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.

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.”

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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).

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."

Mallon says he’s influenced by Ed Burtynsky.

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

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

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

Co.Design

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.

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.

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11 Comments

  • Mike P

    I agree with those of you that said this was a waste. Why do we have people working their butts off in steel mines and making glass when there are boatloads and boatloads being tossed? And why are the sea creatures being given homes when they don't need one and we can't even give the homeless humans homes? And finally what about the other cities that don't have enough funds for more subway cars? This has to be the freaking stupidest decision mta ever made.

  • Dunsty

    'Creating habitats for marine life' - what a load of nonsense. Anything you chuck into the sea will become a marine habitat - it's what the sea does. I think it's environmental arrogance on an enormous scale, and regardless of the 'stripping of ecohazards' it's going to come back and bite at some point. But let's not get worried! It won't bother anyone from our generation - maybe not even our children's children! So who cares. 

  • Jacob

    I'm with ScruffySquirrel. In fact your idea made me think that a time-lapse is in order. If someone else doesn't do it I just might have to myself.

  • Gentlemanrook

    Really nice images.  I despise the use of the term "surreal" by the writer to describe them, however.  To make these images surreal the cars would have to be in a desert, each one being dragged across the sand by a team of ten Popes shackled to them by barbed wire and daisy chains of clover while a Bosch-esque bird-headed skater pelted them with petit fours while an antique phonograph played Eric Satie recordings into a refrigerator.

  • ScruffySquirrel

    I'm with Jacob, but I want them in ten years when they really have a chance to become spectacular.

  • Michael Erb

    Surreal is right. I also get the concept of creating artificial reefs for aquatic life but these subway cars hardly look like reef material. To me they look more like potential temporary housing for homeless people, or something that could be turned into a diner or used in some way other than fish homes. It is a terrible waste of resources in my opinion.

  • Andre Redelinghuys

    I dont understand why we are ripping huge chunks of the earth out to mine metals and other materials in some parts of the world.. billions of tons of ore are removed at huge environmental cost to give us millions of tons of metals we need for all the stuff we're producing.. then somewhere else in the world we toss massive pieces of metal away to rust in the sea. I get the whole artificial reef thing, but surely the marine life can host itself, and reusing tons of steel and other metals means not having to rip it out of open cast mines elsewhere.

    Its just lazy! Its cheaper to import new steel mined in a third world country than to recycle steel in a first world country. One day when the mines are depleted we will end up fishing for rusted train cars on the ocean floor for metal. Imbalance!

  • h zankel

    Totally agree with Andre. Also have there been any studies on what the effects of these artificial reefs have on the ocean ecosystems? Sounds a little careless.

  • Djen Choo

    Hmm...great feedback on this piece...thanks! I would have to agree, a quick and lazy resolution- despite the great photography :(