Taking the new NYC Subway R211 cars for a test drive


The front of the train is a bit menacing, but the line indicator is way bigger and brighter

The New York City subway system is set to get new rolling stock starting in 2020. The R211 cars have all sorts of new features to improve the ride experience on board. Then again, some of the new features might not be so welcome once they’re actually in service. With the MTA hosting an open house to see what the new cars are like and solicit feedback from customers I headed over to the 34th Street-Hudson Yards Station this week to see what all the fuss Is about.

Open Gangways

One of the biggest new features on the R211 set is open gangways between the cars. Rather than blocked/locked doors the space will be open, allowing passengers to move freely up and down the train. The open gangways also mean extra space for people to stand, incrementally increasing train capacity. That increase is desperately needed.

Open gangways at the end of the new R211 train cars make it easier to move to and fro.
Open gangways at the end of the new R211 train cars make it easier to move to and fro.

If a particular train car’s air conditioning is out of service the cool air from neighboring cars can flow through which seems like a good thing. But it also means that when someone defecates in a car your options for isolating the problem are much more limited. And, yes, that happens.



Digital Screens Everywhere

The new strip maps over the doors offer cool upgrades. In addition to showing the stops and transfers the strip will now show the estimated time to each future station. SO when you’re at 59th Street on the A Train you’ll know it is 20 minutes to Jay Street-Metrotech or 70+ to Far Rockaway. Assuming the trains are running nominally.

The new strip map for the NYC Subway R211 cars includes travel time. It is also dynamic, changing when pulling in to the station with useful local data.
The new strip map for the NYC Subway R211 cars includes travel time. It is also dynamic, changing when pulling in to the station with useful local data.

The strip map also changes when the train is pulling in to a station, showing riders which car they are in and where stairs and transfers are within the station. This sort of information display is common across Japan and some other systems and I’m a HUGE fan. Apparently the MTA doesn’t like publicizing it on platforms to avoid overcrowding in some cars, but it will be in the new cars.

Will the new touch-screen maps on the nYC Subway R211s make the experience better or worse? Depends on where you're sitting, I suppose.
Will the new touch-screen maps on the nYC Subway R211s make the experience better or worse? Depends on where you’re sitting, I suppose.

The system route maps will also be digital on the new cars. And their location – behind certain seats on board – won’t be changing. The good news is that with the digital version passengers can swipe and zoom to see exactly where they’re going and it will be easier to read, especially when you zoom in. The bad news is that the maps are still over another passenger’s head and now you’ll also be reaching across to swipe and zoom. Just a bit more intimate.



Flip-up seats

The benches on board are nothing all that different from the existing version, though the plastic is thinner in most places. The new R211 cars do have some areas with flip-up seats which is great for accommodating a wheelchair or stroller on board. The version on the demo cars was somewhat flimsy (others noted it, too) but I’m hoping that was just because it was a demo set and not because they contracted for a really crappy flip-up seat.

Flip-up seats in the R211 cars make room for a wheelchair (or stroller or just more people)
Flip-up seats in the R211 cars make room for a wheelchair (or stroller or just more people)

Other bits

Wider doors are a nice upgrade, making it easier to get in and out of the cars. The poles in the center have a loop in them which means more hands can grab on. It also means more challenges for the performers at “show time” on the trains, though I’m certain those guys will adapt. They always do.

Wider doors on the R211 subway cars are helpful, though it means some narrower seats, too.
Wider doors on the R211 subway cars are helpful, though it means some narrower seats, too.

Overall it seems like the new trains are a nice upgrade. I’m skeptical of a few bits – particularly around the digital maps – but given that we’re still a few years away from these systems going live there’s time to figure some of that stuff out. In the mean time, I’ll keep riding like always. Because it is still a pretty darn good system overall. Even with the reliability issues and construction service changes and all the other stuff we love to complain about.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

2 Comments

  1. looks cool! thanks for sharing. do you know how long is this demo there for? would love to go check it out.

    from the usability perspective, they could place these “lean bars” instead of seats under the map so that you are not reaching over someone’s head to play with the map.

    also with the loops in the center bars, they should have at least 3 loops to accommodate more people since we know that the trains will be crowded.

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