Passengers waiting on the downtown F train platform at the Broadway-Lafayette station on Sunday were stunned when the train approached. Instead of the silver bullet that they expected, an ancient-looking, olive-drab metal box lumbered into the station. When it ground to a halt and the doors opened, men dressed in orange reflective vests hopped out to announce that this was the F train, making all local stops.
In what is now an annual holiday treat from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, they are hauled out of storage at the Transit Museum and at rail yards around the city and given a little bit of exercise on Sundays from Thanksgiving to Christmas to keep them in working order.
“It’s like an automobile,” said Greg Gil, a retired engineer who was one of several volunteers answering confused and curious passengers’ questions. “You have to keep running it.” The R1 through R9 trains ran on the Independent Line and last saw regular service in 1977, the transportation authority said.
As the eight-car train sat at the Second Avenue stop before turning around for the journey to Queens Plaza, passengers walked through the cars, holding onto the triangular grips and pointing out the period advertisements, which included a poster for S&W coffee and a did-you-know backgrounder on the Port of New York Authority, then in its relative infancy.
One woman, like many others, chose to linger on the rattan benches. “I could have transferred to another train, but I chose to stay on this one instead,” she said to Mr. Gil.
But not everyone on the platform was surprised to see the vintage train. One man, dressed in a black jacket and porkpie hat, a matching maroon bow tie and trousers, sat still on a red vinyl bench as his companion crouched uncomfortably on the floor across the way, trying to get the perfect shot.
Constantino Diaz-Duran, a freelance writer, knew that the trains would provide the perfect backdrop for a leisurely photo shoot, so he dressed up for the occasion. His companion, Chris Kilmer, who works at ABC News, was trying to get a handle on an pricey new digital SLR camera.
“We have to come up with reasons to justify its expense,” he said.
If you want to catch one of the trains next Sunday, the M.T.A. has posted the departure schedule. The train will make all local stops.