When a Soviet master spy played by Mark Rylance gets on the 1957 subway in Steven Spielberg’s new thriller “Bridge of Spies,” the train he boards will seem very familiar to some present-day straphangers.
The car’s corrugated stainless-steel exterior makes it instantly recognizable as the R32, an iconic workhorse that’s still in daily service on the C and J lines after more than half a century.
Spielberg was determined to be factually accurate in shooting a full 10-car train arriving at the Broad Street J station in lower Manhattan, production sources reveal.
There are a number of older working subway cars — including a 1949 model Spielberg used for interior-only scenes with Tom Hanks — on display at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn. Lovingly maintained, they are periodically rolled out for nostalgia rides — but there are no trains from the ’50s surviving as a complete set that could have pulled into Broad Street for the movie.
Dubbed “Brightliners” when they were introduced in a Grand Central Terminal ceremony with a 20-piece marching band in 1964, the incredibly durable R32s, with the help of a few upgrades, have outlived many types of subway cars introduced in later decades.
They’re not only the oldest cars in regular service in the New York City subway system, they’re among the earliest-built active rolling stock in the world.
“These are the most reliable cars [the MTA] ever had,” says Transit Museum co-founder Don Harold. “There were originally 600 of them, but they ended up keeping 240 of them because there were problems with their replacement, the R44s.” (Of the more than 400 R44s manufactured, only 50 are still in service, all on the Staten Island Railway.)
The R32s may still be ubiquitous, but the subway car Hanks — playing a lawyer who defends Rylance’s spy and ends up trading him for an American spy pilot — is seen riding in several scenes is literally one of a kind at this point.
Only 10 of those R11/R34s were ever built — prototypes designed for service on the Second Avenue subway, then expected to begin service in the 1950s. (After numerous delays for financial reasons, the first segment is currently projected to open in December 2016.)
Dubbed the “million dollar train’’ because each of the 10 cars cost $100,000, this single train of experimental R11/R34 cars rode the rails until 1977, when one was wrecked in a yard accident.
Eight of the remaining cars were scrapped in 1980, with the sole survivor going to the Transit Museum. With its futuristic stainless-steel exterior (not corrugated like the R32) and round door windows, the R11/R34 is very popular on nostalgia rides sponsored by the museum and the MTA.
But you can ride the indestructable R32s every day on the C and J lines, and occasionally 10 of them assigned to the A line are pressed into service as well.
“They’re the best cars ever made,’’ enthuses MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz — who says the R32s oft-postponed retirement will not come anytime before 2020.