model train set on track

One ‘EL of a Great “Idear”—The M.T.H. Subway Cars

e*Train Issue: Mar 2022   |   Posted in: ,

By Bob Mintz (updated Spring 2022)

For a handy chart of all MTH Subway cars issued to date, go here.

A short chart of Lionel Subway cars has been added here.

Yeah, I know, my Bronx/New York accent runs the gamut from saying words that sound like “ter-let (toilet); lie-berry (library); Earl (oil or as in actor Earl “Errol” Flynn); Fill-em (Film); woik (work) and eye-dear (idea).  Let us not forget about the address “toity toid and toid”.  I believe that Lionel’s new “not open to the public” showroom is located nearby at Madison and toity toid (33rd) Street.

My first train experience was taking an elevated train (The EL) with my parents, in this case, the IRT #4 Woodlawn, past Yankee Stadium, whereupon it went underground and became a subway.  We continued our journey to the very last stop to visit my grandparents in the Eastern Parkway section of Brooklyn called Utica Avenue.  The station exit was at the front of the train, so therefore we would be located in the first car of the train.  I would stare out the front window for the 1 ½ hour trip and follow the various rails and switches.  Guess that it was a great way to have my parents have some “quality time” of their own and not have to worry about entertaining me.  To this date, I still do this when the opportunity arises.

About the age of 6, we moved from the West Bronx to the East Bronx, along with the now former “Brooklyn” grandparents.  They, along with my father, bought me my first two Lionel electric trains in Xmas of 1958.

My bedroom faced Bronx Park, towards The Bronx Botanical Gardens and The Bronx Zoo.  Of course I would also watch the 4 track lines of the New York Central Railroad’s “New York and Harlem Railroad Line” and the New Haven’s “New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Line” as it roared between the Botanical Garden and the William’s Bridge (Gun Hill Road) stations.  Sometimes, my friends and I would put pennies on the track and watch (from a safe distance) as the train would flatten them out.  Sorry Abe!

My father worked for E.J. Korvettes (it is NOT named after Eight Jewish Korean War Veterans as the popular urban legend claims) located near Grand Central Terminal.  When my mother and I would take the subway to visit him, I would see these New York Central and New Haven behemoths up close and personal at this station which also served the NYC subway system.

Shift to the near past.  The year was February 1999.  I was attending my very first Toy Fair in New York City after being appointed Editor of “The Switcher” for LOTS (Lionel Operating Train Society).  I approached then Lionel President Gary Moreau and asked him if Lionel ever had any plans in making something train related that was more close to my heart, a NYC subway set.

A resounding “absolutely not” was the answer, as there was “no market for such a niche item.”

Leave it to Mike Wolf to prove him horribly wrong as M.T.H. had already displayed in their previously issued 1998 and 1999 catalogs, an R-42 subway set.

Thirty-nine sets later, yeah, I suppose Gary Moreau was right.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOT! (Said in your best “Borat” imitation)

I recently asked MTH Vice President of Marketing Andy Edleman why they decided to make these subway sets and this was his response:

Throughout our (M.T.H.’s) collective experiences in the model train marketplace, we’ve heard from modelers who wanted someone to produce subway cars.  Initially, these suggestions seemed too restrictive to a single geographic area (New York) to be worth exploring.  But as the suggestions continued to stream in throughout the 1990s, we realized through analysis of the input that the suggestions were coming from all over the country reflecting the reality that many subway fans no longer lived in New York but still had an affinity for subway models.

Once we were convinced that enough demand existed, we gave the concept a shot with our first release, the RailKing R-42 in 1998 and have continued to follow up that initial release with other models.  Frankly, the interest in these models has simply amazed us and we’re anxious to bring out more models both in O and eventually in HO as well.

Our most recent releases in our Premier Line (BMT 2500 and R-40) feature a higher level of interior detail than previous models.  Future enhancements may include more operating features like operating doors.  By employing the technology we developed for our Coors Light Silver Bullet train into our subway products, we believe we’ll be able to make these models continue to look and operate more like the real thing in the future.”

The Chicago Transit Authority subway cars used on their famous “Loop” would be added to the M.T.H. catalog in the year 2000.

Most of the early subway 4-car powered sets were offered in a “20-” (Premier Line) or “30-” (RailKing) prefix; and then a 4 digit numbering sequence (“XXXX”); followed by a one digit suffix in both Loco-Sounds (“-0” ); and Proto versions (“-1”); while the 2-car non-powered add-on (totaling a 6-car set) used the “-3” suffix.

But this was not always the case.

There are several exceptions to the rule (numbering scheme; suffix and number of powered and non-powered cars) which I will discuss here.

The #30-2622-1 CTA 3200 Series Chicago White Sox and #30-2621-1 CTA 3200 Series Chicago Cubs were originally offered as a 2-car set, one powered and one dummy.  Sets #30-26211-1 and #30-26221-1 were reissued as 4-car sets (one powered and 3 dummies).  This was actually a mistake by MTH in the catalog as they did not realize at the time that the original sets were sold as only 2-car consists.  Since they had cataloged them as 4-car sets, they elected to go that way on the re-run according to Andy Edleman.

I recall going to the April 2006 York Meet and hearing about a very special short run of CTA 3200 Series Chicago White Sox™ World Series® cars of 100 or less and was offered only to Chicago dealers at the time and asked Andy Edleman about them.

“The original run was only 50 units because that was all the parts we had at the time.  We re-ran the units a second time to compensate for the greater interest in the cars in the Chicago area.  Previous interest in White Sox products in that area had been ho-hum at best.  Once the team won the World Series, interest spiked far beyond normal White Sox demand for our products in the past.”

The 2-car non-powered set was later officially cataloged as #30-2622-4

The MTH Newsletter under “Life Imitates Art” further explained the following:

“The Chicago Transit Authority unveiled a “wrapped” 3200 Series subway car last week in celebration of the Chicago White Sox™ 2005 World Series® sweep over the Houston Astros.  The car is based on artwork created by M.T.H. Electric Trains for the firm’s Major League Baseball™ series of licensed products.

Initially promoted in the M.T.H. 2005 Ready-To-Run Train Set catalog in February 2005, the White Sox™ and a similar set of Chicago Cubs™ O Gauge subway cars are scheduled to ship late this Fall.  Because the cars were initially promoted prior to the 2005 baseball season, they did not include any graphics pertaining to the White Sox™ playoff success.  In exchange for assisting the CTA in creating their “wrap of the real-life 3200 car, M.T.H. will be creating a 2-car World Series® add-on set for the 4-car White Sox™ set promoted earlier this year.

“In most cases, we’re recreating a real-life train as a model, right down to the shade of the paint color and the detail of the warning placards”, M.T.H. Electric Trains Vice President of Marketing Andy Edleman explained.  “Occasionally, however, we create a deco scheme that never existed.  Some folks call these “fantasy” schemes a pox on the marketplace so it’s kind of refreshing to see on e of these fantasy schemes become reality.”

Edleman went on to explain that Frank Kruesi, President of the Chicago Transit Authority contacted M.T.H. right after the World Series concluded.  He wanted to inquire if the CTA could use the M.T.H. paint scheme found on its Chicago White Sox subway cars as a guide in creating a real-life “wrap” for a White Sox™  car that will travel Chicago’s famed “Loop.”  Rather than painting the logos on the sides of the cars, the deco scheme is printed on large sheets of vinyl which are then “wrapped” around the car.  The process is much faster than painting a car and sports more vivid graphics since the vinyl sheets are actually created by huge computer printers.  The process allows for photo realistic graphics and makes a great vehicle for corporate promotions.  In the past, CTA has wrapped in schemes for Target, Nextel and the Chicago Yellow Book.”

Set #30-2273-0 and #30-2273-1 was an MTA work train that contained various non-subway cars, but included as one of its units, an R-17 subway car which was officially coded as NON-POWERED ITEM #30-2273C.

See another article of mine about MTA.

Besides a 2-car add-on #30-2273-3, there was an additional 1-car add-on #30-2273-4.

The New York Yankees™ #30-4122-1 and New York Mets™ #30-4123-1 both had Ready to Run (RTR) sets that included one two-motored powered subway car; 31″ x 51″ 12-Piece RealTrax Oval; one Non-Powered Subway Car; RailWare Interactive CD Rom With Track Layout Software; 100-watt Power Supply Z-1000 Transformer With Controller and a Lighted Track Lock-On and a quick start video.

A 2-car add-on was available as #30-2417-3 and #30-2418-3 respectively.

Both sets were available as separate sale items to dealers as I witnessed at York by MTH MegaStation Dealers such as “Just Trains” and “Ready To Roll”.  To add some confusion , the separate sale (no track, transformer, etc.) items were labeled #30-4122-1 for the powered unit and #30-4121-1a for the non-powered unit for the Yankees™ and #30-4123-1 and #30-4123-1a for the Mets™.

Premier Line #20-2283-1 was an “N” train 4-car set that had a 2-car add-on numbered #20-6637, using a totally different numbering scheme and no suffix.  Many years later, this would be remedied by yet another 2-car add-on that was issued as #20-2283-3.  This was the only time that a 2-car add-on set was reissued.  I asked Andy Edleman about it:

In general, we are usually more conservative with our production quantities for our Premier products than those of our RailKing items.  This conservativeness is a reflection on the fact that Premier items are more expensive and thus have a smaller target market.  In the case of the initial release of add-on cars for the Premier Line R-32 set, we simply guessed wrong on the market’s interest and elected to run the cars again a few years later to meet that strong interest.”

The 2-car add-on for the #30-2122-0 and #30-2122-1 was #30-2161; #30-2162-0 and #30-2162-1 was #30-2163; & 30-2211-0 and 30-2211-1 was 30-2122-3.  This also obviously did not follow the pattern of naming the add-ons “-3”.

Dealer Appreciation Program (DAP) is an MTH uncataloged program that offers very limited sets to dealers directly for ultimate sale to the public, most likely to their best customers.

A 4-car set #20-80005A was made with graffiti on it, but no 2-car add-on set was made.

BMT 2500 Series with Proto-Sound 2.0 #20-2675-1 is a 3-Car Subway Set (one powered and two non-powered) while the add-on #20-2675-3 is also a 3-car non-powered set.  Two other 3-car sets are due any moment, the “Q” type cars #30-2759-1/#30-2759-3 and #30-2760-1/#30-2760-3.  Again, this did not follow the pattern of a 4-car set with 2-car add-on, but it did ultimately make up a 6-car consist.

The R-142A set #30-2797-1 (incorrectly published with a MSRP of $4,499.95 instead of $499.95) is the first 5-car set, which is prototypical.  I was puzzled why MTH decided to have a 2-car add-on totaling a 7-car consist instead of a 1-car add-on that would result in a 6-car consist as most other sets were made or could be configured.  The exception being the DAP graffiti set; Chicago White Sox™ World Series® 2-car add-on and the “N” train with add-ons with two distinct SKU numbers.

Andy Edleman’s response was:

When we offered the add-on cars, we stuck with our normal 2-car configuration and didn’t take into consideration the total number of cars in previous model offerings having capped out at 6 cars.  In fact, until you mentioned it in your questions, I hadn’t even considered the importance of it.

It would appear that the MTH license with MTA was terminated in favor of Lionel.  I asked Andy Edleman if this was correct and if so, when did this occur and is there anything that you can mention on why this happened?  Was it because Lionel had Xmas layouts in Grand Central Terminal?

“The MTA license was indeed terminated by MTA in favor of an exclusive relationship with Lionel.  The termination occurred the year before Lionel announced their first and only subway model to date.

MTA’s decision was likely the result of several factors.  First, while M.T.H. had also installed Christmas layouts in Grand Central Terminal for three or four years prior to the cancellation of our contract, Lionel probably promised something more elaborate.  In addition, Lionel’s CEO likely persuaded the MTA that the Lionel brand would bring more recognition to the MTA than M.T.H. was capable of doing.  Finally, Lionel likely promised greater royalty revenues than M.T.H. was currently paying.

Unfortunately, M.T.H. never had a chance to respond to any concerns MTA had with the current license structure, never had a chance to reconsider royalty revenue rates, never had a chance to sweeten the Grand Central holiday layout program and never had a chance to “resell” to the MTA our manufacturing experience in building subway models over a company who had never before built such a model.

Since MTA’s decision, M.T.H. has continued to promote and build new subway models.  MTA’s new licensing partner has yet to deliver a single piece.  M.T.H. has also heard from some of our other licensors about Lionel’s interest in securing licenses with those firms in lieu of them continuing to do business with M.T.H.  Fortunately we’ve established good relationships with those firms and Lionel’s overtures have been rebuffed.  While we don’t foster any blame toward Lionel for attempting to secure such licenses (such attempts are pretty common in the licensing business), we do regret not having established a better relationship with MTA that might have thwarted Lionel’s attempt at securing the license.”

{EDITOR’S NOTE}  As of this writing, the middle of August 2008, Lionel has not issued its #6-31751 4-car and #6-18378 2-car add-on New York City Transit Authority R-27 Subway Set, which is mentioned in both the catalog and website as being a rather operator unfriendly 0-72 gauge.  The Lionel people that I spoke with at York were unsure how it will ultimately be made.  The original shipping date of June 08 is now scheduled to be Oct 08.  Stay tuned!

Subway cars being delivered, refurbished, or retired and sent out for scrap, often travel by either flatbed truck; or placed on special flatcars by barge (car floats) or by train and then unloaded and towed by diesel locomotive onto the railroad network.

M.T.H. has this covered too.  To date, there have been 10 TTX flatcars w/subway cars made.  To make this particular collectible just a wee bit more interesting, the two shown in the 2006 catalog, (#20-98554 and #20-98555), have two different number sequences to them on the flatcar and subway car even though they have the very same SKU number respectively.

The New York City Transit Authority had colored marker lights on the front of its subway cars indicating the line and destination.  This would allow a dispatcher sitting in a glass enclosed room at the front of a subway platform to determine which route to turn the switch at certain points in the subway system as some routes shared the same tracks.  I know this because of my staring out of the front window of the train for all of those years as a youth.

This practice has been discontinued with the use of radio communication and transponders.

There is an inconsistency by M.T.H. with regard to the use of these marker lights on the LO-V subway cars 2-car add-ons.  Of the 5 sets made to date, all of the four car sets (ending in “-1”) have them, but only the 2-car add-on #30-2757-3 and #30-2758-3 also include this item.  On the TTX side, of the 4 LO-Vs made, only the #20-98489 is missing them.

A big thanks to Andy Edleman for his help in researching and being available for an interview and allowing us to share his thoughts and comments in the preparation of this article.

For more information on the New York City subway systems, please see the following:

For information on Chicago’s rapid transit system:

Transit Toronto is an information site by transit enthusiasts:

Also, best Unofficial Long Island Railroad websites: