Home Rolling Stock Another look at the MTA and open gangways

Another look at the MTA and open gangways

by Benjamin Kabak

The open gangway of a Metro train in Paris.

When the MTA released its 20 Year Needs Assessment report earlier this month, I took a closer look at the paragraph calling for open gangways in the next-generation subway car design. By copying the design of articulated buses and essentially creating one long subway car that encourages passenger flow, the MTA believes this design — in use the world over — would “maximize carrying capacity” while “balancing loading and unloading times at all doors.”

As this is New York, where, if we didn’t invent it here, we have to study it to death, the MTA has cautioned that open gangways aren’t on the horizon any time soon. The R211s, the next new rolling stock order, won’t have them, and it’s likely that open gangways wouldn’t be considered until the mid-2020s when the cars put into use in the mid-1980s are due for replacement. Still, that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the novelty of this Shiny New Thing, and in The Times today, Matt Flegenheimer teases out a story on subway cars.

By and large, The Times piece rehashes the promise of the 20 Year Needs Assessment. The MTA, throwing some cold water on this fire, warns that “any major change require[s] extensive review,” and the usual suspects worry about passenger safety concerns more valid 30 years ago. “Remember the time when we were in the high-crime era and gangs were roaming through the trains?” Andrew Albert, MTA Board member, said to The Times. “Everybody loved the locked end doors.”

But there are some lessons from Toronto, a close neighbor that enjoys the open gangway designs:

Elsewhere, the trains have proved largely successful. Brad Ross, a spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission, which began using an “open gangway” model two years ago, said capacity had increased by 8 percent to 10 percent.

In the model’s early months, Mr. Ross said, passengers would often let trains with traditional cars pass them by, preferring the features — or at least the novelty — of the new ones.

But there have been pitfalls. Mr. Ross said that young children have been disappointed that the conductor cab occupies the entire width of a car, precluding the pastime of peering into the tunnel from a front window. “An amusement ride no more,” he said.

Young children and old railfan window watchers alike have long since grown accustomed to the full-width conductor cabs in New York City as that design was introduced to the subways years ago. But the capacity increases are alluring. For nothing more than the cost of a new order of rolling stock and an extensive study of how these cars would work in New York, the MTA can boost train capacity significantly. Open gangways are by far the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to increase capacity, and for that reason alone the MTA should be aggressive in pursuing this design.

As an RPA official noted to The Times, New York City is well behind the curve, and it’s time to catch up. “We’re one of the largest systems in the world that doesn’t do it,” Richard Barone, the RPA’s director of transportation programs, said. “Our trains don’t function right now to allow people to circulate.”

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Spamalot October 21, 2013 - 7:55 am

I like the RPA official’ characterization of the city. Perhaps “big apple” and all the others should be replaced with “well behind the curve”.

John-2 October 21, 2013 - 9:49 am

Looking at some of the other transit forums, the biggest concerns with the articulateds from an operations standpoint seems to be the possible lack of access in-between the cars for the train operator and conductor during emergency situations. But there’s no reason why you have to have a full-length or even half-length articulated unit — the BMT’s articulated cars in the 1920s and 30s were generally three sections, and it seems like that would work here — a three-section unit of 50-foot sections on the B Division would allow four of those to make up a 600-foot train and would still allow for access between the cars every 150 feet while increasing capacity.

(And unlike the 75-foot cars, 150-foot artics split into three sections could go anywhere in the B Division, though three units of those on the J, L, M or Z routes would lose 30 feet of train if the MTA ran them in place of eight 60-foot cars on the Eastern Division.)

al October 26, 2013 - 11:45 am

Again. Enough with the equivocation between adjacent rail cars that share bogie and train cars that have the conventional 2 truck one car body setups that can decouple and roll on their own. What we’re talking about there is conventional train cars with fully enclosed gangways.

I also don’t get why the R211 contract doesn’t include this. The Toronto Rocket and R46 have the same truck center distances (54′), and roughly the same car lengths (76′ to 75′).

LLQBTT October 21, 2013 - 9:55 am

For transit modernization, the LAST place to look in NYC.

Tsuyoshi October 21, 2013 - 9:57 am

This might help capacity quite a bit. Those of us who pick cars based on seat availability realize that, on entering a station, many people stop walking as soon as they reach the platform. That is, the most crowded cars are usually the ones that line up with the entrances at the busiest stations.

On the other hand, again, on entering a train, many people stop walking as soon as they can, and crowd the doorway.

But if Toronto found 10% more capacity this way, that’s a hard number that should be factored into new car purchases. In theory, as well as helping the crowded routes (4, 7, L, etc.) we could save money by cutting service on the less crowded routes (C, M, R, etc.).

Tower18 October 21, 2013 - 10:39 am

You cannot cut service on the C, M, R (or J, etc.) any more. They already run at 10 minute daytime intervals, which is the lowest it can go for a “real” line.

It’s too bad about the C, there’s a lot of people living along that line that the C is very busy during peak periods, but it doesn’t have a lot of off-peak ridership AT ALL, except along CPW on the weekends, with the tourists. Coming into Hoyt-Schemerhorn in Brooklyn in the morning, the C is pretty packed usually.

Alex October 21, 2013 - 5:32 pm

Thank you! As an R rider, I get very tired of the notion that frequency should be determined solely by capacity. Plus, when you cut service you discourage people to ride that line even more. So you get into a vicious cycle of declining ridership > cut service > declining ridership > cut service. So no, increased car capacity does not mean you can cut service on the already infrequent lines.

Andrew October 21, 2013 - 11:38 pm

NYCT’s loading guidelines and policy headways are on pages 26-31: http://www.mta.info/mta/compliance/pdf/1269d.pdf

The rush hour loading guidelines get more and more generous as frequency drops, and daytime trains (except on Sunday) are never supposed to run at less than 6 tph, regardless of loading, for the very reason you point out.

On the other hand, if the operating budget is limited (and it most certainly is), it doesn’t make sense to overserve a line that has relatively low ridership.

The R normally (when Montague is open) runs every 6 minutes during rush hours (the same as the rest of the southern Brooklyn BMT) and every 10 minutes off-peak (the same as almost all of the B Division). It’s not an especially infrequent line by any stretch of the imagination – a number of lines have less frequent rush hour service.

Andrew October 21, 2013 - 11:59 pm

I question the 10% figure, at least in the New York context.

A 10 car B Division train has a guideline capacity of 1450 riders. Say that adding 8 open gangways provides 10% extra capacity – that’s 145 additional riders per train, or 18.125 riders per gangway.

Guideline capacity is based on 3 square feet per standee. In order to increase capacity by 10% over the length of the train, each gangway has to provide 54.375 square feet of standee space that’s unavailable in the present fleet.

On the current 60 foot cars, the distance from the storm door at the end of one car to the storm door at the beginning of the next car – i.e., the length of the space between the cars that would be enclosed by an open gangway – is about 3 feet. In order to provide 54.375 square feet, the gangway would have to be 18.125 feet wide. But the car is only 10 feet wide to begin with!

Working the other way around – if the gangway is about half the width of the car (similar to Toronto), or 5 feet wide, it is 15 square feet, which is enough space for 5 people. With 8 gangways per train, the gangways can accommodate 40 people over the length of the train, for a capacity increase of 2.8%.

No way it’s anywhere close to 10%. Just look at the numbers. Even if one of my inputs is off by a factor of 2, we’re only up to 5.6%.

Alon Levy October 22, 2013 - 2:28 am

1. Where do you get 3′ from?

2. Full-width gangways exist. I’ve been trying to understand whether the MTA is looking at the gangways of Singapore or at those of Tokyo, and can’t get answers.

3. People stand at lower densities near car ends, which is not the case for walk-through trains. They also distribute themselves better given walk-through trains. 10% may not be a figure for total floor area, but for a total imputed floor area with car-end penalties.

Andrew October 22, 2013 - 10:22 pm

1. Gut feeling. I checked it this afternoon (by comparing the distance from storm door to storm door against the 1 ft x 1 ft platform tiles) and it’s actually about 4 feet.

So, recalculating, to achieve the supposed 10% gain, the gangway would “only” have to be 13.594 feet wide, not 18.125 feet wide – on a 10 foot wide car.

Calculating the other way, if the gangway is 5 feet wide, its total area is 20 square feet, enough space for 6.67 people per gangway, or 53.33 people per train, for a capacity increase of 3.7%. We’re still short of the 10% claim by a factor of nearly 3.

2. Full-width gangways exist, but they can’t be used anywhere. In fact, they’re pretty uncommon in rapid transit settings – I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re only practical with true articulation (i.e., no end excess at all). By the way, I haven’t been to Singapore or Tokyo myself, but based on a bit of Google research, both seem to have roughly half-width gangways. Which do you claim is full-width?

3. Open gangways do provide for better distribution, but that’s a different issue from capacity. If a train is full to capacity, then people are standing at high densities throughout, and gangways increase capacity (based on my assumptions) by about 3.7%.

How much would open gangways add to the cost of the car order? Is it worth spending that much to gain 3.7% (adjust that number up or down depending on the actual feasible width of the gangway as based on an engineering assessment)?

Note that, if open gangways are incompatible with the notion of 75 foot cars, as I very strongly suspect, and there are no other pressing reasons to reject 75 foot cars, then the cost of open gangways for the R211 order effectively includes the cost of shifting from a 752 car order of 75 foot cars to a 940 car order of 60 foot cars.

Alon Levy October 23, 2013 - 1:09 am

Singapore is close to full-width, without articulation. (Tokyo is not.) It looks about three quarters at least.

When a train is full to capacity, people do not in fact stand at the same density throughout. Some designs are more efficient at it than others (for example, having doors on each side of the car not aligned with each other helps distribute the load better). 2+2 seating is awful at it, not just because there’s less standing space but also because the narrow corridors between rows of seats are uncomfortable to stand in, wasting standing space. Barriers between cars work like 2+2 seating, in that they make load distribution less efficient.

DF October 21, 2013 - 9:58 am

“Adam Lisberg, the authority’s chief spokesman, said that increased capacity could improve “dwell time” — the period during which a train is stopped in a station, often because of overcrowding — and allow more trains to run.” I can’t understand this – if you are putting more people on the train through the same number of doors wouldn’t that be expected to worsen dwell time?

BoerumHillScott October 21, 2013 - 10:20 am

The theory is that if people have more space to move, then loads will be more even along the length of the train.
It is not the average passengers per door that crates dwell time, but the number of passengers for the most crowded door.

DF October 21, 2013 - 10:27 am

OK, so this is meant to improve time to get people off (but not on). But don’t people who ride during rush hours (mostly people who ride frequently and know exactly where they are going) pick their location based on where they want to exit, subject to crowding near those doors?

Tower18 October 21, 2013 - 10:43 am

To a certain extent, yes, but with open gangways, people can continue to move/be shoved deeper into the car (actually, into the next car) as there is no wall at the end of the car. This provides more room for everyone.

Think of an articulated bus where at least a few people can stand actually in the articulated section, and also allow movement into the adjacent car during crowding situations.

Avi October 21, 2013 - 12:09 pm

The open gangways are being considered for the R211s not the following order.

Lady Feliz October 21, 2013 - 1:48 pm

I’d be happy with platforms that don’t smell like piss, and the removal of stinky-assed homeless people who play with their junk while stinking up the whole car. Guess that’s too much to ask…

JJJJ October 21, 2013 - 4:05 pm

“As this is New York, where, if we didn’t invent it here, we have to study it to death,”

Thats not just NYC, its american exceptionalism.

Bolwerk October 21, 2013 - 4:11 pm

Is Flegenheimer peering at the subway from his SUV? Indeed full-width cabs are pretty commonplace now and, nice as the railfan window was, they work great.

Also, did they really lock doors in the bad old days? I seem to remember them usually being unlocked. It only became illegal to walk between cars a few years ago.

Serge October 21, 2013 - 5:08 pm

Increasing capacity? That means the cars will be even more crowded. That’s not the solution.

Peter Laws October 21, 2013 - 5:20 pm

A couple things to note. Toronto just started doing it and their system is much smaller than the one in Queens. Yes, I said Queens. Plus the TTC has a vested interest in saying it’s all good. Montreal’s next Metro cars will have it but not yet.

Chicago doesn’t have it, nor does the T in Boston. Mexico City? Philadelphia? I can’t think of any other big North American systems and by big, I mean 2nd through n, since the TA’s system is SO MUCH bigger.

What’s London doing? Paris? Tokyo? Those are the ones that are comparable to NYC.

JJJJ October 21, 2013 - 5:49 pm

Huh? Mexico City has been doing it for years.

And Paris is in the freaking post.

One shouldnt look at Boston or Philly for innovation in transit, ever.

Alon Levy October 21, 2013 - 8:30 pm

Toronto and Montreal are actually in a near-tie for second highest subway ridership in North America after New York. They’re far ahead of Washington, let alone Boston and Philadelphia.

London is introducing open gangways into its newer orders.

In photos, Tokyo and Seoul have semi-open gangways: the gangways are narrower than the rest of the car and there are doors between cars, but it’s still easy to open such doors.

Shanghai, which has more subway ridership than New York nowadays, has open gangways.

Singapore, the first subway system I’ve used (with about half as much ridership as New York), has open gangways.

Andrew October 22, 2013 - 12:06 am

London has open gangways on its subsurface line cars. The deep tube lines, which have tighter clearances (and probably sharper curves), do not have open gangways, not even on the new Victoria line cars.

Alon Levy October 22, 2013 - 2:43 am

The curves in Paris are tighter than in London, which is intending its next tube trains to be walk-through:

“Comparing the concept train with the Bombardier stock now entering service on the Victoria Line, Siemens said that the future design would offer a 30 tonne weight saving with 11% more capacity. Featuring wide gangways between cars, the trains would be 30% more energy-efficient” (link).

“The revived EVO stock ideas, as we show in the box, include walk-through cars, like those of the subsurface lines’ new S stock” (link).

Andrew October 22, 2013 - 10:31 pm

The first piece is about a Siemens demo. I have no idea if it’s been vetted by the agency that would actually operate the trains.

The second link is a lot more interesting – I hadn’t seen it before, so thank you. The plan is for truly articulated trains, with pairs of cars sharing trucks (bogies), which requires the cars to be shorter – 9 new cars for every 7 old cars, or a 29% increase in the number of cars. That’s a costly jump right there.

Alon Levy October 23, 2013 - 1:12 am

From the first link, “Siemens was asked by LU to develop a ‘concept train’ for the next round of replacement stock which will in due course be needed for the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines.”

Also, cars with fewer bogies are typically cheaper than cars with more bogies. That’s led some European regional railroads and even subways to get shorter cars with articulated bogies, which end up having fewer bogies per unit length. The TGV is also like that, and SNCF believes it reduces rolling stock maintenance costs. (This also exists in Japan but is much less common.)

Andrew October 22, 2013 - 12:04 am

Some systems have been implementing open gangways. Some have not.

I guarantee that every system that has implemented open gangways has first undertaken engineering studies to determine what sort of open gangway system is feasible given the specific constraints of that system, and has then looked at costs and benefits, risks and opportunities, before deciding to go ahead with them.

That’s the sort of analysis that needs to be taking place here – without it, open gangways can’t even be considered.

John T October 21, 2013 - 10:21 pm

Articulated trains are needed and can work.

The newest trains on London’s Hammersmith & City line are artiulcated and they are fine on that 150yo route.

One question are the switches, such as north of DeKalb to the Manhattan Bridge & 6th Avenue line – the Q train ends swish uite a bit on the switches there, same for the R train south of City Hall. Any articulated train would have to be designed to keep the car ends in line. Perhpas the trucks would be underneath each end.

Andrew October 22, 2013 - 12:22 am

I’m glad someone recognizes the end excess challenge. Unfortunately, simply sliding the trucks to the end of the car creates a center excess challenge. Using shorter cars with trucks at the ends simultaneously solves both the end excess and center excess problems but, since each train would be 12 or 13 or 14 or 15 cars long, it exacerbates the funding challenge!

John-2 October 22, 2013 - 12:29 am

On what’s essentially a 90-degree angle turn under Vescey Street for the R train between City Hall and Cortlandt, a 60 foot train with 10 cars would displace at somewhere between 30 and 40 degrees out of alignment, depending on the radius of the curve. The angle with the 75-foot cars would be sharper, which is why the end doors are locked (and also were on the 67-foot BMT Standards, so in general over the years 60 feet has been about the max car length those running the subways have felt comfortable with leaving the end doors open).

When the BMT had its artics running on the Broadway line from the mid-1920s to the early 60s, the end cars were 45 1/2-feet long and the center section 39 feet with about 3 1/2 feet between each section. So 137-foot units of articulated cars that size ran in the system for years with walk-through areas, but four units that size would only come out to 550 feet.

If you bumped up the length of each unit from 137 to 150 feet could they stay in line enough? Probably, since the sections of each unit would be roughly IRT car length, and those cars have always had open ends on the 5 train, even with the jug-handle turn at 149th-Grand Concourse, which is more severe than any turn on the B Division.

johndmuller October 22, 2013 - 12:30 am

I believe that the trucks are beneath the flex points (the cars/segments share trucks with their adjacent numbers). The front and rear cars/segments would be different, with a normally located truck a bit away from the end behaving as currently viz a viz swinging out beyond the tracks a little. For the non-end car/segments the potential problem would be with the sides hanging over the curves more than a standard car of the same length because of the larger wheelbase. Therefore, shorter car/segments might be necessary if curves are tight, thus undoing at least some of the capacity increase unless an entire additional section could be fit in.

Fewer trucks could have other implications as well. The weight would be more concentrated on each of the trucks and there would be fewer electrical pickups and drive wheels. I don’t know if these would be critical conditions or not. As there would only be two cars/segments with Cabs, there would be some cost savings there, although there would no longer be extra control-compartments readily available.


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