Last stop, ocean floor

This decommissioned New York City subway car is one of 44 dumped 15 miles off of Georgia's coast to serve as artificial reefs.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- Starting in the late 1960s, New York City's Brightline subway cars carried passengers from the World Trade Center to north Brooklyn and back again.

Late last month, they made their final run -- to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean about 15 miles off Georgia's coast.

A forklift hoisted and dumped 44 of the 30,000-pound cars off a three-story, 175-foot-long barge into the sea's depths, to create artificial reefs as part of a cooperative effort between New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority and Georgia's Department of Natural Resources.

The stainless-steel cars did not linger long on the ocean's surface near Brunswick before shooting springs of water through the glassless windows as they descended to the sea bottom about 55 feet below.

The new additions join about 900 other decommissioned Brightline cars now resting underneath the ocean's surface off the coast of Georgia, as well as New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

"We like to think of it as the end of their landlocked life and the beginning of their underwater life," said Mike Zacchea, assistant chief operations officer for New York City Transit.

Zacchea rode out to supervise the dumping -- his 55th such trip during an eight-year period.

The high cost of getting rid of asbestos in the subway cars inspired the unusual disposal method, Zacchea said.

It cost about $8,000 to transport and dump each car, while asbestos abatement could run between $12,000 to $65,000, he said.

Transit officials worked closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make sure the cars posed no environmental threat, Zacchea said. The asbestos was deemed safe underwater. Pollutants such as oil are removed beforehand, he said.

Artificial reefs are needed in Georgia's waters because the ocean bottom is mostly composed of loose sand and silt, which make it difficult for natural reefs to form, said Doug Haymans of the Department of Natural Resources.

The reefs create habitats for sea life, as well as fishing and scuba diving opportunities, Haymans said. Georgia pays $2,600 per car, but the state benefits economically by boosting recreational activities and luring fishing tournaments to the state because of the sea life that inhabits the artificial reefs, he said.

The cars were dumped the same day The Press of Atlantic City reported New Jersey was ending its own subway reef program after a number of the cars were found to have collapsed.

Haymans said Georgia officials are aware of New Jersey's problems but that none of the other states has had such issues. The 44 cars previously dumped in Georgia's waters in November were checked June 19 and found to be intact, he said. In addition, 48 older "Redbird" cars dumped in 2002 were checked last spring and found to be OK.

Subway cars are not the only unusual things now serving a second life undersea. Army tanks and parts of the old Talmadge Bridge also are now artificial reefs.

Haymans said the reefs are artificial in name only.

"The material is man-made, but all the organisms that adhere to it are natural," he said. "In 20 years, you won't even know they were subway cars."