Manhattan El (New York City Subway car)

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A Manhattan El train at 36th Avenue on the IRT Astoria Line

Manhattan El is the generic term for IRT elevated gate cars used on predecessor lines of the New York City Subway system. These cars were built by the Pullman, Wason, Gilbert & Bush, Bowers & Dure, Barney & Smith, Jewett, St. Louis, Cincinnati and American Car and Foundry companies.


These cars consisted of a variety of equipment used on the IRT. The majority of the cars were originally built for the predecessor companies that became part of the IRT system in 1903, while other cars were built brand new between 1902 and 1911. After 1911, with safer steel being delivered, no more Manhattan El cars were produced.

The term Manhattan El was derived from the Manhattan Railway Company, the predecessor railway to the IRT. The term was originally used to describe the gate cars, which had six pairs of four windows. The term would later be extended to refer to the entire series of IRT gated cars. When they were delivered, the word Manhattan was written on the roof of the car. The lettering was later changed to Interborough within a short period of time.

The fleet comprised both motor cars and trailer cars. The older cars were intermixed with the newer cars upon the latter's delivery. Trains initially comprised three to six cars. An extra motor car would later be added to create a seven-car train.[1]

Historians disagree as to whether the term "Manhattan El" was commonly used before the IRT was purchased by the City of New York in 1940, or whether it was mainly an introduced term to describe the wooden elevated cars of the former private company.


The primary distinguishing feature of Manhattan El cars is that they were elevated cars built mostly or substantially of wood, with or without steel frames, where passenger access to the cars was provided by open platforms at both ends of each car. A trainman between each pair of cars manually opened and closed folding gates to allow or prevent passengers from entering or leaving.[2][3]

All gate cars used in IRT elevated service can be described as Manhattan Els. This excludes several classes of elevated equipment:

  • Steam coaches of companies preceding the IRT that were never converted to, and used in, regular IRT elevated service.
  • Former Manhattan El cars (the MUDCs) that were converted into closed cars and the gates replaced by automatically operated subway-style sliding doors.[4]

The Manhattan El cars should not be confused with the BU cars, a series of gate cars that were operated by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company.


None of the Manhattan El cars that were used in revenue service were preserved, but a few non-revenue cars have been preserved.[5]


  1. ^ Samsone, Gene (2004). New York Subways: An Illustrated History of New York City's Transit Cars. JHU Press. pp. 44–47.
  2. ^ " Chapter 1, The Elevated Lines".
  3. ^ " A Brief History of Standard Manhattan Elevated Cars".
  4. ^ " The Manhattan Elevated Fleet".
  5. ^ " The Manhattan Elevated Fleet".

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