Traction Resource

Introduction Click here to see the Bluebird in photos Click here for more photos

Welcome to Traction Resource.

This sub-site will be used to show some traction subjects that might be of interest to enthusiasts and professionals. Initially provided is information and views of what is probably the most deluxe subway train ever to operate in New York City, the BMT's "Bluebird" Train.

The train in question, nicknamed "The Bluebird" by transit enthusiasts, was delivered by Clark Equipment Company in 1940 under contract to the New York Rapid Transit Company, a BMT subsidiary.  Clark had been interested in the use of aluminum in railcar construction, and had built a self-powered railcar in the early 1930s. Clark's interest in railway vehicles brought it to the attention of the ERPCC, and it worked with ERPCC to develop a lightweight truck for the streetcar project that ERPCC had underway, the product of which came to be known as the PCC Streetcar. Clark was subsequently allowed to build one PCC Streetcar car in aluminum for Brooklyn, which was given the fleet number 1000. It resides today at the Trolley Museum of New York, near Kingston.

The BMT had for some time been very interested in building all-metal lightweight rapid transit cars which could be operated on the entire network of elevated railways that it had in Brooklyn, which had much structure which was incapable of supporting the heavy steel rapid transit cars which it had acquired in the first two decades of the century. Two lightweight articulated rapid transit trains had been built circa 1934, one by Budd, and one by Pullman, (see link 2 for details) and they had been largely successful as well as deluxe, but being single units they saw limited service and were largely unknown to the public at large. When the BMT finally decided to purchase a fleet of cars with similar high performance characteristics, the deluxe features were given up to keep costs down, and "Plain Jane" would be an apt description. But these "Multi-Section" (or MS) cars were able to operate over unimproved 19th century elevated structures, which was the BMT's goal. With City purchase of the BMT and IRT rapid transit systems already in the air, it can be reasonably speculated that the BMT was trying to increase the value of their older elevated lines insofar as the price they could put on them in their negotiations with the City was concerned

With the delivery of the first PCC streetcar fleet to Brooklyn in May, 1936, it occurred to the BMT that a rapid transit car employing as much hardware as possible that was common with the streetcar fleet would make a lot of sense. Accordingly BMT, through subsidiary New York Rapid Transit Company, contracted with Clark to build an aluminum articulated car using a maximum of PCC streetcar components. A first prototype, car 8000, was delivered in 1939, and following demonstration and testing, the rest of the 50 car order was begun. Unfortunately, before the order could be completed, the BMT was purchased by the City, which lost no time in bringing the project to a halt. Five cars that were well along in construction were delivered in 1940, and Clark was no doubt paid for all the costs they had incurred. One can speculate about the reasons for wasting so much money, but it is likely that the City did not want to have any cars in the fleet that might make tearing down the elevated lines questionable policy. Because the prototype car 8000 had no couplers and a fully electric rather than a more typical air and electric control scheme, it could not run with the 5 production cars. Since 5 cars were the normal rush hour consist of the train, there was thus no spare car, and that kept the 5 car set from providing as consistent a service as one would want, which may have suited the system management just fine. The 5 car train ran on the Canarsie line until retirement circa 1954/55. Although a car based on PCC components did not have the very high performance of the earlier MS cars (42 mph vs 58 mph), it was quite adequate for the typical BMT rapid transit line.

There is no questioning that the BMT's Clark train was aesthetically a very nice piece of work. For those of us in the railcar design field, however, there will always be unanswered questions about the design's performance. To the author's knowledge, there are no detailed design drawings for the cars, and no one has ever interviewed the maintenance people at East New York shops to learn what troublesome maintenance issues, if any, the cars may have had. As with all PCC cars, the accelerating and braking resistors were kept cool by forced-air ventilation provided by fans on the motor-generator shaft.  Did the design suffer from ingestion of the dirt and steel dust found in the typical New York subway as the later R-17 cars did?  The Clark cars had a centrifugal separator for the air stream, but how well did it work?  And, the high-speed PCC traction motors suck in a lot of air in order to cool themselves. And the control resistors were also forced-air ventilated. On the pre-war PCC streetcars that resistor cooling air was obtained through ducts that acquired the air from inside the car where it was comparatively clean and the motors cooled themselves by taking in air via ducts leading to the side of the car. Perhaps similar techniques were used on the Bluebird train. The use of bolted-together resilient wheels, practical enough on a streetcar, are inherently less safe than a solid steel wheel in that, being a bolted assembly, the human element plays a major part in the wheel's integrity. (There are methods of greatly minimizing the risk factors, although none are in evidence on the truck.) Wheel failure in a subway environment carries a far greater risk of catastrophe than it does on a streetcar. Would the Clark PCC trucks have survived well in a higher speed rapid transit environment than in a streetcar environment? (But, - Would the resilient wheels have reduced the truck stresses sufficiently to ensure successful long-term performance? Note - The type of resilient wheels used on the Clark train would probably not have suffered the metal failures encountered in Chicago that led to the conversion to solid wheels there.) And there is also the question of whether the wheels would become overheated in the event of dynamic brake failure.

These questions are unlikely to ever be answered unless someone unearths a trove of documents. All that can be done at the present is to admire the imagination and skill of the people involved.




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Discussion & Links

Below are some links to other sites with transit information and pictures. While my career specialty was rail transit cars, it is typical to get involved with other aspects of system design. For example, link 1 will lead one to a guidelines document that it is to be hoped will be useful to people who are in projects that include building streetcar track.

Link 1 - To see films of the Buebird train in operation, copy and paste:


Link 2 - Trackway Infrastructure Guidelines for Light Rail Circulator Systems

Circulator Trackway Report

Link 3 - Back To The Future - This site has more about the BMT's articulated trains.

The Third Rail

Link 4 -, has much about NY subways


last update 11-25-17