Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

1 minute read

Surreal Photos of Subway Cars Being Thrown Into the Ocean [Slideshow]

But not just to junk them: Rather, the cars create manmade reefs for ocean wildlife.

  • <p>Stephen Mallon snapped the MTA’s train-dumping trips up and down the Eastern Seaboard over the course of two and a half years. The result, Next Stop Atlantic, was on view at the Frontroom Gallery  in Brooklyn recently; some of the images will now travel to the west coast and Europe.</p>
  • <p>The theme of the series is industrial reuse. “There’s been a lot of focus on industrial waste,”  Mallon tells Co.Design. “I wanted to find positive recycling stories.”</p>
  • <p>How the artificial reef program works: The MTA retires disused subway cars, strips away their windows, batteries, and other eco-hazards, then loads them up on a barge 30 to 40 at a time and dumps them overboard.</p>
  • <p>At the bottom of the ocean, the cars provide a hard surface on which barnacles, coral, and sponges can attach. This creates flourishing marine habitats where none previously existed.</p>
  • <p>The MTA has furnished its wares to states all over the east coast, from Maryland to Virginia to Delaware, free of charge.</p>
  • <p>Some environmentalists have derided the artificial reef program as nothing more than offshore dumping. If anything, though, it’s been too successful.</p>
  • <p>The New York Times reported a few years ago that coastal Delaware, one of the MTA’s preeminent graveyards, has seen a 400-fold increase in the amount of marine food per square foot in the last seven years. The upshot is that the waters have become astonishingly popular among fishermen and have thusly turned into a marine equivalent of the wild, wild west, with theft and sabotage of fishing traps and pots on the upswing.To top it off, other states, seeing Delaware’s success, began competing for the MTA’s cars.</p>
  • <p>Mallon describes himself as a “train junkie." He started taking photos of the MTA’s artificial reef program after stumbling across a barge loaded up with subway cars in Bayonne, New Jersey, while he was on another shoot.</p>
  • <p>He shot the Next Stop Atlantic pictures from a crew boat that accompanies the barge in the Atlantic, using a Canon Mark III DS.</p>
  • <p>The cars look like they’re frozen in time. Mallon achieved that effect by using ultra-fast shutter speeds (1/500 s to 1/1000 s).</p>
  • <p>The images are also deeply unsettling, like the aftermath of a watery apocalypse. That was by design. "It’s New York history. New Yorkers have been there [in the subway]," Mallon says. "So seeing these subway cars go into the ocean is a Titanic-esque moment. It’s one of the biggest catastrophes they can imagine."</p>
  • <p>Mallon says he’s influenced by Ed Burtynsky.</p>
  • <p>He’s also a big fan of films like Inception and The Matrix. It shows.</p>
  • <p>Prints from Next Stop Atlantic are for sale. For information, visit Mallon’s website here.</p>
  • 01 /15

    Stephen Mallon snapped the MTA’s train-dumping trips up and down the Eastern Seaboard over the course of two and a half years. The result, Next Stop Atlantic, was on view at the Frontroom Gallery in Brooklyn recently; some of the images will now travel to the west coast and Europe.

  • 02 /15

    The theme of the series is industrial reuse. “There’s been a lot of focus on industrial waste,” Mallon tells Co.Design. “I wanted to find positive recycling stories.”

  • 03 /15

    How the artificial reef program works: The MTA retires disused subway cars, strips away their windows, batteries, and other eco-hazards, then loads them up on a barge 30 to 40 at a time and dumps them overboard.

  • 04 /15

    At the bottom of the ocean, the cars provide a hard surface on which barnacles, coral, and sponges can attach. This creates flourishing marine habitats where none previously existed.

  • 05 /15

    The MTA has furnished its wares to states all over the east coast, from Maryland to Virginia to Delaware, free of charge.

  • 06 /15

    Some environmentalists have derided the artificial reef program as nothing more than offshore dumping. If anything, though, it’s been too successful.

  • 07 /15

    The New York Times reported a few years ago that coastal Delaware, one of the MTA’s preeminent graveyards, has seen a 400-fold increase in the amount of marine food per square foot in the last seven years. The upshot is that the waters have become astonishingly popular among fishermen and have thusly turned into a marine equivalent of the wild, wild west, with theft and sabotage of fishing traps and pots on the upswing.To top it off, other states, seeing Delaware’s success, began competing for the MTA’s cars.

  • 08 /15

    Mallon describes himself as a “train junkie." He started taking photos of the MTA’s artificial reef program after stumbling across a barge loaded up with subway cars in Bayonne, New Jersey, while he was on another shoot.

  • 09 /15

    He shot the Next Stop Atlantic pictures from a crew boat that accompanies the barge in the Atlantic, using a Canon Mark III DS.

  • 10 /15

    The cars look like they’re frozen in time. Mallon achieved that effect by using ultra-fast shutter speeds (1/500 s to 1/1000 s).

  • 11 /15

    The images are also deeply unsettling, like the aftermath of a watery apocalypse. That was by design. "It’s New York history. New Yorkers have been there [in the subway]," Mallon says. "So seeing these subway cars go into the ocean is a Titanic-esque moment. It’s one of the biggest catastrophes they can imagine."

  • 12 /15

    Mallon says he’s influenced by Ed Burtynsky.

  • 13 /15

    He’s also a big fan of films like Inception and The Matrix. It shows.

  • 14 /15

    Prints from Next Stop Atlantic are for sale. For information, visit Mallon’s website here.

  • 15 /15

For more than a decade, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority has treated the Atlantic as its very own graveyard, tossing thousands of old subway cars off a barge to rust away on the ocean floor. An environmental crime? Hardly. The program creates habitats for marine life from Georgia to Jersey and gives New York's aging subway cars a vibrant (and free!) retirement home.

Now, New York photographer Stephen Mallon has captured the MTA's artificial reef program in a gobstopping collection of stills that look like what you'd get if you combined an Ed Burtynsky series with the freeze frames of The Matrix and the train porn of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (without the agro hostage situation). We've got lots of details on the program and a selection of Mallon's photographs above.