The concept is similar to San Francisco's F streetcar line, which consists of vintage trolleys from various cities around the world. (San Francisco also has cable cars, of course, but those seem to be in a category by themselves.)
The Nostalgia Train features subway cars that were in service between 1932 and 1977.
From the MTA site:
Ceiling fans, padded seats and incandescent light bulbs were state-of-the-art when these cars were first placed in service. Many New Yorkers bear fond memories of the trains, which served the lettered lines throughout the system.We waited to catch the train at the Lexington and 53rd Street station, which has enough grime and chipped subway tile to feel like it still could be 1977.
The outside of the train we rode (the top picture) had almost a military look to it. I'm not sure what era it was from exactly — the 1940s? — but it was delightfully austere.
Inside, light bulbs dangle from the ceiling (the lights flicker in between stations — something that's so reminiscent of old movies it almost feels like an affectation).
And you can see why the Nostalgia Train only runs during the winter. There's no way modern New Yorkers would ride around in the summer with only these ceiling fans to cool them. (It rarely gets hot enough to need air conditioning in San Francisco, so the F line doesn't have this problem.)
The vintage advertising is a highlight. I learned about Scotch cellophane tape and a chewing gum with a "different" and "fascinating" new flavor. It was called Juicy Fruit.
Apparently there also was a promotion to get people to take local trains instead of the express. I guess it was an effort to alleviate crowding? Still, kind of weird.
Some people there were dressed in period costumes. We didn't quite go that far, but I did wear my New York Giants hat.
That would have been perfectly at home in the 1940s — setting aside the fact that no grown man would walk around wearing a baseball cap.