Two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported on the Obama Administration’s plan to promulgate federal regulations for local transit agencies. At the time, I was vehemently opposed to the regulations on three grounds, and I remain convinced of that position despite a recent editorial from The Times urging the FTA to pursue a national safety regulatory scheme.

My argument was a three-pronged attack on the idea. First, rail transit just isn’t dangerous enough to warrant federal intervention. While auto travel features an injury rate of 100 per 100 million miles and a fatality rate of around 1.27 per 100 million miles, train injury rates are 1.362 per 100 million miles, and the fatality rate is negligible. Second, past practices have shown how burdensome federal safety regulations are. Commuter rail lines and Amtrak trains are made to be too heavy to run at top speeds just so they can meet standards. Finally, because this would be another unfunded government mandate, it would be too much fiscal pressure on public transit authorities already struggling to stay afloat. In other words, it’s just a bad and unnecessary idea.

The editorial board of The Times thinks otherwise. Here’s their take:

The Obama administration wisely wants to end this disjunction by proposing that Congress extend federal standards to subway and light-rail lines now haphazardly regulated in more than two dozen city and regional systems. The safety rules and monitoring are shockingly toothless in too many jurisdictions, with the systems averaging less than one overworked safety worker.

The Washington accident happened on the second-busiest subway line in the nation. It is theoretically monitored by a tri-state committee that was found, however, to have no regulatory authority or enforcement workers.

Under the administration’s approach, the safety of subway and light-rail lines could remain under the jurisdiction of local authorities only if they agreed to upgraded equipment and monitoring standards set by the Department of Transportation. The alternative would be direct federal regulation. Federal money already subsidizes subway and light-rail growth, and it should be cut off to systems that cling to risky standards.

The government was barred from regulating subways and light rail in 1965 when home rule was a priority. But new systems have boomed since then, along with collisions and derailments. The National Transportation Safety Board has warned about the dangers for decades.

The choice for Congress is stark: Improve safety on light rail and subways, or wait for the next train wreck.

Apparently, according to The Times, because Washington’s three-headed WMATA doesn’t have sufficient safety oversight, other transit agencies should have to suffer under the weight of federal regulation as well. Why? Because they accept federal money to operate and grow. Meanwhile, The Times claims that “collisions and derailments” have boomed when that reality has not arrived.

This approach is, simply put, wrong. If the WMATA needs more stringent safety measures, then fine. The Feds oversee a third of the DC Metro and can do with it what they see fit. But cutting off federal funds to other transit agencies who refuse to follow stringent and oftentimes misguided regulations would set a bad precedent. In a time when we need to encourage more transit growth and use, the Administration should not implement measures antithetical to that goal.

If the federal government is willing to subsidize the implementation of costly safety standards while foisting maintenance costs onto local authorities, I would be more willing to support this measure. But the government should not be denying funds to agencies that can’t afford to upgrade already safe systems to meet stringent requirements. Considering that the largest local transit system in the country is in its own backyard, the editorial writers at The Times would do the city well to promote this plan and not the one they espoused today.

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LoseSomething

We’ve all seen the SubTalk poster promoting New York City Transit’s Lost and Found unit. Because of the presence of dentures, a seemingly used razor blade and a set of prosthetic legs, the ad generally elicits a disbelieving chuckle. There’s no way anyone has ever lost a pair of legs on the subway, right?

In a City Critic piece in The Times this weekend, Ariel Kaminer went behind the scenes at Transit’s Lost and Found department underneath the A/C/E platform at 34th St. and 8th Ave and found that, yes, a long-forgotten set of legs is in residence. You can see the legs right here.

But that’s just a part of the sideshow. Kaminer’s article is a generally optimistic take on the lost-and-found unit. She intentionally loses a few items and mostly recovers them a few days later. Along the way, she meets one formerly forlorn straphanger who was able to reclaim a lost cell phone; another who retrieved his wallet with the $70 still inside; and a third who recovered a blue canvas bag with most of her identifying papers in it. It is seemingly a minor miracle of the subway system.

Of the Lost and Found system, now mostly handled via its website, Kaminer writes:

Usually it takes 7 to 10 days for an item to make its way from a station attendant’s booth to a dispatcher, and so on up the line, but the station pickups are once a week, so if you’ve just missed one, it can take longer; Lost Property agents assured me that everything but perishable food is turned in.

I waited 10 days, then went to see if anything had turned up. Having expected the equivalent of a big cardboard box, I was impressed to find an operation closer to the Dewey Decimal System. Everything was sorted according to category and the month lost, and logged in a searchable electronic database, with an additional file of paper receipts for good measure…

My lost items were not anywhere near that valuable, which was a good thing, because after almost two weeks, all I got was an automated e-mail notice Friday afternoon saying one of the items may have appeared. The Lost Property Unit had already closed for the week, but I saw enough teary-eyed success stories to feel optimistic about the whole lost trove. I have a feeling I haven’t seen the last of that “Star Wars” umbrella.

It’s a nice story for a Sunday column, but to me, it seems to be nothing more than just a story. Two years ago, an MTA Inspector General’s report condemned the lost and found operations. At the time, just 18 percent of lost items were recovered, and 23 of 26 intentionally lost items were never logged into the system. Since then, Transit has debuted its new web-based system, and the recovery rate may have gone up.

Personally, I had a tale of Lost and Found woe earlier this year when my sunglasses fell out of my backpack. I didn’t notice for a few hours that I had lost them and when I did come to this realization, I was distraught. I filled out the detailed online form — where I lost them, when, what color, what brand — and waited. A few days later, I received an e-mail that said, “Based on the information provided, there is a possible match with an item(s) that has been received at the Lost Property Unit. Please contact or visit the Lost Property Unit for further information.”

At first, I tried calling the Lost Property Unit but with no luck. The phone would ring and ring and ring with no answer. So I hopped the train to Penn Station, went inside this windowless room and issued my inquiry. The woman who helped came back with some sunglasses, but none of them were mine. Apparently, according to the woman staffing the LPU, the system, in getting my hopes, didn’t differentiate between glasses cases or rely on the extensive description I had provided. It was a “possible” match but not a definite.

I appreciate Kaminer’s tale. It’s heartwarming to think that if one of the millions of people who ride the subway every day happens to lose something, he or she might actually get back it. It’s also highly improbable. That lost Star Wars has a new home, and it most likely isn’t a storage bin at Transit’s Lost Property Unit.

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With tourist season upon us, work is clearly slowing down across the city. Although the weekend service advisories are numerous, they generally don’t impact much of the service to and from Manhattan’s Central Business District. The Upper West Side is spared the 96th St. advisories, and trains are running through Fulton St. after last week’s troubles.

Anyway, you know the drill. Don’t forget to check out our map from Subway Weekender that shows just how the subway changes impact travel. Download this week’s version right here or by clicking on the image below. Remember: These weekend service changes come to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs in your local station and listen for on-board announcements for up-to-the minute changes. The specific alerts follow.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, uptown 1 trains skip 103rd, 110th, 116th, 125th, 137th, and 145th Streets due to flood mitigation work.


From 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, November 29, Manhattan-bound 2 trains skip Jackson Avenue due to track repairs and maintenance work at Jackson Avenue.


From 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, November 29, there are no 5 trains between 149th Street and East 180th Street due to track repairs and maintenance work at Jackson Avenue.


From 11:30 p.m. Saturday, November 28 to 12 noon Sunday, November 29, there are no 7 trains between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square-42nd Street due to track repairs and maintenance work at Court House Square. N trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. (Also, the 42nd Street shuttle will be in operation during this time.)


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to 125th Street, then express to 168th Street, then normal service to 207th Street. These changes are due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street and the track chip-out at 163rd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, Brooklyn-bound A trains run local from 168th Street to Euclid Avenue due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street.


From 10:30 p.m. Friday, November 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Far Rockaway and Beach 98th Street due to station rehab work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, there are no C trains running due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street. Customers should take the A instead. (Note: A trains run local in Manhattan and Brooklyn with exceptions. See above.)


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, uptown D trains run local from 125th Street to 145th Street due to the track chip-out at 163rd Street (The D replaces the suspended C at 135th Street.)


From 5 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, November 29, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to track panel installation at 20th Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, downtown D trains run local from 34th Street to West 4th Street due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street. (The D replaces the rerouted F.)


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, Jamaica-bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to power cable work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, Manhattan-bound F trains run on the E line from Roosevelt Avenue to 42nd Street, then on the A line to Jay Street due to CCTV installation at West 4th Street.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, November 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to track maintenance and power cable work. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 5 a.m. Saturday, November 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, November 29, the last stop for some Coney Island-bound N trains is Kings Highway due to track panel installation at 20th Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, free shuttle buses replace Q trains between Kings Highway and Coney Island Stillwell Avenue due to station rehab work at Avenue U and Neck Road.


From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, November 28 and Sunday, November 29, Queens-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to power cable work.


From 12:01 am to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, November 29, the 42nd Street shuttle runs overnight as a replacement for 7 service which is suspended for track maintenance and repairs at Court Square.


From 10:30 p.m. Friday, November 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 30, there are no S trains to Rockaway Park due to station rehab work at Beach 67th, Beach 44th, and Beach 25th Streets. Customers should take the A instead.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (2)
  • Pictures from the D train murder · As more stories from the 30 witnesses to last Saturday’s D train murder have come to light, so too have some photographs from inside the train car. Paola Nuñez Solorio, a 30-year-old photography student, was on the way home last weekend when Gerardo Sanchez allegedly stabbed Dwight Johnson. She pulled out her single-lens reflex camera and started taking pictures. The Times has published four of them, including a graphic one of the victim.

    Interestingly, Solorio says that the passengers grew quite panicked after Vincent Martinez pulled the emergency brake. They realized they were trapped in a subway car with someone who had just stabbed a man to death. “Everyone started running toward us. We thought there was a fight. Then we saw this guy with blood coming out of his mouth, and the killer right behind him, putting this thing away. I didn’t know what it was.” she said, later adding, “We didn’t know what to do. We were stuck with the killer.” · (2)

IMG_3372

The street-level entrance on the newly-reopened northbound platform at the BMT Broadway’s Cortlandt St. station. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

When the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, two subways around Lower Manhattan were badly damaged, but the MTA sprung into gear. Although both Cortlandt St. stops were destroyed, the station along the R/W and the 1 line south of Chambers St. — but not its Cortlandt St. station — reopened for service on Sept. 15, 2002. In 2005, though, the R/W station was again shuttered, this time to make way for various projects around Ground Zero.

On Wednesday, one platform at Cortlandt St. on the BMT Broadway line — the R/W station right near Century 21 — reopened. Although the southbound platform will remain closed until Sept. 11, 2011 to allow for Port Authority construction of their PATH train hub, the northbound platform — sans the Fulton St. Transit Center’s Dey St. connection — is in service for the first time in four years.

“Today we celebrate a significant step forward in the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan,” MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder said at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The MTA has played a key role in the revival of Downtown and we’re excited to provide customers with an improved station just in time for the holidays. The opening re-establishes a key travel link for Lower Manhattan residents, commuters, shoppers and tourists.”

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The new station isn’t a radical departure from the past as the new South Ferry is. Rather, Cortlandt St. features some basic improvements. The station, which used to service approximately 15,000 passengers a day, has wider staircases and platforms. The walls have been retiled, and the station is sporting a fresh coat of paint.

“The opening of the northbound platform signifies an important milestone towards the completion of the Fulton Street Transit Center Project,” Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction, said. “This is an important day for the community and we will continue this great momentum so that customers enjoy additional benefits as each element of the project is completed.”

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As MTA officials and New York politicians gathered yesterday to celebrate the reopening, the station though remains dominated by blue construction walls. The southbound side is now fully encased behind blue construction walls, and what will eventually be the Dey St. Connector to the rest of the Fulton St. complex will not open until 2012. Still, politicians praised the gradual debut of pieces of the new Fulton St. Transit Center.

“Today’s reopening of the uptown platform of the Cortlandt Street subway station is another step toward repairing the damage inflicted by the September 11th terrorist attacks,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “Projects like the Dey Street passageway, which the Cortlandt Street subway station was closed to make way for, are making Lower Manhattan an even more attractive place to live and work, and will draw families and businesses in the process.”

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With renderings of the Dey St. passageway and eventual Fulton St. hub decorating the station, the Cortland St. platform is a welcome readdition to the Lower Manhattan transit picture. Slowly, slowly, progress builds apace.

Click through for a slideshow from the new station. Read More→

Categories : Fulton Street
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  • MTA, and SAS, operating on a Sunday schedule · With a big national holiday upon us, New York City Transit is operating on a Sunday schedule throughout the day today. While no work-related service advisories are in place, no weekday-only trains will run, and wait times will be longer than usual. As I have to trek all the way to the hinterlands of the Upper East Side, this will be my only post today. I’ll be back on Friday as long as Time Warner – an awful, awful compnay – manages to restore my Internet and cable service. Have a great Thanksgiving! · (2)

Over the next few hours, hundreds of thousands of people will flock to airports around the country. Some will take buses and taxis while others take subways and commuter rails. Many will rely on monorails to navigate through terminals, and others will have a short walk to the gate all in a mad dash to get somewhere before Thanksgiving.

It is, then, fitting that Michael Grynbaum started the day on The Times’ City Room blog with a paean to the Train to the Plane. For New Yorkers old enough to remember the 12-year subway experiment, the Train to the Plane was a three-car subway that made seven stops in Manhattan — three in midtown along the 6th Ave. line with a switch to the 8th Ave. line south of W. 4th St. — and one at Jay st. in Brooklyn before going express to Howard Beach. In the days before the JFK AirTrain, airport-bound passengers then had to take a shuttle bus to the terminals.

The fares for an express bus with luggage racks and on-board officers weren’t cheap. The ride, as Grynbaum, relates, cost $3.50 in 1978 (or $11.60 in 2009 dollars) and rose to $6.75 by the time service was discontinued in 1990. The train remains part of subway lore though, and Grynbaum tells more of the story:

After a year, the train was handling about 2,000 rides a day, or 12 percent of all trips to J.F.K. from Manhattan. Gas shortages and two strikes on the city’s bus lines helped attract interest — not to mention the infectious theme song, composed by Charles Morrow, a celebrated jingle writer and one-time collaborator with Simon & Garfunkel.

But there was backlash. The train ended before the actual airport, so passengers had to switch to a bus. “Internally, we used to call it ‘take the train to the bus to the plane,’ ” said Trudy L. Mason, who helped oversee the express train service at the transportation authority.

And everyday subway-goers had to be reminded not to step onto the specially marked express trains, which loaded at the regular subway platforms. “One erring passenger did find his way aboard,” a reporter for The Times noted in May 1979. “When the conductor tried to collect the $3 fare, the man apparently thought he was being shaken down and refused to pay.”

The trains, graffiti-free and patrolled by a police officer, were the cleanest in the system, which some riders seemed to resent. “These brand new air-conditioned J.F.K. trains pull into stations with horns blaring,” Joseph J. Filippone of South Ozone Park, Queens, wrote to The Times on July 18, 1979. “They go gliding by, almost always at least three-quarters empty, while thousands of commuters are resigned to stuff themselves into already overcrowded, hot and dirty trains.”

By June 1980, The Times was already wondering: “JFK Train: Wasteful or Wonderful?” The train was running a $2.5 million annual deficit, and officials began discussing an early demise.

As passengers eventually realized that they could reach JFK by taking a slightly longer trip but paying just the regular fare by riding the A train, the Train to Plane fell to the wayside. Every few years, City officials begin a push for a true raillink, a dedicated track that would connect Lower Manhattan to the JFK Airport. We missed an opportunity to build one out to then-Idlewild when Robert Moses built his highways, and due to an estimated cost of nearly $10 billion, we saw a recent effort die in spite of a guaranteed $2 billion federal grant.

And so we remember jingles and long-gone express trains. As many travel for the holidays, we take moderns trains to modern monorails to over-capacity airports. One day, our Train to the Plane may come, but it won’t arrive any time soon.

Comments (16)
  • Northbound Cortlandt St. platform reopens today · At 2 p.m. this afternoon, MTA officials and New York politicians were gather at Cortlandt St. for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the reopening of the northbound Cortland St. platform. For the first time since August 2005, Queens-bound R/W trains on the BMT Broadway line will stop at the Cortlandt St. station. Unfortunately, due to prior plans, I won’t be able to make the ceremony at which MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Dan Squadron, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Councilman Alan Gerson will appear. I do, however, hope to snap some pictures of the renovated station later today. The southbound platform will remain closed until at least early 2011. · (10)

CircleLineMap

Coming soon: a break in the London Underground’s Circle Line

For New Yorkers accustomed to our snaking subway system, the concept of a feeder-style circle line is a foreign one. Our trains run from borough to borough, from the eastern-most reaches of Queens to the northern parts of Manhattan, from Coney Island to the Norwood, and the closest route we have to a circle are the short Shuttle routes in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

In London, though, the Circle Line is a way of life. This yellow line makes a loop around Zone 1 of the London Underground and offers passengers connection to every other Tube line. With no way out of the loop, this line is subject to frequent delays and is among the least reliable in London.

Yet, Londoners have a love-hate relationship with it. Apocryphal tales are told of drunk Londoners who ride around the line in circles until the Tubes shut down while tourists often board trains heading the wrong way around the loop. The Circle Line has even spawned an annual pub crawl requiring participants to down 28 drinks — one at a pub near each station and one on the train — in 12 hours.

But starting December 13, the Circle Line will be a circle no more. As The Times of London reports, Transport for London is cutting the loop with the aim of improving reliability along this delay-plagued line, and although riders will no longer be able to ride in a circle, the line will retain its iconic name. Fiona Hamilton writes:

In an upgrade to one of the capital’s oldest Tube lines, whose trains have previously travelled in loops, it is being extended to Hammersmith, in West London, with a tail added to the existing track. There will no longer be a through service between the west and north sides of the current Circle: accidental snoozers will be woken up to change trains at Edgware Road.

Transport for London (TfL) said that the changes would bring vast improvements. The Circle Line passes many of the capital’s landmarks, including the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament, yet has been unreliable.

TfL said that during disruptions the line’s continuous nature had resulted in particularly severe delays: the lack of a start and a terminus meant that trains “backed up” along the track. As the District Line and Hammersmith and City Line share parts of its track, disruptions on those services also result in delays on the Circle Line. Under the new system, defective trains would be more easily removed from the line, resulting in less disruption as well as a more frequent service.

I’ve been to London a few times, and I’m always struck by the Circle Line stations. Many of them resemble the Notting Hill Gate station and feature open-air trenches with some beautifully built arches along the walls. I never had the chance to ride the complete circle and now never will.

Over at Human Transit, Jarrett Walker offers up his views on the end of the circle. There is a reason why none of New York’s subways run on a loop. It is an inefficient way to construct a reliable subway station and results in what Walker calls “awkward” provisions for layovers, recovery times and unexpected train problems.

In a way, then, the opening of the Circle Line reminds me of the Second Ave. Subway’s long-gone third track. With nowhere to go, stalled trains along Second Ave. will snare the entire route. It won’t be nearly as easy to fix as Transport for London’s Circle Line extension is.

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