The Best Subway Car Ever Made

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.




Panama Canal expansion completion expected in May, Varela says

The Panama Canal’s massive, multi-year expansion project is expected to be completed “around the month of May,” Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela said in a speech over the weekend.

In a national address, Varela also made an appeal for the consortium leading the project to “leave legal disputes in the hands of the competent authorities” so that the project can be completed, according to news reports. The legal disputes have helped delay the project’s completion.

The consortium, Grupo Unidos por el Canal de Panama, began the project in 2007. Since then, the project has fallen well behind schedule. An October 2014 deadline was postponed to April 2016; Varela’s speech indicates that deadline has been pushed back to mid-May, according to news reports.

In December, the Panama Canal Authority announced that the expansion is 96 percent completed. Locks reinforcements are scheduled to be completed in mid-January, and in April, transit trial tests with a chartered vessel in the Atlantic locks will occur.

A date for the expanded canal’s inauguration is expected to be in second-quarter 2016, according to the authority.

Will Miami, Broward seaports converge?

Two former rivals recently joined forces in an alliance to stave off competition from neighboring West Coast ports. The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma created the Northwest Seaport Alliance in August aiming to regain market share in what has become an increasingly competitive seaport industry.

Port Everglades Director Steven Cernak says he wouldn’t be surprised if a similar conversation transpires between the Broward County-based port and PortMiami in the future.

Comparable to how major shipping lines have shaken off competition by forming mega-alliances, Mr. Cernak predicts seaports will eventually converge in a similar way.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen tomorrow,” he said, nor will it happen during his tenure.

Although competition exists within the 30-mile gap between the two, the South Florida ports have been working together for a number of years.

“We were just together,” said PortMiami Director Juan Kuryla in early November. Officials from both ports as well as Florida East Coast Railway representatives recently traveled to Asia to promote Florida’s ports at the TPM Asia Conference, an event geared toward the logistics and shipping industries.

“We’re promoting our ports as the ports of entry for Asian trade,” Mr. Kuryla said. Whether ships call at Port Everglades or PortMiami, the FEC rail line runs through both. The cargo will reach its final destination either way. It’s up to the shipping line to choose whichever port is the best fit. But as long as that ship is sailing through a Florida port, Mr. Cernak said, it boosts the state’s overall economy.

“We’re entering a phase that [is] more about regional focus,” Mr. Cernak said during a panel discussion at the Air & Sea Cargo Americas convention this month. “Sure, we like to think competitively with each other. That’s the private sector making that possible.”

As ports around the world are faced with a changing industry molded by shipping alliances and the deployment of massive ships, Port Everglades turns its focus to Florida and the Southeast with this mantra in mind: what’s good for either port is good for the region.

“We have been with [Port Everglades] to Washington to speak or lobby on issues relating to not only both ports, but to all ports in the State of Florida,” Mr. Kuryla said.

Currently, 65% of all products heading to the East Coast come into the US via the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, said PortMiami’s Eric Olafson, who oversees cargo development.

“They say within a year and a half, it’s going to turn to 50-50,” he said.

Exactly two years ago, Port Everglades and PortMiami entered a pilot program backed by the US Department of Agriculture to allow the shipping of blueberries and grapes directly to South Florida from Peru and Uruguay. Historically, this was a venture deemed illegal by decades-old legislation.

In aims to prevent infestations of fruit-flies and other pests, perishables coming from Central and South America are shipped past South Florida up to cooler northern ports above the 39th parallel line, like Philadelphia, to undergo a “cold-treatment process.” The perishables are then sent back down to Florida via truck.

Thanks to advancements in technology, these fruits, vegetables and other perishables can now be treated for pests onboard a ship, which allows shippers to call on ports below the 39th parallel.

The less that cargo is handled and the quicker it gets to market, the cheaper the process.

“It’s changing the way goods are moving logistically,” Mr. Cernak said.

Meanwhile, both ports are enjoying higher cargo volumes and welcoming larger ships.

During fiscal 2014, Port Everglades ranked No. 11 in container traffic among US ports, followed by Jacksonville at No. 12 and Miami at No. 13, according to the US Department of Transportation.

“We view our competition really as Savannah,” Mr. Kuryla said. The Port of Savannah ranked No. 4 among US ports in 2014, receiving more than triple the containers that Florida ports got.

“We want that business,” Mr. Kuryla said.

This past fiscal year, both ports set records in containerized cargo volumes. PortMiami reported a 15% increase in container traffic for its year ending Sept. 30, while Port Everglades reported a 5% increase.

Port Everglades bested PortMiami’s 1,007,800 containers by about 52,700.

While PortMiami focuses on more centric, east-west trade lanes, Port Everglades is a predominantly north-south port, Mr. Cernak said. Beverages and wood pulp were PortMiami’s top imported and exported commodities, respectively, in 2014. In terms of container volumes, fruits and grocery products were the top imported and exported commodities, respectively, at Port Everglades.

Also a major importer of fuel, Port Everglades reported a 4% growth in fuel volume entering the port. Despite a push for more fuel-efficient cars, Mr. Cernak said, fuel consumption grew, a factor he attributes to the expanding South Florida population and healthy economy. About one-third of Florida’s fuel needs are met by petroleum stored and distributed by companies at Port Everglades.

Like PortMiami, Port Everglades has a list of ongoing and future infrastructure projects to better accommodate the growing number – and size – of ships expected to visit this coast in coming years.

Although behind on deepening its channel to accommodate fully-laden larger ships, Port Everglades has concluded an 18-year study and is now designing the $374.1 million dredging project. The port plans to deepen and widen its channel from an existing 45-foot deep, 500-foot wide channel to 55 feet deep and 800 feet wide. Construction is to be completed in 2022.

Another project the port has taken on is to lengthen the existing deepwater turnaround area for cargo ships from about 900 feet to 2,400, which would allow for up to five new cargo berths. The $269.4 million project is to be completed in 2019.