Archive for Rolling Stock

Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a funny relationship with the MTA. When the agency has good news that’s bound to grab headlines — such as fancy renderings of the next generation of rolling stock — he’s front and center with a press conference at the Transit Museum, his new favorite spot. When the news is bad, it’s everyone else’s responsibility to get the word out. That is, of course, his prerogative as the state’s chief executive, but that dynamic was on display again on Monday during Cuomo’s unveiling of the new designs.

The event was a sudden one, announced early on Monday morning during a period of the summer usually devoid of transit news. And once we drill down on the news, the developments came via the renderings rather than the initiatives. The announcement, a welcome one to be sure, served as a follow-up to both previous Cuomo news and long-standing MTA initiatives. Yet, for all of my skepticism, Cuomo deserves some credit as he’s pushing the MTA to move faster than the agency is used to moving, and riders should benefit.

Monday’s press conference focused around Cuomo’s plan to close 31 stations for speedier renovation work and the MTA’s plan to bring open gangway rolling stock to the New York City subway. The news isn’t new, but the renderings are. And they admittedly look good.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna's design for the new subway cars.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna’s design for the new subway cars.

These projects are part of the $27 billion five-year capital plan on which Cuomo finally focused earlier this year, and he’s taking his valedictory lap while the going is good. “New York deserves a world-class transportation network, worthy of its role as the heartbeat of the 21st century economy,” he said. “The MTA design team developed a bold and visionary reimagining of the quintessential commuter experience, incorporating best practices from global transit systems, and focusing on our core mission to renew, enhance and expand. We are going to do more than renovate; we are bringing subway stations to a higher standard than ever before, and the new vision for subway cars will increase capacity and reduce overcrowding and delays.”

That last element is key. At a time when upgrading the signal system to accommodate more trains will take years or decades, changing the design of the New York City subway cars to bring it in line with international standards can improve capacity by around 8-10 percent without much additional expense. After all, rolling stock replacement is part of the MTA’s regular investment cycle, and adding open gangways represents a negligible cost in excess of the money spent on a new cars.

Monday’s announcement came couched in some interesting language. The MTA has the option to add “up to 750” cars with open gangways, but the plans are still as they were a few months ago. As part of the upcoming R-211 contract, the agency is going to order a 10-car pilot to test open gangways. If this test is successful, the agency can order an additional 740 cars with open gangways. This was the plan in January, and it remains the plan now. But the bidding will start soon as Cuomo puts pressure on the agency to speed up the procurement process. Still, it’s my understanding the first open gangways won’t arrive for 40 months or so, and if the contract is awarded before the end of the year, it’ll still be 2020 before the prototypes arrive.

Cuomo deserves praise for moving this process along, but the MTA has been working on this for years. It’s an important distinction to make. Meanwhile, in addition to open gangways, the cars will come with improved grab bars and doorways that are 58 inches wide instead of 50 inches. The colors incorporate the state’s blue and gold motif and align with the buses Cuomo has been pushing. Flip seats (that likely will always remain down), dynamic video screens and USB charging ports (always) are features of the new cars as well. The properly-hued subway bullets are making their triumphant return as well, a welcome part of the new design. If anything, now, the New York City subways will be aligned with international design standards, and the renderings produced by Antenna, the company behind the WMATA’ss 7000 series rolling stock and the LinkNYC kiosks, did a great job.

The design-build subway stations will include numerous upgrades to enhance the passenger experience.

The design-build subway stations will include numerous upgrades to enhance the passenger experience.

Meanwhile, we have a better idea of the new station design as well. As part of the MTA’s effort to speed up work, the agency is implementing a design-build process at 31 stations that were, not coincidentally, up for renovation. The new look includes better lighting and wayfinding, countdown clocks (somehow on the B division), new floor materials and, of course, USB charging ports. Everything in 2016 must have USB charging ports. The first three stations to get this treatment are Prospect Ave., Bay Ridge Ave. and 53rd St. along the BMT’s 4th Ave. line and work should begin either by the end of the year or early in 2017. As the renderings show, it’s a modern look for the MTA’s subway stations which are brighter and seemingly friendlier.

Redesigned station entrances will feature dynamic screens that provide updated subway service status messages.

Redesigned station entrances will feature dynamic screens that provide updated subway service status messages.

This is all good news and should be accepted as good news. It’s easy to focus on the MTA’s big picture problems, but at the same time, constant investment in the state of good repair of the infrastructure involves well designed rolling stock and technologically advanced stations. The open gangways help with capacity and delays caused by crowded trains; the stations create a more welcoming environment. The MTA needs to continue to grow and invest in the long-term less sexy projects that will truly expand transit, but if Cuomo wants to focus on the MTA, let’s let him.

As a closing note, it was interesting to hear the Governor speak about his renewed emphasis on transit. He told one story about his family. ““My daughters were home for the weekend,” he said. “They came up to Westchester, and I got the lecture about the MTA.” Trains were too crowded, and they wanted dad, who’s in charge of the MTA, to do something about it. But there’s another side to this as well, as Dana Rubinstein related. When pressed on the renewed focus on transit investment, he responded with a tautology. There is a new emphasis on the MTA “because there is a new emphasis on the MTA.” And that’s where we are right now.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced some design changes and upgrades for the subway this morning. I’ll have the details in a full post tonight, but to wet your whistle, an early glimpse at the renderings. Enjoy.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna's design for the new subway cars.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna’s design for the new subway cars.

Flip seats will allow for my car capacity at peak hours.

Flip seats will allow for my car capacity at peak hours.

Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Categories : Rolling Stock
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These new strip maps will soon be installed in all 2 and 5 trains. (Photo: New York City Transit)

These new strip maps will soon be installed in all 2 and 5 trains. (Photo: New York City Transit)

Since the R142s debuted on the 2 and 5 lines in 2000, one of the quirks of the strip map system has been its inflexibility. The maps in the cars were assigned a certain line, and if a set of cars with a 2 line map runs as a 5 train instead, the map simply says “not in service.” Unlike the FIND displays in the newer cars that can be changed based on train route, these maps were a relic of an inflexible system.

A few months ago, a new map showed up in one 10-car set which had both the 2 and 5 lines on the same map and could be personalized for whichever line the train is running on. In other words, if the train in question is running on the 2, the map will show the 2, and if the train is running on the 5, the map will show 5 line stops. No more “not in service” signs.

Now, as Transit announced on Friday, the agency will outfit all R142s that run on the 2 and 5 with these new maps. The agency says “the map redesign is consistent with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s initiative to improve the customer experience with modern amenities.” Transit President Ronnie Hakim explained further, ““We are taking this opportunity to replace strip maps that are more than a decade old and going a step further to improve customer communication by creating this new strip map that shows both the 2 and 5 routes from end to end. The combined strip map lets us reassign trains more fluidly and shows our customers where they’re going, regardless of the train they’ve boarded. The redesign will alleviate customer confusion when trains are reassigned or rerouted from one line to another.”

Unfortunately, this new map, while more useful, is a bit of a mess from an ease-of-use perspective and isn’t as flexible as the FIND system. But it’s a step up from the old system. I’m rather skeptical though that passengers are itching at the bit for a strip map slightly easier to use rather than more frequent service or an expanded system. Cuomo may be able to take credit for this upgrade, but it’s a hollow victory for him.

After the jump, this weekend’s service advisories. Due to the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, some of these changes run into Tuesday morning. Enjoy the long weekend. I’ll be back on Monday night. Read More→

The MTA released a conceptual rendering of the open gangway prototype the agency plans to include in the R211 rolling stock order.

The MTA released a conceptual rendering of the open gangway prototype the agency plans to include in the R211 rolling stock order.

As the MTA struggles to expand subway capacity to meet current ridership demands, the idea of rolling stock design has come under scrutiny. A few years ago, the MTA, to the public’s dismay, floated the idea of making a certain number of cars per train seatless during rush hour, but that didn’t go far. Another proposal, which is standard design in a number of international cities, is now getting its day in the sun. That idea is of course open gangways, and in MTA Board materials released this weekend, we now have a glimpse of what the MTA is envisioning for their prototype.

Open gangways are a familiar sight to international travelers, and in fact, one needs to travel no farther than Montreal or Toronto to experience this rolling stock design. The idea is simple: By sealing in and opening up the space in between cars, open gangways create freedom of movement and more space for passengers. It’s a safer design that eliminates the problems of isolated subway or metro cars and can increase capacity by around 8-10 percent per subway train. That we do not have them already, MTA sources have told me, is a mix of agency fears at doing something viewed by New Yorkers as “different” even if it exists elsewhere and some manageable engineering concerns about these types of cars’ ability to handle tight curves.

A few weeks ago, I explored how the 2015-2019 Capital Plan features an open gangway prototype order. For the upcoming R211 rolling stock, 10 cars out of 950 will include an open gangway design so the MTA can test this feature for future use. It’s a disappointingly modest part of a rolling stock order expected to by in service until the 2060s or 2070s. But hold that thought.

This weekend, the MTA released the rendering you see above. Intriguingly, the image suggests a June 4, 2013 creation date. So clearly the agency has been bandying this idea about for a few years. That it is taking so long to come to fruition, even on a pilot basis, is indicative of the MTA’s hesitant approach to ideas that are “new” to New York. (Considering how early 20th century subway cars featured open gangways, we could argue the semantics of whether these designs are actually new to New York for hours. Either way, they are new to the MTA in a post-1968 world.)

In accompanying materials [pdf], the MTA simply notes that the objectives for the $2.3 billion R211 order includes expanding capacity through better design. It’s not clear if, when the prototypes are successful, the agency could retrofit the R211s for additional open gangway train sets or if the MTA could amend an order in progress. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this plan during the committee meetings on Monday, but I hope this option exists. Otherwise, having around 1 percent of one rolling stock model feature open gangways won’t do much for the MTA’s capacity concerns.

And therein lies the rub. If the MTA receives these open gangway cars in the early 2020s and determines the design is feasible for many subway lines, the window for system-wide adaption will have closed for decades. The agency brags that 56 percent of its fleet is, at most, 15 years old, and the upcoming orders — the delayed R179s, the R188s, the rest of the R211s — aren’t open gangway train sets. Thus, the next order of cars that could be all open gangways won’t arrive until the late 2020s, and the MTA’s full complement of subway cars wouldn’t have these open gangways until the mid-2070s. By then, I hope another phase or two of the Second Ave. Subway is open as well. A slow approach to seemingly-innovative designs that are de rigueur elsewhere will get us nowhere.

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An alternate universe NYC subway train arriving at Columbus Circle on Tuesday night. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

An alternate universe NYC subway train arriving at Columbus Circle on Tuesday night. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

After work last night, I took a trip to my old stomping ground on the Upper West Side to catch Mike LeDonne’s Hammond B3 organ quartet at the jazz club Smoke near 106th and Broadway. It’s been a Tuesday night tradition for over a decade now, and I’d highly recommend it. Usually, I’d take the 1 train from Midtown, but the MTA had a different idea. When the West Side IRT local pulled into Columbus Circle, the train proclaimed itself, oddly enough, a green 10.

A few passengers waiting for the train did a double-take, similar to the surprised looks that fill unsuspecting subway riders’ faces when the Nostalgia Train rolls up, and then, everyone got on. For the transit literati among us, it’s always a treat when a train with an improperly set rollsign shows up because it provides a window to a subway route that never was (and likely never will be). The 10 is just one of those routes.

As is evident from the green 10 bullet, at one point in developing the rollsigns on the R62 and R62A cars, the MTA reserved this route designation for the Lexington Ave. line. The agency never assigned the 10 to a route, but it’s safe to assume it would have served to differentiate today’s 5 trains. Perhaps the 10 could have been used for Nereid Ave.-bound East Side IRT trains.

The 10 isn’t alone as an unused route bullet. The 11 train was reserved for the 7 line. It could have indicated express service, but the MTA went with a diamond 7 instead. Other rollsigns have been known to offer a glimpse at a green 8 or 12, also indicating potential route designations for Lexington Ave. service. There’s a red 13 out there and, of course, the dearly departed 9 train should the West Side need extra route numbers as well.

Ultimately, though, these are a dying breed. When the R62 and R62A rolling stock sets are completely phased out by the end of the 2020s, the IRT rollsigns will go with them. Instead, colored bullets on train cars will go the way of the dodo, and we’ll have what we have today on new cars: bright red lights that don’t allow you to see what train is arriving until it’s nearly in the station. Of course, the IRT’s countdown clocks obviate the need for such a distinction, but I’ve always found something endearingly comforting about the subway bullets. They match the colors of the route lines on the subway map and system signage, and they otherwise give cohesion and character to otherwise anonymous subway cars. An N is a Q at the touch of a button, but the 10 train I rode in is a quirk of human error.

All good things must come to an end, though, and much like the rail fan window, the rollsigns — which look pretty cool when unfurled — will join transit history. As long as we get those open gangway trains sooner rather than later, though, I’ll bid the 10 train, and the 13 and 11 and 8 and 12, a fond farewell.

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Open gangways on the Berlin U-Bahn's U6. These so-called großprofil cars are spacious, and the design does wonders for passenger flow and crowding.

A photo posted by Second Ave. Sagas (@secondavesagas) on

When the MTA released its revised capital plan earlier this fall, a few tidbits caught my eye. Although I mentioned them via the Second Ave. Sagas Twitter account, I failed to write the follow-up posts. So let’s revisit these items, starting today with the promise open gangways.

The concept of rolling stock with open gangways — articulated train sets — is one of those not-in-New York ideas we’ve come to know and warily examine over the years. The MTA has issued numerous excuses — tight curves, safety concerns that were valid 25 or 30 years ago — that seem to ring hollow, and every now and then, the agency nods at the idea of five-car sets with open walkways. The last serious consideration came in 2013 when the MTA’s 20-year needs document acknowledged the benefits of rolling stock with open gangways.

For the MTA, a design with open gangways is a long overdue need. It’s an easy way to boost subway capacity by, as we explored earlier this year, around 8-10 percent per subway train without increasing the frequency of a line, and as anyone who’s ridden the rails at rush hour lately can attest to, any capacity increase would help. So what’s the plan? It is, of course, a pilot.

According to the revised MTA 2015-2019 capital plan, the agency would purchase 10 open-gangway prototype cars with the $52.4 million expenditure allocated for 2016. For now, these prototypes are lumped in with the R-211 order that is supposed to start replacing the R46s over the next few years. It’s not yet clear where the MTA would run the open gangway prototype cars, how these cars would be designed or what the future holds for open gangways. When I last asked MTA officials about such a design, they told me that certain curves in Lower Manhattan may preclude running rolling stock with open gangways on all lines but that the MTA is committed to testing and, if possible, implementing a design with open gangways in the future.

Whenever this topic comes up, the usual complaints and critiques arise. In a Times article in 2013, the generation that remembers the Bad Old Days worried about crime. “Remember the time when we were in the high-crime era and gangs were roaming through the trains?” MTA Board member Andrew Albert said to Matt Flegenheimer. “Everybody loved the locked end doors.” Subway crime, of course, is at all-time lows and shows no signs of any meaningful increase. It ain’t the 1980s any longer.

Meanwhile, others have complained about disruptive buskers and the odors from homeless subway residents rendering half a train inhospitable rather than just one subway car. To this, I say it is New York exceptionalism at its finest, and we are not the special butterflies some would have us believe we are. These open gangways were standard operating procedure on the train lines I experienced in Berlin, Stockholm and Paris this past summer, and they worked great. Passengers could spread out through multiple subway cars, and the buskers moved on. Solving the homeless problem also shouldn’t prevent us from solving the more important capacity crunch, and as rolling stock comes up for replacement, eking out additional space via efficient design should be a priority.

So do we dare get our hopes up? Only 10 of the next 950 cars the MTA plans to order through the next capital plan will feature open gangways, and those that come online over the next few years will be expected to last another four or five decades. In other words, it’ll be a while before articulated train sets become standard. But this is a start, and a start is more than what we’ve had in the past.

After over three decades of transportation work, NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco retired on Friday. (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

I don’t have too much to say here for now about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s week. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I don’t have a particularly high opinion of him, and I think his reactionary response to even consider removing the Times Square pedestrian plazas due to a bunch of half-naked women is very telling. He’s ineffective and doesn’t understand the constituency that put him in charge. I may write more, but check out Twitter for my shorter thoughts. I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t even the Democratic nominee for mayor in 2017.

In Transit news, Friday was New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco’s last day on the job, and earlier this week, he gave an exit interview to amNew York. The takes are short, but Bianco offers some tantalizing tidbits, including this on upcoming subway car design:

The MTA is looking for a car that can last over 40 years and carry many people. “You may be able to fit more by looking at the seating arrangements — if you need to have seats down at all times,” said Bianco. “These are things on our minds as we design cars, and we see the crowds we have. What can we do to get more people on? Can we widen the doors, is that possible? Can we find a way so that people don’t stand near the doors, and people can get in and out? That’s all in design with our engineers.”

To me it sounds as though Bianco is talking about reviving the 2010 flip-seat pilot that went nowhere. That seems like a red herring, and I still don’t understand why the MTA is so resistant to open gangways. I explored this very topic in April and then saw open gangways in action throughout Europe this past summer. It’s a no-brainer really and one the MTA should implement immediately. The MTA is still seeking for a successor to Bianco.

Finally, weekend service changes. After the jump, find out how you can get around this weekend. Read More→

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The first R179s will not be delivered until 2018, four years later than promised. (Rendering via Bomardier)

The rolling stock on the C line has become something of a running joke. Every summer, the MTA replaces the R32s with fancy new cars due to concerns over air conditioning power, and every fall, riders are disappointed when the cars, which debuted during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in 1964, make their return. Had all gone according to plan, the MTA would be gearing up to phase out those 51-year-old subway cars along with the R42s in use on the J/Z line. But all has not gone according to plan, and it’s about to cost the MTA at least $50 million over the next few years.

The story first came to us from Dan Rivoli. The Daily News transit reporter combed through copious amounts of MTA budget documents to find the note on Page V-222 of this pdf file. In this brief note, the MTA notes that final delivery of the R179s has been pushed back a few years, and “increased revenue service fleet requirements” means these cars can’t be retired until 2022, five years later than expected. Maintenance to keep the the ancient rolling stock moving will total $1.1 million next year, $15.9 million 2017, $17.7 million in 2018, and $15.5 million in 2019.

The delay stems from performance issues with Bombardier. The Canada-based manufacture had been, to much fanfare in 2012 from the governor, set to produce these cars in its Plattsburgh, NY plant, but delivery, originally scheduled to begin this year, is not on time. The MTA and Bomardier said to DNA Info that a welding issue is to blame, and New York’s isn’t the only transit agency experiencing trouble with the company. Toronto’s TTC may terminate a billion-dollar contract with Bombardier over delivery delays, and the company is going through some economic turbulence these days.

So what exactly went wrong? With the company remaining silent, it’s hard to say, and it’s not as though they’re new to the game. Bombardier had fulfilled various rolling stock orders throughout the 1980s and 1990s for Metro-North, Transit and the LIRR. In fact, the 1030-car R142 order consists entirely of Bombardier-made rolling stock.

Yet, a closer look at the MTA’s board documents from early 2012 [pdf] reveals some early caution flags. Bombardier’s bid of $599 million for the rolling stock order came in under a bid by an Alstom/Kawaski. In its board materials, the MTA noted a cost savings of around $12.4 million — a total that has been completely wiped away by Bombardier’s late delivery. The bid assessment notes that Bombardier’s technical presentation was “acceptable” but that the ALSKAW bid “ranked higher” in “technical merit.” In other words, ALSKAW was better positioned to deliver on the specs of the R179 order, but Bombardier offered a better price. Since the MTA hadn’t disqualified Bombardier, the company won the contract, and here we are.

Originally, Bombardier was to deliver the test set of the R179s late last year with the remainder split between delivery around now and early 2017. Now, new cars won’t start arriving until 2018, and much to the consternation of regular riders, retirement won’t arrive until early next decade. The R32s, which average only 58,101 miles between breakdowns, will have to keep chugging along until then, and while I hate to draw conclusions on a company that had delivered on promises in the past, I am tempted to say that you get what you pay for. It’s a lesson in low-bid contracts we learn over and over again.

On that note, I’ll leave you tonight with art from one of those regular C train riders who can’t wait for the R32s to be reefed. WNYC’s Jim O’Grady has quite the pen on this one.

Categories : Rolling Stock
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The open gangway of an articulated train in Paris.

While visiting Montreal last year — a city on the same landmass as ours — I had the opportunity to enjoy a few subway rides on the city’s rubber-tired Metro. The trains had a special sound to it, generally quieter than the screech of New York’s subways, and the trainsets were a revelation as well. The concept of open gangways — articulated subway cars with no doors or gaps between cars — has filtered through the United States, but it is alive and well in Montreal, lending more capacity to a modest Metro.

In New York City, where capacity problems are obvious every morning, every evening and every weekend, the MTA’s response has been halting and insufficient. As I wrote recently, the agency is ill prepared to deal with the crowds today and hasn’t adequate prepared for tomorrow. Even a fully funded 2015-2019 capital plan won’t do much to solve the subway’s capacity crunch, and although the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway is a start, by itself, it won’t be the answer.

There are incremental solutions though, and open gangways are an easy one. London, in fact, has found that open gangways could increase train capacity by ten percent alone. The MTA hasn’t really dabbled with open gangways but has acknowledged their existence. The 2013 Twenty-Year Needs Assessment identified open gangways as a potential innovation on the horizon, and transit advocates noted that the MTA is one of the largest system in the world without such cars. Could this be yet another case of New York exceptionalism? It certainly seems so.

Over at The Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark wonders why American transit agencies have ignored open gangways. Looking at available data, Freemark finds that nearly every transit agency except those in the United States have embraced this type of rolling stock, and he doesn’t understand why. He writes of global trends and New York, in particular:

Open gangways provide a number of advantages: One, they expand capacity by allowing riders to use the space that typically sits empty between cars. This added capacity means that a metro line can carry more people with trains of the same length. Two, it allows passengers to redistribute themselves throughout the train while the vehicle is moving, reducing problems associated with many people boarding in the same doorway, such as slow exiting times and poorly distributed standees. Three, it increases safety at times of low ridership by increasing the number of “eyes” in the train. There are no obvious downsides…

[The MTA], like others around the country, has the opportunity to address some of its problems through the purchase of these trains. On the congested Lexington Avenue Line…about 45.6 feet of each train’s 513.3-foot length is used up by the empty four feet between each car and the 10 feet reserved for the cabs at the center of the trains. That means that, if the Lexington Avenue Line were transitioned to trains with open gangways, the line could gain almost an entire car-length of capacity on every train. That’s practically as much relief as the Second Avenue Subway will provide—at the cost of trains that would be purchased anyway…

Open gangways are hardly the end-all be-all of transit operations. They won’t guarantee better service or necessarily attract more riders. And they may not be able to resolve some issues, such as the fact that Washington’s Metro runs trains of different car lengths on each line. But the fact that every U.S. transit agency—with the exception of Honolulu’s—has failed to adopt to this trend and has no plans to change, raises important questions. Just how much are the management of these transit agencies isolating themselves from world best practice? This is hardly an isolated case. The fact that transit agencies around the world are transitioning infrequent suburban rail operations into frequent regional rail services seems to be lost on most U.S. commuter rail agencies.

Freemark notes as well his own skepticism that “this technology is just ‘not possible’ on historic U.S. systems,” and his is a skepticism I share. That it has worked everywhere else is a clear sign that whatever barriers to implementation exist in the United States are those set up by our own agencies’ failures rather than by something unique to this country.

For its part, the MTA has claimed developing a new subway car would cost too much in design spending, but as we reach a capacity crisis, what’s the alternative? If it takes 10 years and billions of dollars just to build a new subway stop, the next rolling stock purchases should all have open gangways. At this point, though, we won’t see such designs in New York City for at least ten years, if at all, and that’s just a failure of problem solving at a time when we need executives to be thinking outside the (American) box.

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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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