I haven’t been to Paris in a while. My one and only trip to the City of Light came in 2001, and even then, I remember riding articulated train sets on the Metro. To a city rat who hadn’t experienced too many other subway systems, these seemingly endless trains were a revelation. They seemed — and were — more spacious than New York’s limited cars and allowed for better passenger flow and more people to ride with a little bit of extra comfort. Why didn’t New York have these, I’ve often wondered.
Over the years, we’ve heard a variety of excuses emanating from any number of U.S. transit agencies. While we have articulated buses, trains with open gangways haven’t yet arrived in the states. Some say that articulated trains can’t handle New York’s curves; others say that it’s a new thing requiring extensive testing. Whatever the reason, we sacrifice capacity and flexibility for the rolling stock we have.
But the MTA seems to be considering articulated trains as they look to the future. In the 20 Year Needs Assessment released this week, articulated make an appearance. Buried in the back as part of the effort to develop a 21st Century system was the following:
As the MTA continues to purchase new buses and subway and commuter rail fleets, it must incorporate state-of-the-art design concepts and technologies to minimize energy consumption, maximize carrying capacity, reduce loading times, and meet the expectation of a tech-savvy generation of new travelers. In particular, consideration should be given to trainsets with open gangways between cars, similar to the design of articulated buses. This will both maximize carrying capacity, and allow passenger to move to less-crowded areas of the train, balancing loading and unloading times at all doors.
The articulated trainsets aren’t arriving with any of the current rolling stock orders. The R179s and R211s won’t feature open gangways. So it’ll likely be until the mid-2020s that we see any such cars hit the rails in New York. By then, the R62 cars currently in use on the 1 and 3 lines will be nearing retirement age, and the 1 in particular would be a prime line for articulated cars as, outside of the old South Ferry station, the curves are essentially non-existent.
So why then don’t we have these open gangways already? Back in 2009, Yonah Freemark tackled the question and received the following response from an MTA spokesman: “MTA New York City Transit had considered an articulated train which was proposed by Kawasaki under the R110A contract. The proposal was, however, rejected by us due to the impact it would have had on the project’s budget and schedule…We may take another look at articulated trains in the future if and when we have a budget for Research and Design for an entirely new subway car.”
Basically, as with anything new, it cost too much. But now the MTA has a twenty-year plan and a vision for future train sets. If the tunnels can handle them, the next-gen rolling stock should have open gangways. It’s a minor improvement that can make a dent in reducing overcrowding and improving ease of movement in crowded subway cars.