Council On Board Subway Reef Plan

OCEAN CITY – The resort is one step closer to having decommissioned railway cars placed off shore to act as the footprint for artificial reefs.

In a work session of the Mayor and Council Tuesday afternoon, the Ocean City Reef Foundation and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented a proposal to have railway cars placed offshore in an effort to create larger artificial reefs, resulting in unanimous support from the City Council.

The proposal came before the town nearly 10 years ago, but garnered little support. Concerns arose over mobility, longevity and environmental impact. It was also a fairly new idea at the time, one that the town and the Reef Foundation were not comfortable supporting.

Today, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina all utilize decommissioned railway or subway cars to create artificial reefs. The allure is the large footprint of a reef that can be created by placing the cars underwater.

According to Greg Hall of the Reef Foundation, studies have shown that the subway cars have faired well underwater and have generated viable reef and aquatic life. DNR, the Environmental Protection Agency and numerous scientists have all shown support for the reef initiative since it came before the Mayor and Council a decade ago.

Martin Gary, fisheries biologist with Maryland DNR, explained the success of the subway artificial reefs as well as the changes the project has seen over the past ten years. According to Gary, the first railway cars used for artificial reefs were largely carbon steel and had an estimated shelf life of 25 years.

“The cars are really performing better than they expected,” Gary said.

The original concerns that led Maryland to decline the project were mobility or concern that the cars would shift with currents, asbestos, and longevity. According to Gary, all of those issues have been resolved.

The first sets of railway cars to be placed underwater have proved to have few problems with mobility. The cars to be used in Ocean City, if approved, will be bigger and heavier, up to 80 feet, ensuring little to no movement once placed underwater.

Asbestos is also no longer an issue as well, according to Gary.

“The safest place for asbestos is in an aqueous or water-borne environment,” said Gary, explaining that the asbestos should have little if no impact on the environment.

Longevity has also become a minor concern. The first set of railway cars had a shelf life of 25 years and are already thriving as artificial reefs. This round of cars will have a 40-year shelf life.

Councilwoman Mary Knight questioned what happens once the estimated shelf life is up. Gary explained that the subway car essentially collapses within itself, but that the marine life that has made a home out of the subway car will remain despite the collapse.

“The nice thing about subway cars is it’s a mini-housing unit for fish and marine life,” Gary said, explaining that the windows and open space of the cars allow for divers and marine life to move around with ease. The structure is also conducive to the formation of reef life, he added.

“The other states are knocking each other over to get these cars,” Gary said.

According to Gary and Hall, they have put a placeholder on 630 railway cars for Ocean City, which is contingent upon funding. The plan would call for barge loads carrying 42 cars each, totaling 15-barge deliveries.

“When you sink 40 of them in one spot…its an instant footprint for a reef,” Hall said, adding that the size of the cars creates an ideal opportunity for reef life.

At this time, no price has been fixed, but Hall provided a rough estimate of $700 per car.

Councilwoman Nancy Howard showed support for the proposal, making a motion to approve the use of the railway cars to be used as an artificial reef off of Ocean City. The council unanimously agreed to support the proposal