Next Stop Atlantic: Train cars on a barge

All images courtesy of Stephen Mallon and Front Room Gallery

In the series Next Stop Atlantic," photographer Stephen Mallon documents the spectacular ritual of discarding decommissioned NYC subway cars into the Atlantic Ocean.

At first glance, you might gasp in horror at the thought of these vintage metal behemoths being unceremoniously dumped into our climate-stressed ocean waters. After all, whether it's oil-drenched sea birds or rising water temperatures, haven't humans wreaked enough havoc on the planet's aquatic ecosystems?

No need to fret, though. You'll be relieved to learn that the process of discarding these iconic subway cars is a well-intentioned environmental effort by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to help rebuild reef habitats along the Eastern Seaboard.

Next Stop Atlantic: Subway car tossed into ocean

Over 10-plus years, MTA has deposited 2,500 cars into the ocean. So how do they do it?

First, the decommissioned cars are stripped and loaded by crane onto a barge such as the Weeks 297 (above). From there, they are sailed out to a predesignated drop spot, where a forklift or other heavy machinery simply tosses them overboard. After they've settled on the bottom, it's only a matter of time before these trains once again teem with life.

Next Stop Atlantic: Subway car sinking into the ocean

Mallon captured images for "Next Stop Atlantic" over the course of three years at drop sites ranging between Delaware and South Carolina. He writes of his project:

"Seeing these massive mechanisms being tossed into the ocean like a toy in the bathtub is a ping in my heart. I have always been attached to these machines, their surreal beauty integrated into their functional engineering At first I was stunned the moments of violent recycling, watching the water quickly adapt to its new underwater houses. After being pushed and stacked like a sardine in these subways cars over the past decade, it is nice to see the sardine actually getting one of these as its new steel condo."

Want to see what the subway cars look like after five years of sitting at the ocean bottom? Scuba diver Rich Galiano documented his visits to one of New Jersey's subway reef habitats — first right after the cars were dumped in 2003 and then again in 2008 — to see how the habitat had progressed over five years. You can view the drastic changes over on Galiano's website.

Continue below to see more photos from Mallon's project, and be sure to check out more of his work on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If you're interested in seeing Mallon's work in person, he will be featured in a solo exhibition titled "Patterns of Interest," to take place New York University's Kimmel Galleries from Feb. 6 to March 15.

Next Stop Atlantic: Worker walking across train cars

Next Stop Atlantic: Retired subway cars

Next Stop Atlantic: Reitred subway car lifted by crane

Next Stop Atlantic: Subway cars loaded onto barge

Next Stop Atlantic: Interior of retired subway cars

Next Stop Atlantic: Retired subway cars taken out into the ocean

Next Stop Atlantic: Flooding subway car

Next Stop Atlantic: Subway car crashing into the ocean

Next Stop Atlantic: Sinking subway car

* * *

Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Related on MNN:

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

Retired subway cars given a second life as artificial reefs
You might first gasp in horror at the thought of these behemoths being dumped into our ocean waters, but don't worry — there's more to this story.