Home MTA Construction Transit: West Side IRT FASTRACK a ‘success’

Transit: West Side IRT FASTRACK a ‘success’

by Benjamin Kabak

Maintenance workers conduct a track and signal inspection during this week’s FASTRACK shut down. (Photo via MTA)

After four nights of work along the West Side IRT line, Transit has called the latest FASTRACK treatment “a success.” In a statement released this afternoon, the authority said that, after two lines have been fastracked, “it remains clear that the FASTRACK program is both a safer and more efficient way to maintain and clean a 24/7 subway system.”

“Looking at what we have accomplished during our first two rounds of FASTRACK,” New York City Transit President Thomas Prendergast said, “makes me even more enthusiastic about this new way of conducting business. Workers can now perform tasks without being interrupted by passing trains and we are able to get to areas that would not be possible under normal train traffic. One of the more visible things we are able to accomplish is the scraping and painting of station ceilings, something that cannot be done when trains are running.”

During this week’s shutdown, 800 workers completed more than 400 tasks. Had trains been running, this work would have taken months, Transit said. The following is a glimpse of the work completed:

  • 15,000 bags of rubbish removed;
  • 17,000 pounds of scrap material removed;
  • Muck and mud scraped from 19,000 feet of concrete roadbed;
  • 2,500 light bulbs changed in subway tunnels and station platforms;
  • Several stations received spot painting and the ceilings of others, including Nevins Street, were scraped and painted;
  • Station drains cleaned;
  • Maintenance and inspection of eight elevators and three escalators performed at Chambers Street, Clark Street and Borough Hall;
  • Serviced and inspected smoke detectors and alarms;
  • Serviced 17 track switches, 53 signals;
  • Repaired 315 feet of platform edge and;
  • Cleaned and tested 34 CCTV cameras and 20 monitors.

“Prior to FASTRACK,” Carmen Bianco, Transit’s senior vice president for subways, said, “workers would have to pick up their tools make certain the area was safe and then move out of the way every time a train moved through. Now, workers can continue performing their tasks in an uninterrupted manner.”

Despite the praise and the recognition that decades of deferred maintenance has ultimately left the MTA with few viable alternatives for performing this work, I still have a nagging feeling that this is a service cut wrapped in an efficiency program. While FASTRACK impacts only sections of lines with nearby alternatives, it still represents less overnight service. As Transit prepares to continue this program through at least the end of 2012, riders will have to get used to these types of outages.

The next FASTRACK closure will impact the Sixth Ave. lines from Feb. 27-March 2. The Eighth Ave. lines were get their own treatment from March 12-16.

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Christopher February 17, 2012 - 4:15 pm

I see this more as an indictment of the efficiency of a completely 24 hour system and further proof of a need for duplication. Especially better surface transit.

I still compare this to Chicago which long ago realized that the fastest way to overhaul lines was to complete shut them down.

We ask, well, why isn’t our system maintained as well as Chicago or Tokyo and a big part of it is a blind insistency on 24 hours throughout the system when repairs are needed.

Marc Shepherd February 17, 2012 - 4:53 pm

I am not sure what you are saying has been indicted. What you call “blind insistency” is what other people call service. There is basically no time that you can shut down service without displeasing a lot of people: this is a 24-hour city.

I wouldn’t say it “proves” a need for duplication. Both line segments that have been FASTRACKed so far have alternative service reasonably close by. If they ever do this in areas where there is no such service, I am sure they will add extra buses, as they have always done.

Bolwerk February 17, 2012 - 5:03 pm

I don’t think he means duplication. He probably means redundancy, which doesn’t necessarily require strict service duplication. The F and A are partially redundant, but not strictly duplicates.

Often enough, a street-level light rail route that could kick in at off hours would do the trick. That something like that is relatively inexpensive to build and cheap to operate is kind of why I find planners’ and advocates’ worship of the bus fairy so bizarre.

Alon Levy February 18, 2012 - 11:50 pm

I’m sure the Copenhagen Metro people would be pleased to know that there’s a better way of doing maintenance in New York, and their 24/7 running with single-tracking is bad.

Bolwerk February 19, 2012 - 12:52 am

What kind of loads does Copenhagen achieve at night?

Benjamin Kabak February 19, 2012 - 12:57 am

Also, what kind of work rules does Copenhagen have in place?

Bolwerk February 19, 2012 - 1:25 am

Don’t know about for repairs, but the safe money is on no conductors. :-p

It’s an automated operation, IIRC. I don’t know if it’s strictly driverless, but technically could be.

Alon Levy February 19, 2012 - 4:58 am

It’s driverless. It helps it single-track at night, since it doesn’t need to install special bidirectional signaling.

Nathanael February 19, 2012 - 12:58 am

Copenhagen isn’t to the point where they need to do platform edge repairs, scraping of the concrete roadbed, switch repair, and drain cleaning; not only are people better about littering in Denmark than in NY, their system is pretty new.

Those items were the ones which stood out for me. Those can be really slow operations on a line which isn’t shut down.

By the time Copenhagen gets to the point when they need to do all of that, they’ll be doing shutdowns.

Bolwerk February 19, 2012 - 1:50 am

They are doing shutdowns. From the way I saw it described (partly by Alon), the cool thing about Copenhagen is it manages to pull off sectioning track so it’s possible to strike the right balance between doing maintenance and running a partially single-tracked operation at all times.

Andrew February 19, 2012 - 7:35 pm

Yes, and it was designed that way from day one. New York’s system wasn’t.

Bolwerk February 19, 2012 - 10:59 pm

I wasn’t suggesting it was. Alon brought it up.

Alon Levy February 20, 2012 - 9:20 pm

It’s possible that the system was designed with future 24-hour service in mind, but it did not run 24/7 in its first few years.

Andrew February 21, 2012 - 7:14 pm

It was designed to allow single-tracking at reasonably short headways while work is taking place on the other track. What time of day that happens isn’t relevant to the track layout or signal design.

(SAS is also being designed to allow single-tracking at 20 minute headways, by the way. When no maintenance is taking place, one track can be used for storage, since there won’t be a yard at the north end of the line.)

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 7:16 pm

Good to know, thanks.

Of course, *when they’re doing switch repairs*, it’s gonna be shut down. That closes both tracks.

That really stood out for me.

Roadbed and drain cleaning may or may not be designed to allow them to be done “one track at a time”, and if it’s not, that can’t be fixed after the fact.

On the NYC four-track lines, it looks like it’s designed to allow it to be done *two* tracks at a time (east pair and west pair)… but the signalling system in NY generally doesn’t allow for a viable two-way service to be run on only the uptown or only the downtown tracks. Signalling renewal might make that possible in the future, I suppose.

Scott E February 17, 2012 - 5:31 pm

While I agree with the concept of Fastrack, the list of things accomplished is disappointing. 15,000 bags of rubbish removed? This speaks more to the failure to keep the system clean on a day-to-day basis than it does capital or maintenance improvements. 17,000 pounds of scrap metal removed? Likely an accumulation from previous projects and contractors that never cleaned up after themselves. I hope this doesn’t turn into a scheduled quarterly trash collection, with garbage allowed to pile up until then.

R. Graham February 18, 2012 - 6:31 am

“While I agree with the concept of Fastrack, the list of things accomplished is disappointing. 15,000 bags of rubbish removed? This speaks more to the failure to keep the system clean on a day-to-day basis than it does capital or maintenance improvements.”

This quote unfortunately shows how easy it is to pass the buck, point the finger and shift blame elsewhere.

I’m sorry but speaking more to whom’s failure to keep the system clean on a day to day basis? 15,000 bags of rubbish removed is rubbish removed from the tracks! That speaks volumes at just how nasty a good portion of the population really has been. Because the MTA is right. You can’t get down on the track every day to clean up trash reasonably without shutting down the line. I think one that that’s too easy to forget is just how vast the system really is. 15,000 Bags of rubbish from 34th Street to Nevins. You do the math. That’s a sad indictment.

In terms of the 17,000 pounds of scrap metal. You’re right. Likely an accumulation from the previous projects and contractors that never cleaned up after themselves. But did you consider why they didn’t do so because in the world of contracting cleaning up is 100% apart of the job itself? Well this is where I would consider that most of these projects are weekend affairs meaning there is a very short window to get the entire job done. The road has to be turned back over to operations at 5 AM sharp on Monday or there will be sever penalties. But what happens when you are ready to start the job but the workers can’t enter the track because rail center is delayed in shutting off the power? This happens way more often than one can imagine. A perfect example of this is to watch Build It Bigger: The New York City Subway’s new South Ferry station from the Discovery Channel. One of the first thing that happens is the contractor is forced to start the weekend job of connecting the new tunnel into the existing line late!

Things are not as cut and dry as it may seem.

Bolwerk February 18, 2012 - 9:22 am

15000 bags seems like a shitload to me. To put that in visual perspective, that’s one bag per foot for almost three miles.

Chris February 21, 2012 - 8:51 am

It seems like a lot. But I’ll bet the real figure was high, considering we’re talking of 4 track lines much of the way, and years of accumulated garbage strewn throughout the line – even in areas not accessible to the public, as derelicts do get into places they don’t belong….

Bolwerk February 21, 2012 - 11:10 am

I’m pretty sure the suction action of trains guarantees much litter is strewn far into the tunnels too.

Nathanael February 19, 2012 - 1:03 am

As you say, the scrap metal is undoubtedly partly due to “We have to get out of here, trains are starting again at X o’clock, just throw the scrap in that pit, we don’t have time to clean it up.”

The trash — boy, New Yorkers are bad about trash disposal. Maybe a civic beautification / anti-littering ad campaign would help.

Bolwerk February 19, 2012 - 2:05 pm

Fine the living fcuk out of people that litter. And actually enforce it. It’s probably mainly an enforcement problem. Police are too busy wasting resources with delusional nonsense like harassing cyclists and spying on Muslims to focus on something so trite. The occasional subway QoL action is quasi-frivolous night time raids on people who are sleeping or, at worst, putting feet up (which is at least legitimately gross and illegal).

Phantom February 18, 2012 - 9:35 am

There needs to be much more enforcement of anti littering laws.

I’ve never seen anyone get a ticket for littering in 45 years of riding thine subway.

Enforce this law like we enforce farebeating laws and we will solve this problem

Phantom February 18, 2012 - 9:37 am

-the- subway

But also thine subway,

UESider February 18, 2012 - 10:28 am

how many bodies were located?

the big numbers are meant to sound impressive, and im not impressed. they probably emptied out storage rooms that were used as dumping grounds – this is nothing that impacts service and probably drove a lot of cost.

im much more grateful that they were able to service the switches and signals and affect the quality of service by repairing platforms, properly and safely lighting the system.

if trash and scrap metal has lived in a tunnel shaft for 45yrs, so be it. lets worry about those things after the ceiling leaks are repaired, tiles fixes, platform trash is removed and adequate service agents put in place – then we can worry about powerwashing the mud and muck from subway tunnel ceilings that have no bearing on service, rider experience or even maintenance

thats like having a plumber say he roto~rootered the 5,455 feet of pipes in your building – wasnt a problem, wont make water drain any faster and you wont notice any difference whatsoever, but hey, he got rid of 325lbs of pipe sludge and then left you a million dollar invoice, meanwhile your roof still leaks, the walls are still moldy half the building is in disrepair – but at least you have clean pipes!

R. Graham February 18, 2012 - 4:16 pm

Sorry but a lot of what you’re saying is misguided and contradictory. Cleaning up the trash and the mud was important because, YES, those things do impact service. Every time you’re delayed or bypassing your station because of a smoke condition is likely due to trash on the track. Track fires are a bi-weekly occurrence in the subways. Every two weeks may not effect your but on average you may feel the effect or at least your subway line will every two months. Yet people complain that they want more reliable service. Sure leave the trash and watch the lack of improvement in these delays.

Combine the mud, muck and yes the trash too and you now know why the system can’t handle heavy rain on the surface. All of these negatives block the system drains. Now how the mud and muck accumulates I can’t say but I’m willing to bet its from the last flooding incidents. Either way the trash being a problem yet again and I’ve seen it with my own eyes in some stations with those trash traps they have in the center of the track collecting the garbage before it blows down the tunnel.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You’re not solving the leak problem in the subways. Unless it’s a consistent spot as it can be in some instances then the best thing to do is to build a drip pan into the ceiling and run a pipe under it as they have at 103rd and Lex but like there it’s not likely to work at all. Water finds a way to get to where it’s trying to go which is down. There will be a lot of complains about the new SAS when it opens but with that type of construction through ground that had to be frozen prior to boring the water will find it’s way in. This is where the MTA has to rely on the city and the many agencies that are allowed to drip into the ground above the box doing whatever work that is to be done. Between Con Edison’s steam system and DEP’s unchecked overly aged water main pipes we should feel lucky that the leaks aren’t any worse than what they are now.

Chris G February 20, 2012 - 1:01 pm

I know i’m a day late to this party, but with so many commenting about the trash isn’t it time we went to enclosing the platforms behind walls and doors to the train? Many other systems do this like the MTR and MRT.

It will prevent people on the tracks. It will prevent litter on the tracks. It will allow cooled and heated platforms for comfort and health.

I know in past discussions the conditions of the platform edges has been called into question for this but even if we did it at only a couple stations to start, I think we would find the benefits outweigh the construction delays and costs.

Bolwerk February 20, 2012 - 2:02 pm

They planned platform screen doors some years ago, but it turned out to be expensive. About $35k/door, IIRC. Why so much? Beats me.

Nathanael March 1, 2012 - 7:21 pm

Doors are asterisking expensive. Sliding doors are more expensive. See-through (plexiglas) doors (which are used in all subway screen door applications, to avoid the “entering a sealed tomb” experience) are *extremely* expensive. Ever gone to Lowe’s and priced one?

Then add in that they have to be automated, and that they have to be up to industrial standards, and it starts adding up. $35K is probably less than it would cost me to get such a door as a one-off.

There’s a good reason to NOT put platform screen doors in place, anyway: it locks you into door locations on the trains. NY is currently using multiple types of rolling stock with different door locations, which stop at the same platforms…. unless that is dealt with, platform screen doors would be practically impossible.

Bolwerk February 20, 2012 - 2:12 pm

And, honestly, everyone seems to ignore this, but attacking littering with policy would probably fix most of the problem with litter on tracks. Even the pro-broken windows clods aren’t interested in enforcing against litter, and it’s one of the few places where the “broken windows” theory might be applied in a way where it would work. I really don’t get it.

Alon Levy February 20, 2012 - 9:36 pm

Upper middle-class businessmen litter.

Bolwerk February 20, 2012 - 11:42 pm

Good. They can afford to pay the costs of cleaning up after themselves then. It makes a lot more sense than making city residents pay for it in shittier service.

I did suspect part of it is because it’s middle class whites who come into the city who do a lot of the littering. But some of it is homegrown too, I’m sorry to say.

R. Graham February 20, 2012 - 11:25 pm

The first thing that would have to get solved is the rolling stock issue before platform doors could go system wide. Some lines still use 60 feet vs 75 feet cars on the same line which wouldn’t line up at the platform doors the same way. Even in the IRT the R62s vs the R142s present a line up problem for the 7th Avenue express line.

Hank February 20, 2012 - 2:41 pm

Is it a service cut on the sly? Yes, a partial one. But is it necessary? Yes. I hope FastTrack continues in the coming years so that we can move away from reactive, finger-in-the-dyke maintenance to some proactive, quality and service enhancing work.

Andrew February 21, 2012 - 7:16 pm

How is it a service cut any more than any other GO?

Josh February 21, 2012 - 1:59 pm

Did they say the same thing about the FASTRACK work they did on the 4/5/6 line a few weeks ago? Because (while I know correlation doesn’t imply causation) weekend service on those lines has been AWFUL the past few weekends.

Benjamin Kabak February 21, 2012 - 2:00 pm

I’m not sure what weekend service has to do with the success of FASTRACK. One isn’t a replacement for the other.

How was the service been awful? I’ve taken the 4/5/6 the past few weekends with no problems beyond the announced changes really.

Bolwerk February 21, 2012 - 10:14 pm

Kinda OT, but: is it just me, or have there been a lot of “investigations” and “incidents” on the Lex lines lately? Tonight it was a medical emergency.


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