Fund Raising For NYC Subway Cars Off To Promising Start

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City’s effort to ultimately obtain over 600 retired New York City “Red Bird” subway cars for its ever-expanding artificial reef system off the coast is cruising along ahead of schedule with funds raised already for one-and-a-half barges full, amounting to nearly 70 cars.

The Ocean City Reef Foundation, in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is in the process of acquiring as many as 630 of the recently retired New York City subway dating back to the 1960s. The city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is making available 1,600 of the subway cars for artificial reef systems in coastal states throughout the mid-Atlantic and the Ocean City Reef Foundation has already raised funds for nearly 70 of the cars.

The local plan calls for acquiring 630 of the subway cars for the artificial reef system off the coast of Ocean City over the next three years as funding becomes available. The cars will be delivered to the reef sites by barge with about 40 cars on each barge. Because of the distance they must be transported, the cost is coming in at around $600 per car, which is a significant undertaking for the local reef program and will amount to more than it has raised and spent in the 10 years of its existence when the project reaches fruition.

However, the Ocean City Reef Foundation is ahead of its unwritten schedule already with $40,000 raised thus far, or enough for one full barge and halfway to a second. Each barge will contain roughly 42 cars and cost about $25,000 to deliver.

“We’ve raised a little over $40,000, which is enough for a barge and a half so far,” said Greg Hall of the Ocean City Reef Foundation. “We’ve done pretty well so far and we have a lot more promises.”

For the last decade, the Ocean City Reef Foundation has been steadily expanding the artificial reef system off the coast of the resort with eight sites ranging from as close to shore as one mile to as far as 20 miles. In that span, the foundation has submerged tons of pieces of material, from old boats to retired military equipment to discarded construction material, enhancing habitat for fish and other sea creatures, which, in turn, has improved offshore fishing for recreational anglers and created new opportunities for diving enthusiasts.

However, obtaining as many as 630 subway cars could double the size of the artificial reef system off the coast of Ocean City in one fell swoop. Hall said the foundation is hoping to obtain barges full of the subway cars in phases with three to four barge-loads the initial goal. He pointed out at around 40 cars per barge, it won’t take long for the program to dramatically expand the growing artificial reef system off the coast of the resort.

“Put it this way,” he said. “One barge-load is almost as much as we’ve done in 10 years and we’re talking about three or four barge loads in this first phase.”

Some of the subway cars acquired will be used to fill out existing artificial reef sites. Others will be used to create new artificial reefs on sites that are already permitted and are just waiting for material.

The latest effort to obtain retired New York City subway cars comes about eight years after the town of Ocean City rejected a similar proposal for as many as 3,000 of the cars, citing environmental concerns including the presence of asbestos in the retired rail cars. However, several states including Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey accepted the subway cars after Maryland balked eight years ago and the artificial reef systems in those states have flourished with the additions.

This time around, the retired subway cars, which have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have been completely stripped of any potential dangerous materials, essentially becoming stainless steel shells of their former selves. Once sunk to the bottom, they will quickly become encrusted with natural coral and other marine growth, expanding habitat and attracting and retaining several species of fish.

With $40,000, or about 70 cars worth, raised thus far in just a few short months, the reef foundation is out to a quick start with its fundraising efforts, but there is a long way to go to reach the ultimate goal of 630 cars. At around 42 cars per barge-load, the foundation will need to acquire 15 barges full of retired subway cars to reach the final goal, which will ultimately cost around $378,000.

Hall said he remains confident the foundation will reach the goal, given the enthusiasm surrounding the project so far and the informal promises for more donations obtained.

“Once we get one out there and delivered, we expect the enthusiasm to grow,” he said. “Right now, the fishing community is lying a little dormant for the winter and people aren’t thinking about this, but the weather is getting better and people will start getting back into a fishing frame of mind.”

One can make a donation to the project, or any of the foundation’s artificial reef enhancement projects, by visiting the website at www.ocreeffoundation.com.

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