The R44s debuted in 1971 and were the first 75' cars ordered for the New York City Subway
. They were also the first cars to feature full length cabs for the motorman and conductor, and the first cars to feature 4 car sets without cabs in each car, freeing up additional room for passengers. They were also the first to have front facing seating. With these many significant differences, the R44s were the first modern-ish cars on the New York system, and in fact they bear more resemblance to the cars of the Washington DC Metro
or the BART
than they do to the previous NYC fleet, even the R42s of a year earlier.
Previous to the R44s, all cars for the New York City Subway's IND/BMT trackage had been 65 feet in length, and were either single units or ran in 'married pairs' of two cars. As such they had a conductor/motorman's cab at either one or both ends of each car. The MTA decided to debut 75 foot cars on the system, and to achieve trains the same length as the standard ten 60 foot cars would mean eight 75 foot cars. This meant a significant difference in turning radius and clearance, and in fact the MTA had to actually shave back the tunnel slightly in a few places along the lines where the new trains would run. This was done after the MTA constructed a test train of 75 foot cars.
The R44s also featured an attractive, well-lit interior with wood paneling. They were followed up shortly by the R46 order, which were almost identical cars. The R44-46s got overhauls in the late 80s and early 90s, including the installation of LED route indicators, and to this day are are some of the finest cars on the system.
The R44-46s are currently the exclusive rolling stock for the F, G, and R lines, and form the majority of the rolling stock on the A Train.
The only 75 foot order since the R44-46s was the R68s, from the mid 80s, and a disappointing follow up it was. The R68s went back to featuring half cabs at the end of each car, and were paneled with a disgusting mirrored interior.
There is a sharp curve on the Brooklyn Broadway line (The J Train) that prevents 75 foot cars from running on that portion of the system. For this reason, the next car order, the R143s, will be 60 foot. The MTA may or may not be abandoning the 75 foot model altogether.