Why are New York subways so hot

The New York C subway line this Monday has a lot in common with a weekend-exhausted worker. The air conditioning in the wagon whistles from the last hole at lunchtime. It smells like washed laundry. Not of the fragrant variety, however, but of the one that has been bogging down in the machine for a day. Well, the Big Apple is experiencing the first heat wave of summer these days. But temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius are not the only problem with local rail transport in New York. Ironically, the city whose skyline bears witness to the art of engineering and structural innovation fails completely when it comes to modernization underground.

Many of the tracks were not just since hurricane Sandy ailing. But while their condition remains largely hidden in the darkness of the tunnel, the ongoing decline in the vehicle fleet is clearly visible to New Yorkers and tourists alike. For example on Line C, which connects Manhattan and Brooklyn: the trains that rumble over the tracks are more than 50 years old. This makes them one of the oldest in daily use around the world.

Many of the wagons are reminiscent of dented tin cans

The so-called Brightliners were once the pride and joy of the New York subway: when the first pulled into Grand Central station in September 1963, they were greeted there by a 20-member marching band. The nickname and the ceremonial fanfare were no coincidence: the trains, technicians refer to as the R 32, were the first to be mass-produced from stainless steel for local public transport in New York. Today, however, many wagons are reminiscent of dented tin cans. Comfort and driving experience are accordingly.

It starts with the seating capacity: seat shells made of light blue hard plastic stretch along the sides of the wagons - but the number of them suggests that the Brightliner planners never thought of the crowds that crowd into the wagons at peak times today. If you are too slow or too hesitant to use your elbows, you have to stand. There are no straps for smaller people. In Brooklyn in particular, they have to hope that they are squeezed so tightly that it is impossible to fall over - because even on the open track, the subway is rarely quiet on the track. In fact, one sometimes feels reminded of a ride on the "Wilde Maus" fairground attraction at the Munich Oktoberfest: jerky starting, bumpy middle section with alarming inclinations, abrupt braking. The need for repairs on the track bed becomes noticeable there.

Researchers found bubonic plague on the handles

Even if you grip the silver handle with your fingertips, you are not out of danger. Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College even found particles of anthrax and bubonic plague in a long-term study, although the scientists emphasized that the pathogens were not contagious. Brightliners in particular are predestined to be a source of bacteria: they keep a warm, humid climate ready in summer - no matter how old it is. There are air-conditioning systems in the trains, but they are now so fragile that the operator, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), had to reschedule in the summer of 2011. In order to relieve the decades-old and difficult to repair systems, the Brightliners no longer drove on the underground line C. Instead, they operated the line J, which runs in the direction of Queens on an elevated route. Fresh air instead of filtered air - a medieval-looking solution.

Any other city would have sent these worn-out workers into well-deserved retirement long ago. Not so New York. The Brightliners continue to drive here - as long as they drive. An R 32 train is defective on average every 54,000 kilometers. That may sound like a passable balance sheet at first, but for comparison: across all models, a train on the New York subway travels an average of around 646,700 kilometers without any major abnormalities. The latest wagons even cover 1.1 million kilometers. If a train actually breaks down on the line, this can, in the worst case, lead to disruptions and delays in large parts of the subway network. "Under construction" is therefore a permanent condition in New York's local transport - and at the same time part of the problem.

At the weekend there is a patch

Especially on weekends, people mend and work underground. Sometimes only individual underground stations remain closed, but often entire lines go offline, at least in sections. From the Upper West Side for brunch in the East Village on a Saturday or Sunday? Or shopping from Brooklyn to Manhattan? Can easily take more than an hour. And all of that to keep a system alive that loud New York Times it says "on the verge of collapse". That urgently needs to be fundamentally refurbished, perhaps even rethought.

Richard Barone, Vice President of the Regional Plan Association, a non-profit organization for urban preservation, makes this clear using the example of trains: In other cities, too, the public fleet consists of old and new locomotives and wagons. However, it is better to refurbish the trains elsewhere. Over the years, all parts would be exchanged there, and the trains were virtually rebuilt piece by piece. The MTA, on the other hand, only ever replaced the part that had just given up on service.