Home Second Avenue Subway Inside the subway station of the future

Inside the subway station of the future

by Benjamin Kabak

As the MTA’s operations budget sloughs through one of its worst crisis of in New York history, the capital budget is, if not alive and well, still ticking. With a large federal contribution behind it, the Second Ave. Subway work is chugging along, and despite a drill mishap last week that I’ll cover later today, work will be completed by some time in the future.

Even if Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway isn’t ready for revenue service until 2018, as the Feds fear, it’s never too early to pimp the features that will be found on the new line’s three new stations. In a piece last week that got buried during the July 4th weekend, that’s exactly what the New York Post did. Reporter Joseph Goldstein spoke with the MTA about the myriad upgrades to the riding experience the Second Ave. Subway will provide, and it sounds as though the MTA is trying to show off what they could do to the city’s 106-year-old transit system with the right amount of money.

Some of the features discussed in the article have been a long time coming. For instance, the MTA unveiled plans to enclose the stations in plexiglass back in 2007. This innovation — found in modern systems and airport tram systems throughout the globe — allows for better temperature control of the stations, prevents people from falling into the tracks and ensures that track-fire-causing garbage stays out of where it isn’t supposed to be.

Some of the other innovations aren’t really innovations at all. Goldstein tells us that a sound engineering company is working to build a better public address system, and train arrival boards will be de rigueur at all of the new stations. It’s hard to get that excited about something New York should have had 15 years ago. The authority will also turn away from its sometimes drab tiling scheme to duplicate South Ferry’s bright whiteness. The walls, says The Post, will be “draped with large, white tiles that can be unhooked for cleaning and replacement.” The MTA will also be installing the wiring need for underground cell and Internet service.

The most interesting parts of Goldstein’s article concern the MTA’s sound efforts. In addition to the new PA system, “sound-absorbing fiberglass along the ceiling will reduce reverberations” while “rubber blocks wedged under train tracks will dampen the rumbling.” With the threat of music being piped in, commutes could become downright melodious.

Of course, the most cynical of New Yorkers will just imagine that these things will break and grow grimy. Plexiglass walls will be stained with fingerprints, soda, coffee and who knows what else before the first week of operations is up. The white tiling, while easy to clean, will turn grey with New York City dirt. The PA system will break just as those on the R160s have. Such are the way of things underground. We can’t expect the subway of tomorrow as we still wait for the subway of yesterday throughout the system.

Still, the MTA plows ahead. They haven’t yet, though, found a flooring that repels blacked gum, but that too might come at Second Ave. “We’re looking at surfaces that will be easier to clean the gum off of,” MTA Capital Construction head Michael Horodniceanu said. “They haven’t invented a surface yet that it won’t stick to.”

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Marc Shepherd July 15, 2010 - 8:13 am

Funny: the artwork has a product-placement ad (for Fox), and that’s for a station that won’t physically exist for years.

Nick July 15, 2010 - 10:06 am

The NY Post and Fox are both owned by News Corp.

Patrick July 15, 2010 - 9:16 am

When they finished the LIRR at Jamacia it looked great. It was just a matter of time before the “gross-ness” was going to catch up to all that glass.

Kid Twist July 15, 2010 - 9:39 am

You hit the nail on the head: There’s a big difference between “can be unhooked for cleaning and replacement” and “will be unhooked for cleaning and replacement.”

As for the platform-edge doors, one word: Scratchiti.

This is why the MTA can’t have nice things.

Joe July 15, 2010 - 10:11 am

How about endless stickers and tags on the Plexiglass paneling? Gum? Spray paint?

The wallsjust need to be washed periodically. The tiling jobs being done these days, while true to the original station designs, quickly become stained; the grout, dark and grimy. The tiling just doesn’t cut it.

While most laugh it off as too festive, the Philip Johnson 49th Street stop on the N/R still looks good for its age. You may hate the brick, but it has aged well.

JAR July 15, 2010 - 10:44 am

Those plexi walls will look disgusting in no time. The platform doors will break. If there aren’t resources or will to regularly clean existing train and station surfaces and escalators, it’s unlikely that will happen in the future. What an unbelievably shortsighted choice. The fewer moving parts, the better.
Not just Jamaica LIRR – look at the arched roof of the Parsons/Archer J/Z/E entry a few blocks away. Yes, underneath two decades of grime, that’s glass/plexi. Designed so that light can make its way into the station (for the first year or two, anyway).

John Paul N. July 15, 2010 - 2:28 pm

The AirTrain’s stations have enclosed platforms and they don’t appear to have any problems. But then again, the PANYNJ is not the MTA.

Alon Levy July 15, 2010 - 7:13 pm

Line 14 in Paris has platform screen doors. RATP may do construction several times more competently than the MTA, but in operations it isn’t much better.

bob July 15, 2010 - 10:59 am

Basically these stations are going to look like South Ferry. Maybe you find that attractive, I don’t particularly, but if it works so be it.

If platform edge doors survive (seems like an easy budget cut to me) it’s going to add maintenance costs – any time they break/vandalized the station has to be skipped in that direction. Just like the moving platforms at Union Square. Even when they work they will significantly slow boarding. They will prove to be a horrible mistake.

I think they were stuck in by Howard Roberts. And since everything else he’s done is being reversed (the Line General Managers have already lost much of their authority) hopefully this will be also.

bob July 15, 2010 - 11:05 am

The article says nothing about plexiglass walls for the trackway – are you sure they are even in the plan anymore? They aren’t visible in the drawing you have at the top of this post.

The article does mention air conditioning. Pleasant as that is, what will that do to the operating budget?

John Paul N. July 15, 2010 - 2:42 pm

Not to be cynical myself, but would you rather have the system of 1904 be built today in order to keep the budget and fares low?

bob July 16, 2010 - 11:00 am

Well I think what was done in 1904 (or the 1930s IND) for stations works pretty well. The improvements that matter to me (for stations) are elevators/escalators, modern fare control (since we’re not going back to nickel fares), and good audio/video announcements regarding train arrival – I have that at my station now, and it makes a difference.

I don’t thing the platform walls/doors are worth it, here or anywhere else. Besides all the dirt and grime they will pick up (especially steel dust) it will be a maintenance hassle. Any time the gap fillers (Un Sq and old South Ferry) broke trains couldn’t stop at the station. This will be the same.

Air conditioning is nice, but we all know it’s expensive to run. More frequent service would mean less time on the platform, so that would be my preference.

John Paul N. July 20, 2010 - 11:41 pm

I’ll respectfully disagree and say the platform walls/doors will be beneficial. Even if those walls and doors aren’t cleaned regularly, (I hope this doesn’t happen; the MTA would be wise to maintain their crown jewels in pristine condition for PR purposes.) they will prevent people from throwing things and spitting on the tracks. If there are mice running along the tracks, people won’t see them; then again, the mice better not make their way to the platform level.

One concern that pops up is at the ends of platforms, usually there is a small space that allows workers to access the tracks and non-passenger areas. How is that arrangement being handled in these stations?

Eric July 15, 2010 - 1:49 pm

I remember reading somewhere that platform doors actually speed up boarding times.

John Paul N. July 15, 2010 - 2:40 pm

What will happen if the platform doors break at 96th Street? That said, if the MTA was not thinking of vandalism in station design, they would be naive, especially looking back at its history. I don’t think they are naive.

The revolving door of leadership is a curious thing, indeed. Legacies are built by one leader, only to be torn down by a future leader. Happens all the time, everywhere.

BrooklynBus July 15, 2010 - 11:25 am

They say they can’t find a substance that won’t stick to gum. Well I’ve got a suggestion. They should coat the flooring with the glue that DMV uses on its registration stickers that won’t adhere to anything.

Josh K July 15, 2010 - 11:38 am

Combining DMV registration sticker adhesive and used chewing gum would probably create the most dialectically contradictory adhesive ever discovered. It would stick to nothing and anything at the same time. Hell, it might even be a form of cold fusion.

Think twice July 15, 2010 - 3:35 pm

Good old fashioned IND engineering was good enough. Pragmatic, utilitarian, low maintenance with room to add the frippery later on in better times.

However, I would include floor to ceiling platform doors. If only to keep people and trash off of the tracks. Plus a proper HVAC system be set up. Cover them with Mylar to stymie vandalism. Cover them with wrap ads to help pay for maintenance. Anything to keep trash and people of the tracks.

So I say, better to build something like the 57th Street station on the IND 6th Ave Line. With platform doors, HVAC, and WiFi.

John July 15, 2010 - 4:30 pm

The interesting thing about the platform doors is it indicates the MTA is planning to standardize at least all the trains running on the Second Avenue line, if not the entire B Division, in the future — i.e., the Q train and whatever other line might serve Second Avenue is going to be all 60-foot cars like the R-160s, because if you mix the 60- and 75-footers on the line, most of the platform doors won’t match up with the train doors, since there are 40 doors on a 600-foot train of 60-foot cars and just 32 on a 75-foot train.

Run the wrong length train down the line, and passengers won’t be able to enter or leave the trains when they stop at the stations (a fun situation I had once with the tram at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. I doubt regular subway riders would be as forgiving if the tried to walk out of a train and smacked into a wall of plexiglas).

Alon Levy July 15, 2010 - 7:20 pm

For a while, the MTA seemed like it would go with just 60-foot cars in the future. Those have higher cost per train length and lower in-train capacity, but more than make up for it with higher loading capacity. The busiest lines run 60-footers, because the limiting factor to capacity on the subway is loading and not standing room.

However, more recently the MTA started talking about the R179, which would be 75′ long. So much for platform screen doors…

bob July 16, 2010 - 11:32 am

Nope, R-179 is 60′. There’s more detail in the Capital Plan Oversight Committee book:


R-179 was advertised in June. 290 cars in the base, options for 50 and 80 add ons.

R-188 is more cars for the 7 line extension, already awarded to Kawasaki. That’s only 23 cars, plus converting 10 existing ones to CBTC.

The next order after that is R-211 for B division. Design would start in 2012, and there is currently an analysis of 60′ vs 75′. But will there be money?

Next A division contract isn’t until after 2020, replacing R-62s.

Alon Levy July 16, 2010 - 12:16 pm

Oh… sorry. I remember reading back in 2007 that it would be 75′, but maybe they did the 60’/75′ analysis and chose 60′.

Andrew July 18, 2010 - 10:30 am

That’s three years ago. Plenty changes in three years.

With the service changes, there really wasn’t much need for analysis. Thanks to the revised M, the J/Z still has to run some R-42’s. Those will have to be replaced in the next car order – with more 60-foot cars, since 75-foot cars can’t run on the J/Z. So the R-179’s have to be 60 feet long.

It’s the subsequent car order that can go either way. There’s no question that 75-foot cars are cheaper (per train); their main disadvantage is that they yield fewer doors per train, as currently configured. If NYCT can come up with a 5-door car design, that disadvantage melts away.

Personally, I don’t think platform screen doors are a good idea. They will forever lock NYCT into using a single car layout on the lines that serve the SAS (the Q and T) and even the lines that are likely to be occasionally rerouted to the SAS (at a bare minimum, the F, N, Q, and W if it’s resurrected).

Alon Levy July 18, 2010 - 11:17 am

Most of the trains in Hong Kong have 75′, 5-door cars. The subway trains I rode in Shanghai had 5-door cars as well, but I’m not sure how long they are.

Andrew July 18, 2010 - 1:01 pm

I know. That’s why I’m suggesting they might work here too.

Someone December 9, 2012 - 3:51 pm

Hong Kong? I lived there for a few months and I never noticed it.

Someone December 9, 2012 - 3:59 pm

The R211 order can use 75′ cars with 5 pairs of doors per side.

It’s actually been done in Tokyo (note: does not use 75′ cars):

and Hong Kong (which does use 75′ cars):

Someone December 9, 2012 - 3:50 pm

It’s now 300 cars, 260 in 4-car sets and 40 in 5-car sets for the SAS, with no options.


JebO July 15, 2010 - 4:48 pm

With a large federal contribution behind it, the Second Ave. Subway work is chugging along

It’s not really that large a contribution. The Feds automatically pay for 80% of most highway construction, yet only one third of transit construction, despite transit’s various praise-worthy qualities (safe transportation, low environmental impact, moves large volumes of people, etc.)

Alon Levy July 15, 2010 - 7:18 pm

The praiseworthy qualities of highways are even more important: more money for automakers, more oil consumption and more money for the oil industry, more money for the tire industry, more money for the construction unions… those all contribute money to politicians. The environment doesn’t.

paulb July 16, 2010 - 9:22 am

With the current stimulus program? Prior to that the fed contribution was mostly for the Interstate system, I thought. Without the fed picking up most of the bill, the Interstate system never would have been built. State’s wouldn’t have gone along.


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