Subway Car Door Controls & Cabs

Conductor's controls

Gate Cars
When the elevated lines were using gate cars, there was a trainman or conductor at each car's end platform. The crew member would open and close the gates and ring a bell at the next position toward the front of the train to signal that their gates are closed. Each was responsible for the safety at their position.

IRT Subway Cars
With the opening of the first IRT subway line this method continued, but with vestiblues in stead of open end platforms. Then Multiple Unit Door Controls (MUDC) was developed that allowed one conductor to control all doors in the train from one position. In some cases, the first car would still have manually operated end doors, but the conductor could use MUDC to open and close the rest of the train. The Low-Voltage IRT cars had all cars equipped with MUDC and the conductor was stationed between cars.

BMT Standards - Conductor inside
The BMT Standards were introduced with the conductor's MUDC position inside the car at the center doors. After the train stopped, all of the doors would be opened with one button which was hidden under the guard. Then the conductor would close the rear of the train then the front of the train and finally the doors at his position.

While this made it safer for the crew, it was possible for passengers to be caught in the doors while the train left the station without the crew seeing the danger.

Q-Type outside controls
When the C-Types were converted to MUDC to modernize the wooden elevated fleet, the conductor was returned to a position outside between two cars with a small handle to control the doors. This style persisted with the D-Type subway cars and the Q-Type gate car converted for the 1939 World's Fair.

There was also a way for the conductor to control the doors from inside the car if a single three car unit was operating.

The BMT D-Type or Triplexes had similar end of unit door controls, outside and inside.

R-Type outside conductor controls
The outside position for the conductors continued with the cars purchased for the IND in 1932 until the IRT R-14 fleets in 1949. This allowed the conductor to view the train as it left the stations. They were to remain watching until the third car left the station.



After the train came to a stop, the conductor would press the two triggers under the cover on the bottom of the control, first the unlock and the other to open the doors. After stepping up onto the footrests and viewing the platform, the couductor would press the top cap to close and lock rear first then the front sections.

Inside the cab conductor controls
Beginning with the R-15 cars, the conductor was placed inside the cab. Some of the first cars with interior door controls had small handles instead of buttons. With the in cab door controls, the concudtor's indication light was located in the cab for the zone to the right.

The indication light for the left was located on the bulkhead of the adjacent car. This required a window on the blind end of married pairs.

If indication fails for both the conductor and motorman at a terminal the train must not proceed in service.

Guard Lights

Each car has a guard light that is illuminated when any door on the car is open or unlocked. If the indication fails to light at the conductor's position, the guard light will tell which car is having a problem.

Motorman's indication

Motorman's indication lights up after the conductor gets indication for both zones and removes the key.

If the motorman indication fails to light and the conductor verifies that all doors are closed, the motorman can use the the by-pass button to move the train after discharging passengers at the next station.

Cabs of single cars vs. married pairs

All of the single cars with inside conductor controls, every cab had controls for both motorman and conductor. With the introduction of married pairs, conductor controls were provided in all cabs, but only the #1 cabs had motorman controls.

If the train is stopped properly for the number of cars, the conductor would be able to see the indication board directly in front of the working position. The conductor must point to the board to prove that the train stopped in the correct place.

The R-40 and R-42 cars were the only fleets with strictly motorman cabs on the #1 ends and conductor cabs at the #2 (married ends). This forced the conductor on four and eight car trains to be set up off center of the consist.

Stations that operated these cars required multiple conductor indication boards.

The drum switch and door controls

All of the cars up to and including the R-38 fleet had drum switches to set up the conductor position. All cars except the R-38 fleet had a lever located on the side window ledge. A key was required to unlock the lever to change the position. The R-38 cars had a three position key controlled switch. The positions were:

OFF: This was the end of the train or to separate the zones if a rear guard was assigned to the train.
ON or RUN: This was the setting for the conductor or rear guard control position.
THRU: All other cabs in the train.

The rear guards were used on the Lexington Ave Express as late as 1962. The conductor was located between cars one and two, the rear guard between cars nine and ten. At Bowling Green, the conductor was able to open both sides of the first car for passengers wanting to transfer to the South Ferry shuttle.

Zone door controls

As delivered, the R-40 and later cars had a master contol key replaced the drum switch. With this system, the conductor needed to activate the Master Door Control (MDC) in any cab and then use the regular key to actually open and close the doors. In eight car R-40 and R-42 trains, the conductor could change positions by using the MDC at one cab to open the doors. Then remove the MDC, go to the new position and use the MDC to activate that cab. Now the doors may be closed from that position.
With this setup, both left and right zone indications are on the panel, so the R-40 and R-42 cars needed no end windows in the conductor cabs.

As the fleets were overhauled during the 1980s, the MDC key was replaced by this zone switch as seen on an R-44 door control.

For comparison, this is the conductor's door controls for the PATH PA-5 cars.

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- The JoeKorNer

All photos are from the MTA New York City Transit archives. These GIF files were scanned from offset press prints, thus the quality of the reproduction varies with your monitor and video card capabilities.

With corrections and additions contributed by Edward Crew