Where Do Subway Trains Go When They’ve Retired?

All aboard as we crack this case!

Ever wondered what happens to subway cars when they’re no longer in use? You’re not the only one. We did some digging to find out what really happens to subways once they’ve retired, and the variety of answers may end up surprising you. All aboard!

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Who knew that dumping subway cars into the ocean could actually be a good thing? While it may seem counterintuitive in terms of being environmentally friendly, around 2,500 New York City subway cars are currently lying at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, as reported in a CityMetric. But no, they’re not just piling up down there—on the contrary, the former subway cars act as artificial reefs for marine plants and animals.

Here’s how it works: First, the subways are stripped of their doors, windows, wheels, and interiors. Then, these skeletal remains are loaded up onto a huge barge and are eventually dropped into the water by a metal crane. Once the cars hit the seafloor, they’re colonized by marine life and a vibrant community grows. So not only does this method help find a new home for the unused subway cars, but it also positively contributes to the ecosystem. Talk about a win-win situation! Are you a locomotive lover? These are some of the most scenic train rides across America.

Purchasing power

Some old subway cars can actually be purchased by both individuals and companies for their own personal usage. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this purchasing ability can have both positive and negative impacts. In a not-so-great twist, a large number of formerly used Boston streetcars are now stuck in what is known as a trolley graveyard in rural Pennsylvania, according to boston.com. Here’s a quick history lesson: In the past, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) would burn its old cars, getting rid of the wood and scrapping the metal. However, starting in the 1970s the MBTA allowed those interested in purchasing them to buy the old trolley cars themselves, ultimately leading to the creation of these trolley graveyards across the country. Psst—make sure you know these 12 things your train conductor won’t tell you.

You may be wondering, what on earth would people do with a bunch of old train cars? The truth is, many bought them with the hopes of preserving the history of that particular train and possibly even restoring the car for future and/or repurposed use. And this didn’t just occur in Boston. It’s actually more common than you may have originally thought, according to Gil Propp, the creator of the documentary Streetcar Talks. Whether due to an unforeseen lack of funding or ability, these projects can sometimes get off track (no pun intended) and the old trains can end up sitting in overgrown foliage for years.

However, some buyers actually do repurpose their purchased cars to serve in new ways. According to another article by CityMetric, two schools in England use repurposed subway cars as their libraries. Another has been used as an art studio in London. If you’re creative enough, you can really turn an old subway car into any sort of funky space. Think of it as another way to recycle.

Dapper displays

There are other ways of preserving the history of old subway cars besides the well-intentioned, although sometimes misguided, purchases by individuals. Museums, like the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, preserve old subways and show them off in their dynamic exhibitions.

The New York Transit Museum boasts of a varied vintage fleet of cabs and cars, ranging from a Victorian-style subway train dating back to 1907 to a fire engine red colored one that was introduced in 1955 to so many more. The museum even has a variety of vintage buses, providing an educational solution to the retired subway car conundrum. What could be better? Now, check out 15 of the most luxurious train rides around the world.


  • CityMetric.com. How New York’s subway cars end up in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Boston.com. Why are old Green Line trolleys wasting away in rural Pennsylvania?
  • CityMetric.com. Where do subway trains go when they retire?

Lucie Turkel
Lucie Turkel is a cultural journalist, researcher, and digital producer specializing in social justice, history, and lifestyle pieces. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society's Key Reporter journal, the University of Connecticut Daily Campus, and UConn Communications.