 to 30 years. That's based on his observations of Philadelphia subway cars with thinner walls that were sunk in 1990 and are still in good shape. Furthermore, in a letter to Zipf I unearthed yesterday, Muir noted that adding zincs "would double or triple the normal life of the car from corrosion but would need to be replaced every year. This is not at all out of the realm of the sport diving community."

Though Muir answered all of Zipf's objections, his opinions were downplayed at the meeting despite his background of having made more than 1,000 dives on natural and artificial reefs over the last 35 years and being the EPA's marine pollution expert since 1988.

Someone questioned the cost of the zincs, but that would be small change in an otherwise completely free deal -- especially when compared with the $90,000 required for a single barge load of concrete shapes, which anglers were trying to raise at last night's meeting in Brick sponsored by the Greater Point Pleasant Charter Boat Association. There are lots of free materials for reefs, but it's rare when fishermen and divers don't have to raise large sums for cleaning, transportation and placement.

While it's a shame one person was able to deprive the state's artificial reefs of 400 subway cars at no cost, at least there should be 250 placed on five reef sites by late summer or early fall -- and the public will be able to express disapproval of changes made to the Artificial Reef Standards.

Al Ristori appears regularly in the Star-Ledger.

With a Splash, Ocean Creatures Get a New Home

Subway Cars dumped into water for artificial reef


During four decades on the subterranean rails of New York City, car 9577 must have seen its share of daily drudgery and dramas. But no matter how tense it got, the subway car's riders never ate each other.

That's about to change. Yesterday, dive boat captain Steven D. Nagiewicz poked his digital camera into an open door on the now-sunken coach and recorded its first ocean visitors -- a floating red jellyfish and a school of swarming bergalls, small fish that live on the reef, forerunners of the wild community that will soon colonize 50 retired subway cars on what is called the Shark River Reef.

"In a couple of weeks, there will be marine life all over them. In a few months, they'll be completely covered, " Nagiewicz said after surfacing from a brief exploration. "This particular spot will be very interesting for dives."

The last of 250 cars donated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority to New Jersey's artificial fishing reef program splashed off a barge almost 16 miles east of the Shark River and Manasquan inlets yesterday. The cars were deposited after a controversy that pitted fishermen and reef supporters against their usual allies in the environmental movement, who contended that dropping subway cars into the water crossed the line into ocean dumping.

This fall, a committee of marine scientists will discuss the best way to monitor the subway cars' performance as artificial reef material and how to assess the future of such novel reef-building. Since 1984, efforts at 14 reef sites along the coast have shown it's possible to create enough new hard surfaces to attract small marine life and the larger fish that feed on it, thus increasing the number of fish that anglers catch, according to state Division of Fish and Wildlife officials.

"All you have to do is find a recreational fisherman to tell you what the benefits are. There's no question about that, " said Dennis Suszkowski, science director for the Hudson River Foundation, and a Freehold resident who is one expert recruited to the reef committee. What's more difficult is estimating "how stable the cars are over time, " Suszkowski said. "I suppose that will be the big question."

Critics of using subway cars for reefs pointed to asbestos in floor tiles and fireproofing on the cars, which were manufactured in the 1960s, before cancer dangers led industries to stop using the mineral fiber. Reef advocates countered that while airborne asbestos fibers pose a danger, there's little environmental threat underwater. Nagiewicz counts himself among those who think the cars are safe.

"I never understood what the hubbub was about over the cars, " Nagiewicz said as he steered his charter boat Diversion II toward the Shark River Reef. Compared to more than 100 cleaned-up old ships, tugs and barges purposefully sunk on reefs, there are 2,000 to 3,000 shipwrecks littering the sea floor off New Jersey, he said. Some of those are 20th-century ships, most likely with lots of asbestos insulation on their pipes, lost to submarine warfare, collision and accidents, he said.

"This whole sea floor is nothing but sand and a few rock outcrops, from here out to the canyons" at the edge of the continental shelf, Nagiewicz said. "Not that I'm advocating dumping stuff all over, but the wrecks and the reefs are the only oases."

To quell worries that subway cars might break up and produce debris, a compromise brokered by state environmental Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell accepted the cars for use at five relatively deep-water reef sites; Shark River and the Garden State North Reef east of Harvey Cedars are the last two sites to get cars.

At the Shark River site, the cars join an array of old ships that include cleaned-up oil tankers and retired Navy vessels. "One of the ships out here, the Algol, cost $500,000 to clean and get all the PCBs ( polychlorinated biphenyls ) out. They got it for free, but it costs money to get it clean, " Nagiewicz said.

Landside disposal costs inspired New York transit officials to give away more than 1,000 cars, called Redbirds for their distinctive paint, to South Carolina, Delaware, Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey. Even after paying barging costs, the MTA has saved an estimated $17 million it would have cost to remove asbestos and scrap the cars on land.

With clangs and screeches of steel, Weeks Marine employees toppled each car onto the reef yesterday. Most sank in about 130 feet of water, but some were emplaced on "The Rockpile, " where rock dredged from harbor shipping channels has raised the bottom by 30 feet or more, the divers said.

Sparrows and other small birds, rousted from hiding spots in the subway cars, fluttered to the Diversion II for refuge. They perched on rails and even hopped into the cabin, as Nagiewicz and crewman Richard Galiano of Matawan suited up for their dive.

Nagiewicz volunteered his boat for this mission, to help state reef coordinator William Figley check out how the cars had landed on the sea floor. The divers said cars on the rockpile depths might interest recreational scuba enthusiasts, who usually prefer stark and spooky shipwrecks.

"Most people would not want to dive 130 feet unless they are going to see a ship, " Galiano explained. "But in 50 feet of water, these subway cars can become attractive."

Published in the Asbury Park Press 10/15/03

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Side Scan Sonar Image
A string of Redbirds lying in the mud in the Garden State North Reef.
Hard to make out much detail in this side-scan.

In 2007, I dove on some Redbirds again, this time on the Garden State North reef. This car, number unknown, was found at a depth of 85 feet, in the grouping nearest to the Fatuk. To me, it appeared to be completely intact. The only rust hole I found could be covered with your hand; damaged roof areas would have been caused by the crane at "launching", as seen in the pictures above.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - underwater 3 years after sinking
Where I landed on the bottom.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - interior - underwater 3 years after sinking
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - interior - underwater 3 years after sinking
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - interior - underwater 3 years after sinking
I immediately ducked into the door and scared away most of the fish with flashing strobe lights.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - underwater 3 years after sinking
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - underwater 3 years after sinking
This dive was done as a typical Jersey buoy dive - a quick bounce down while the boat circles, and then a free ascent - no deco, so I was in something of a hurry as I shot these

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - underwater 3 years after sinking
The only area that appears to be damaged is the roof

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - underwater 3 years after sinking
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - underwater 3 years after sinking
Around to the other end, even the folding gates are intact.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - Later Dive
Redbird Subway Cars Reef - underwater 3 years after sinking
Almost four years on the sea bottom, and hardly a trace of wear. But by 2016, this car had almost completely disintegrated.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - 2016
One of the same cars in 2016. Only pieces of the end caps remain. Above is one endcap, from the inside looking out, if there still was an inside. Below is the other end cap of the same car, with a bit of side wall still attached.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef - 2016
The end of the line - other than this, nothing sticks more than six inches out of the sand.

Images courtesy Capt. Howard Rothweiler

As you can see, a few fish still hang around, but this car is no longer worth diving, or even fishing. This Redbird is much more deteriorated than the old Septa cars were at the same age. This is surprising, given that the Redbirds were built like tanks, as subway cars go, and were expected to last longer than the lightweight Septa cars.

So that concludes the story of the 'Redbirds Reef' - it is gone. These end caps will get knocked down in the next hurricane, and there will be nothing left. Does that mean the Redbirds were a failure? Not at all. These cars were sunk in 2003, and 13 years later there is still some small surface for encrusting growth and fish habitat. The cars were originally estimated to last 25-30 years, and although they fell far short of that, 10 years is still a useful lifespan for an artificial reef.

The likely cause of the premature demise of the Redbirds, and the even faster deterioration of the stainless steel Brightliners, is corrosion and failure of the fasteners. Rivets and weld seams often corrode much faster than the materials they are fastening. Once the fasteners go, the structure simply falls apart. I recall seeing white blooms of corrosion on the Redbirds just weeks after they were sunk. That was prophetic.

Shipwreck SS Mohawk
Empty rivet holes in hull plates on the Mohawk.

More-noble metals in contact with less-noble metals will cause them to corrode. This is accelerated in saltwater. The most noble metal is gold, which refuses to corrode no matter what (almost.) At the other end of the scale is zinc, which corrodes so readily that it is used to protect other metals as a 'sacrificial anode'.

Different types of steel rank differently on the nobility scale as well. The most obvious example is stainless steel, which is highly resistant to corrosion, although not immune. If the steel of the sheet metal was more noble than the steel of the rivets securing it, the comparatively tiny rivets would get eaten-up very fast. This is probably what caused the stainless steel Brightliners to go to pieces within a year. Any copper components that remained on the cars would hasten the overall corrosion even more.

Any aluminum fasteners or other parts on the subway cars would have been devoured very quickly in saltwater by the galvanic reaction with the steel structure. Many owners of aluminum boats forbid pocket change on board - a copper penney dropped in the bilge will eat its way through the hull.

The USS Radford reef was a giant experiment in galvanic corrosion. The entire superstructure was aluminum, secured to the steel hull by clamps over the biggest o-ring I've ever seen. I looked at that, and thought "Uh-oh!" As long as the Navy took care of their ship, that worked fine, but once it was sunk in the ocean, the vessel quickly went to pieces. A badly-timed hurricane didn't help.

Redbird Subway Cars Reef
One last shot - Goodbye Redbirds

see also: PATH Subway Cars

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.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
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since 2016-09-11