Yellow MTA money train

In addition to the thousands of familiar silver passenger subway cars that shuttle straphangers through New York City every day, there is a fleet of specialized work cars that assist workers with routine tasks and repair work throughout the subway system. You may have spotted these yellow and black or blue and silver cars carrying out their duties on late nights or weekends. These all-important work cars perform important tasks such as transporting equipment and supplies through subway tunnels, repairing tracks, and more. Below, we highlight 9 hard-working subway cars that are not meant for passenger travel.

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1. Track Geometry and Inspection Cars

A track geometry car in New York City. Photo via Flickr by jqpubliq under CC BY-SA 2.0

Track inspection was originally carried out manually by inspectors who walked the railroad and visually inspected sections of the track. This task was laborious and required intensive manpower. It was also dangerous. Track geometry cars emerged in the 1920s when manual inspections were no longer practical. Increased rail traffic and faster train car speeds demanded better-maintained tracks. Early track geometry cars used gyroscope technology to record the horizontal and vertical movement of the train and keep track of milestones and stations. A 2013 Federal Transit Administration study found that track geometry cars outperformed human trackwalkers in terms of both accuracy and the total number of track defects discovered. 

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has conducted human inspections twice a week since 2006, but its fleet of four track-geometry cars runs continual inspections. The specialized train cars feature a variety of lights, sensors, and cameras designed to spot defects and track rail conditions. The cars also measure track gauge, the distance between the two rails. This is an important task since fluctuations in the track gauge can result in train derailments. Engineers onboard the diagnostic train review the data gathered by 30 computers in real-time to spot defects.