Deal To Bring Subway Cars To OC Nearly Complete

OCEAN CITY – It now appears the effort to obtain more than 600 retired New York City “Redbird” subway cars for Ocean City’s ever-expanding artificial reef system off the coast is close to a done deal with the first batch of cars expected to arrive as early as this spring.

According to Captain Monty Hawkins of the “Morning Star,” a member of the Ocean City Reef Foundation who has been close to the effort to obtain the retired subway cars, just a few formalities stand in the way of completing the deal. Hawkins said this week there appears to be no hidden deal-breakers and the effort to obtain the roughly 630 subway cars could be wrapped up at any time.

“We’re down to just signing a couple pieces of paper,” he said. “I don’t see anything standing in the way of getting these cars for our artificial reef system.”

The Ocean City Reef Foundation, in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is in the process of acquiring the retired New York City subway cars dating back to the early 1960s for the artificial reef system off the coast of Ocean City. The cars would be delivered to the reef sites by barge with around 40 on each barge. Because of the distance they must be transported, the cost is expected to come in at around $600 per car, which is a significant undertaking for the local reef program but worth it considering the benefit, according to Hawkins.

Hawkins referenced the cost of a recent sinking of a cement barge at one of the Ocean City reef sites, which cost around $4,500. The subway cars, at around $600 apiece, would provide much more bang for the buck.

“Each of these cars is about 20 to 30 feet longer than the barge we just sunk recently,” he said. “For the same amount of money, we’ll be getting about five or six times the size of the footprint for the artificial reef system.”

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.

“I killed that project the first time around and I still stand behind that decision,” Hawkins said. “There were just too many unknowns at the time. If we had accepted those cars the last time, we would have been sued right out of the gate. What governor would sign off on accepting subway cars for a reef system with the threat of a lawsuit hanging over them?”

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.

“They’ll be cleaned up entirely,” said Hawkins. “We’ll literally just be getting the cabs. I have no doubt they will be a safe and effective addition to our reef system.”

While Hawkins has been at the forefront of the effort, along with Greg Hall and DNR’s Martin Gary, he is also involved with the statewide Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) and represents the Eastern Shore on the MARI advisory commission. Last week, Hawkins donated $1,000 to MARI from funds raised through 50/50 raffles aboard his party boat the “Morning Star” all summer.

“MARI has great potential to help improve water quality and restore fish habitat,” he said. “We have seen truly magnificent changes off Maryland’s coast thanks to reef restoration efforts.”