For L and M train riders, this fall will bring some much needed capacity improvements during periods of high travel. For G train riders, this summer will bring a five-week service outage along the northern segment of the line as Sandy repair work wraps, but along with this service changes comes a free out-of-system transfer for which many have been clamoring for years. As subway experiments and service patterns go, these are worth some attention.

First, the good news. In addition to service increases this summer that will see more off-peak L train service and weekend M trains terminating at Essex St. instead of in Brooklyn, the MTA plans to add a significant number of trains along those L line and an extra ride along the M come the fall. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Saturday L service will be increased a total of thirty-three round trips between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m;
  • Sunday L service will be increased a total of twenty-three round trips between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m;
  • Weekday evening L service will be increased a total of three round trips;
  • Weekday M service will be increased a total of one round trip (one northbound trip in the morning and one southbound trip in the late afternoon);

These service additions, some of the more significant ones in recent years, come after Transit examined schedules and service demands. “Among the changes is a significant increase in L weekend service, which will decrease wait times for customers as well as increase capacity on a line that continues to see ridership growth, most notably during off peak hours,” NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said in a statement. “Ridership is at an all-time high, including records for weekend ridership. These are customers who rely on us for all of their transportation needs, both work and play, and we are trying to meet that demand with our available resources.”

The MTA notes that these changes will cost around $1.7 million annually — a pittance for such a significant boost in service — and are in addition to the eight new weekend and weekday L train round trips that are on tap for the summer. The M train service increase will begin when the R train’s Montague St. tunnel is reactivated toward the end of October.

While this is welcome news for a lot of riders in Brooklyn and Queens, those who use the G train to bridge the Newtown Creek crossing will find themselves looking for other options this summer. As part of the Sandy work, the G will not run through the Greenpoint Tube beginning July 26. As an assist to riders looking for alternate routes, the MTA will create a free out-of-system transfer between the G at Broadway and the J/M/Z at Lorimer St. (I’m surprised it’s Lorimer and not Hewes, but that’s a minor point.)

It’s not entirely clear how the free transfer helps out those stranded by the Sandy shutdown as the J and M trains don’t go anywhere near Court Sq. (though the connection to the M will alleviate a lack of access to the E), but this transfer has always been one I believed the MTA should offer even if it meant changing their transfer policies. It allows for better connections into Lower Manhattan and the Sixth Avenue corridor as well as Brooklyn and Queens. “We realize this vital work is going to be an inconvenience for our customers and we’re happy to provide this service to make it easier for people in those affected neighborhoods,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said to the Daily News.

If this transfer proves popular, I have to believe the MTA would consider making it permanent. If anything, as I mentioned, it improves mobility between routes that have always crossed but never connected. That is never a bad development.

Categories : Brooklyn
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The proverbial ship has long since sailed on a 7 line station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. in the foreseeable future. While the provisioning exists for the MTA to construct two side platforms at the spot when the money and the will to build materialize, the 7 line extension will open at some point this year without that station. It’s just another in a long line of missed opportunities that plague the history of the New York City subway system.

With that in mind, consider the news of the first intra-Manhattan commuter ferry. It will not be subsidized by the city and will operate between the Far West Side and Lower Manhattan. The Post offers up a short bit on this new service:

The first commuter ferry to travel within Manhattan on the Hudson River will launch next week to serve residents of midtown’s transit-starved Far West Side. The westside Ferry boats will travel between West 44th Street and the World Financial Center every 15 minutes during the morning and evening commutes.

The New York Water Taxi service kicks off Monday with a week of free rides. After that the price will be set at $8 for round trip — but frequent users will get a discounted rate…The company hopes to get sponsorships from real estate developments on the Far West Side, as well as Lower Manhattan.

Even with an eventual bulk discount, that $8 fare is steep for intra-Manhattan transit. When the 7 line extension opens, riders closer to 34th St. will be able to access the subway system with the swipe of a MetroCard, but this ferry terminal at 44th St. serves a growing area that doesn’t have easy subway access. Imagine though if a subway stop were months away from opening at 41st and 10th Ave., and think — but not too hard — about why the city and MTA had to fight over $500 million.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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For reasons of politics, Penn Station Access — the plan to send Metro-North trains through four new stations in the Bronx and into Penn Station — has become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s transit cause célèbre. The plan has support from Westchester and the Bronx, and Cuomo is angling to deliver something for the constituents of his most notable November challenger. Don’t get in his way.

According to one story out on Monday, Penn Station Access and her opposition to it may be why Helena Williams is no longer the president of the Long Island Rail Road. In an extensive piece on Newsday that is unfortunately behind their payroll, Alfonso Castillo has the story:

Ousted LIRR president Helena Williams’ criticism of a Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo-backed MTA plan to link Metro-North Railroad to Penn Station — potentially inconveniencing Nassau and Suffolk commuters — cemented her reputation as a fierce advocate for Long Island, but it also contributed to Williams losing her job, sources said.

Williams, 58, whose seven-year stint as Long Island Rail Road president ended Friday, clashed with Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast over the Penn Station Access project, which would bring Metro-North into the LIRR’s West Side Manhattan terminal using existing Amtrak tracks around the same time the LIRR would connect to Grand Central Terminal as part of East Side Access, sources said.

“There was definitely a rift over that,” said one MTA source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Tom seemed to be on the side of pushing this thing forward, and his agency president was not. She was sort of pulling in the opposite direction.”

“I don’t think there’s any question that it helped her demise,” MTA board member Mitchell Pally said.

The article explores this divide with some MTA Board members claiming Williams’ opposition was “parochial” and that it led to her ouster while others called her a fierce advocate for Long Island whose stance on Penn Station Access was not a “significant factor” on her departure. Read into that what you will. I believe that any opposition to Penn Station Access at this point is mostly parochial and has no place in New York City 2014. Solving regional mobility issues will require joint cooperation from both LIRR and Metro-North, and it may involve some sacrifices on each side.

That said, Patrick at The LIRR Today has up an extensive gut-check on Penn Station Access. It’s well worth a read, but here’s an excerpt:

The problem with Penn Station Access is the fact that most people are going about looking at this the wrong way. They look at this as dots on the map. If the LIRR can add a dot onto their map it’s only fair that Metro-North get to add a dot onto theirs. But it’s tremendously more complex than that. Grand Central and Penn Station are far from similar — one is a station with more than forty platforms and more than 60 station tracks that is used exclusively by one and only one railroad, the other has just 11 platforms, 21 tracks, is shared by three different railroads that collectively operate close to 1,000 revenue trains on the average weekday in what could best be described as cramped quarters…

And to add to this, the LIRR’s East Side Access project is constructing an entirely new station at Grand Central deep below the existing one (like it or not, that’s what they’re going with). Therefore, bringing LIRR trains into Penn Station would result in no net loss of station tracks at Grand Central for Metro-North. Other than Madison Avenue Yard and the Lower Level Loop which was closed several years ago for ESA work, Metro-North has not been adversely affected by East Side Access.

Over at Penn Station, there is no plan to construct a new 8-track terminal below the exiting one (well, at least for Metro-North trains). The plan to bring Metro-North trains into Penn Station would involve no addition of capacity into the current station. Since they have no intention of adding capacity at Penn Station to support Metro-North trains, those slots are going to have to come from someplace else. I don’t think Amtrak or NJTransit are going to volunteer some of their station slots for the sake of Metro-North commuters, so the last possible space to get slots is from the LIRR. And when East Side Access is completed, demand for the LIRR service to New York Penn will decrease slightly, and they will not need to run as many trains to Penn Station, so there will be some space opened up for Metro-North. But a massive unknown in this equation is just how much space the LIRR might free up in Penn Station.

It’s food for thought as these projects come up for debate in the coming months. It certainly seems that Cuomo, not one to embrace transit, has started to put some political pressure on multiple fronts on the MTA. Between the TWU contract, the constant theft of supposedly dedicated funds and seemingly spurious statements from MTA officials about the agency’s financial situation, whether all of this politicking is for the good remains to be seen.

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A Daily News graphic shows the potential routing for the city’s first true Bus Rapid Transit line.

For some reason — could be stubborn NIMYBism, could be “it wasn’t invented here” syndrome, could be something else entirely — real bus rapid transit hasn’t made its way to New York City. We’ve been given instead Select Bus Service, a glorified Limited service with some obvious upgrades but no truly dedicated lanes or street prioritization. It’s been a battle too with a small number of residents along 34th St., for instance, throwing up significant roadblocks to progress. Now, though, DOT is narrowing in on a BRT corridor, and Queens’ bus riders may be the ones to benefit.

As Pete Donohue details in the Daily News today, the NYC Department of Transportation is examining Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards in Queens for true Bus Rapid Transit that extends beyond the trappings of Select Bus Service. The route could have physically separated lanes and signal prioritization, and while the study is in its very early stages with a painfully slow four-year rollout plan, it is part of DOT’s “curb to curb” rethink of Woodhaven Boulevard.

“It’s a great candidate for BRT because of its width and also it’s a street where we have some big goals that all work together — making it safer for pedestrians, making the traffic flow better, as well as providing better bus service,” Tom Maguire, a DOT higher-up, said.

Donohue had more:

A Pratt Institute study said using the current transit system, it would take a rider 65 minutes to get from Howard Beach to LaGuardia Airport. But a BRT route would cut it to 45 minutes, a 30% decrease.

The department would like to have a conceptual plan for the corridor, which at points is eight lanes wide, by the end of the year, said Eric Beaton, director of transit development. It would like to see the buses hit the road within four years, said Beaton…

Select buses too often are slowed by cars and trucks that encroach into their unprotected lanes. The answer is BRT and the city can look to Albany for help. Gov. Cuomo’s 2100 Commission, which is looking for ways to improve New York’s infrastructure, recommended the state support an “aggressive expansion” of the transit system with a BRT network, describing it as the next logical step after SBS. “SBS is good,” Gene Russianoff, staff attorney with the Straphangers Campaign, said. “Full-fledged BRT is great, giving bus riders service New York could be proud of.”

This is certainly optimistic news for anyone who’s been hoping for better bus service. Woodhaven is a key artery with very high bus ridership figures, and reallocating street space would benefit the many in this instance. New Yorkers could finally see that real BRT can happen here, and such a move could set the stage for future bus lanes.

That said, I have reason to be skeptical as well. A BRT route from the Rockaways via Cross Bay and Woodhaven winds through numerous Community Boards and will face heavy questioning from some of the areas of Queens with the highest rates of car ownership in the city. Taking away a lane or two of traffic is a direct assault on a way of life that many have grown very accustomed to over the decades. We saw what happened with plans to convert 34th St. to a transitway, and DOT will have to work closely with community leaders to ensure a more successful implementation here.

Still, we’re a few years away from these battles. Right now, NYC DOT is examining this possibility, and that’s a move that should be applauded. It shouldn’t take four years, but progress comes slow in New York City, if it comes at all. Here’s to hoping.

Categories : Buses, Queens
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Massimo discusses his map at the Transit Museum in 2012. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

His map has launched 1000 Internet debates, and his designs survive in the signs we see in the New York City subway system today. Massimo Vignelli’s legacy has influenced the way our subway system look and, while his ideas have been bastardized, the way signage is established. Now, his days are numbered.

Michael Beirut, a partner of Vignelli’s at Pentagram, told Creative Review the news. Vignelli will be spending his final days with his family on the Upper East Side, and his son has requested letters:

According to Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, “Luca said that Massimo would be thrilled to get notes of good wishes from people whom he’s touched or influenced – whether personally or remotely – over the years. Luca has visions of huge mail bags full of letters. I know that one of Massimo’s biggest fantasies has been to attend his own funeral. This will be the next best thing. Pass the word.”

If you’re so inclined, Vignelli lives at 130 East 67 Street, New York, New York 10021. While we talk endlessly about his maps, check out this New Yorker post from late April which details his signage designs (and the online version of the Graphics Standard Manual). Like I do, Vignelli objected to this day to some of the MTA’s edits to his signs. He said he recognizes “about fifty percent” of today’s signage as his designs.

“The handling of the typography is not as good as if we had done it. And the background is black instead of white, because of the graffiti. But everything else is the same. It’s still our subway,” he said to the New Yorker while criticizing signs that say “Exit Middle of Plat.” “It’s like a language spoken by a baby. By a person who can’t speak the language.”

I’ll have more on Vignelli next week. After the jump, this weekend’s service changes. Read More→

Categories : Service Advisories
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I’ve had a very tough time in recent months reconciling the attitudes of Staten Islanders with regards to transit, and whenever I point out on Twitter the inherent contradictions, SI natives get very defensive. To me, it seems that Staten Island politicians want to have their cake and eat it too. They want better transit, but then they complain when transit improvements don’t come around as they see fit through whatever narrow lens they view the transit world. Ultimately, they end up getting nothing, and it’s their own doing.

As you may recall, one of the leaders in the fight against better transit is Senator Andrew Lanza. He killed the Select Bus Service vehicles’ flashing blue lights because of trumped up complaints over confusion, and he has shown explicit derision toward the efforts to get the lights restored albeit in a more neutral color. During Tom Prendergast’s confirmation hearings, he took the floor for a lengthy diatribe on SBS while barely letting the MTA’s then-future CEO and Chairman say anything. It was an amazing display of misguided hubris and misplaced anger.

Now, Lanza’s back, and with the passion he’s shown in his quixotic fight against Select Bus Service improvements, you’d think one of these buses had ran over his childhood dog 45 years ago. He now wants to do away with basically all SBS improvements. Dana Rubinstein reports:

Staten Island State Senator Andrew Lanza, whose distaste for Select Bus Service is by this point well-established, is now trying to strip Staten Island’s only rapid bus line of what is arguably its most distinguishing feature. Lanza has introduced a bill that would bar the city from enforcing a bus-only lane on the Hylan Boulevard and Richmond Avenue Select Bus Service line, arguing that the service has been a “failure.”

Approached for comment on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, Lanza produced a litany of complaints about the bus service, which relies on fewer bus stops spaced farther apart, bus-only lanes, and camera and police enforcement to provide faster bus service along a 15-mile stretch of Staten Island…

The Staten Island senator … thinks the Staten Island Select Bus Service line has created nothing more than “speed traps.” “Hylan Boulevard is worse than ever since they’ve done this,” he said. Also, he thinks the terracotta-colored bus lanes are ugly. “I don’t know if it’s water paint, I don’t know if it’s come from a kindergarten class,” he said, but it looks like “street graffiti,” is “pathetic” and “adds to the confusion.” Lanza’s bill would not eliminate the bus route, but it would eliminate the bus-only lane. Which is kind of a distinction without a difference.

The MTA has noted that SBS service along Hylan Boulevard has led to an 11 percent jump in ridership while bus speeds have increased by 13-19 percent depending upon the time of day. Lanza has no need for “facts” or “improvements.” He just wants them gone because buses, I assume, help improve mobility for people who aren’t going to vote for Andrew Lanza.

But again, I’m struck by these contradictions. In a similar vein, Nicole Malliotakis is spearheading an effort to put pressure on the MTA to restore the X18 bus service. This bus had an average weekday ridership of 303 in the last full year before it was eliminated, and officials estimate it would cost around $500-$600,000 to bring it back. On average, then, it cost around $8 per passenger to operate this bus. Now, the MTA can afford 600 grand, but should it be in the business of operating loss leaders? (That’s a very philosophical question about public transit’s role in society, and there’s probably no wrong answer. But I digress.)

I bring this up because while Malliotakis is agitating for a bus that she, and very few other people, used to ride, she has protested other transit improvements for her constituents. She whined about camera enforcement of bus lanes last summer and found some senior citizens who couldn’t figure out what a bus lane meant. (She also couldn’t figure out how to parse MTA’s public budget documents.)

This all leads to a very incoherent picture of transit. Staten Islanders have threatened to throw up roadblocks if the city were to extend the 7 train to New Jersey before sending the 1 or R to Staten Island even if ridership demands would warrant a Jersey extension well ahead of an underground route to Staten Island. They yearn for faster rides and better connections, but when given them, they balk. Now, I don’t mean to pick on Staten Island; it’s certainly drawn the short end of the transit straw. But the borough’s elected officials and those who continue to vote for them can’t have it both ways. If this keeps up, they’ll just have it no way at all instead.

Categories : Staten Island
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On Wednesday afternoon, for some reason, Gov. Andrew Cuomo swooped in for a transit vist. In a seeming unsolicited letter to MTA CEO and Chairman, Cuomo urged the MTA to form a panel called the Transportation Reinvention Commission in an effort to focus the MTA on its needs for the next century. The letter came at an odd time and with plenty of reasons to be skeptical, but maybe, if things break the right way, the MTA and New York State could turn this into a positive step.

As the letter notes, Cuomo sent this massive to the MTA because their next five-year capital plan is due before the Board for approval in September. That can’t be the impetus behind it though because it would show a complete lack of comprehension of the capital process. Last year, the MTA released its 20-Year Needs Assessment which feeds and informs the capital plan. Does Cuomo think the MTA is going to slap together some $30 billion, five-year plan in less than four months? Does he think this panel can convene and issue recommendations ahead of any work on this plan? I hope not.

But this skepticism aside, Cuomo’s basic idea isn’t a bad one. Here’s his letter:

New York faces a pressing need to prepare the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for tomorrow’s challenges. To adapt its system for a changing world, a changing state and a changing climate, the MTA has a unique opportunity to proactively redesign how it serves its customers. The MTA is scheduled to submit a Capital Plan this fall to identify investment priorities for New York’s mass transit network. While past Capital Plans have focused on maintaining and expanding the existing MTA network, New York needs the MTA to develop a reinvention plan to make our subways and our entire transit system ready for the challenges of the next century.

I am recommending the MTA empanel a Transportation Reinvention Commission to examine its network and develop a plan for the future. The Commission should include international transportation experts and be selected by the MTA. It should hold public hearings as it develops findings and submit a preliminary report to me in advance of the MTA Board’s scheduled Capital Plan approval in September.

We have been operating the same subway system for the last 100 years. The next 100 years, however, look radically different for New York. The clear evidence of a changing climate in our nation makes more major storms like Superstorm Sandy a real and present threat. Increasing population, demographic shifts and record ridership pose new challenges to operating and maintaining our existing mass transit network, meeting and exceeding New Yorkers’ expectations, and spurring the continued growth of New York’s economy. Already, there are more than 8.5 million riders – more than the entire population of New York City – using MTA trains and busses every day. This Commission needs to fundamentally reexamine our subway system to meet these needs and expectations.

Cuomo’s assertion that “we have been operating the same subway system for the last 100 years” could not be further from the truth. In 1914, the BRT and IRT operated a bunch of streetcars and subway lines without the connections we know today, and the IND routings were barely a thought. The opening of Brooklyn’s 4th Ave. subway was still a year away, and only the Joralemon and Clark St. tunnels brought subways from Brooklyn to Manhattan. So we have not been operating the same subway for 100 years.

Yet, the next 100 years do look different. The MTA has to modernize a system that is, at parts, 100 years old; it has to meet growing demands for transit within the preexisting population and the growing population at large; it has to combat rising sea levels brought about by climate change and the threat of future flooding; and it has to figure out a way to grow at costs that aren’t astronomical. It also has to be more aggressive in thinking big than the Straphangers Campaign who, as a response to Cuomo’s letter, called for more Bus Rapid Transit.

So Cuomo has urged the MTA to appoint “international transportation experts” to this panel. Maybe they can figure out why everything costs so much in New York. Maybe they can look at work rules and personnel padding, at costs and timelines and project management, to figure out a way to reign in this problem. We may be skeptical because of Cuomo’s record and attention to transit, but at the least, this panel deserves a chance to do something. It won’t inform the next five-year capital plan, but it could have a deeper impact further down the road.

Categories : MTA Politics
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Right now, a new tunnel is nothing but a line on a map.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over three and a half years since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally canceled the ARC Tunnel. Yet, it’s a decision that keeps coming back to haunt the entire region. Amtrak has proposed picking up the slack with their Gateway Tunnel, but that’s decades off. Now, questions have emerged concerning the region’s ability to cope with aging infrastructure and no replacement plans in place.

The latest comes to us from Amtrak. As the two Hudson River tunnels creep up there in years, the national rail agency has warned that age will become a major issue sooner rather than later. Amtrak’s chief put their life expectancy at “less than 20 years” and urged everyone involved to start funding — and then building — Gateway.

Dana Rubinstein had more:

The end may be near for the New York region’s cross-harbor rail tunnels, with no good alternative in sight. “I’m being told we got something less than 20 years before we have to shut one or two down,” said Amtrak C.E.O. Joseph Boardman at the Regional Plan Association’s conference last week at the Waldorf Astoria. “Something less than 20. I don’t know if that something less than 20 is seven, or some other number. But to build two new ones, you’re talking seven to nine years to deliver, if we all decided today that we could do it.”

Tom Wright, the Regional Plan Association’s executive director, described Boardman’s remarks as “a big shock.” “I’ve been hearing abstractly people at Amtrak and other people at New Jersey Transit say for years the tunnels are over 100 years old and we have to be worried about them,” he said. “To actually have Joe put something concrete on the table, less than 20 years … Within my office, there was a level of, ‘Wow, this is really serious.’”

In addition to age, as Rubinstein notes, Sandy damage is going to play a big role in this tale. The Amtrak tunnels, by some accounts, suffered approximately half a billion dollars in damage during the storm surge, but unlike, say, the Montague St. Tunnel, Amtrak can’t just take one of their cross-Hudson out of service for a few months to make repairs. That would reduce capacity from 24 trains per hour to just six, and as Amtrak owns them, the people who would suffer the most from single-tracking would be New Jersey Transit riders. Thus, it all comes back to ARC as without ARC, New Jersey Transit is beholden to Amtrak’s whims.

An Amtrak spokesman later tried to walk back Boardman’s comments. “As you know the Hudson River Tunnels are more than 100 years old and were filled with salt water during Super Storm Sandy, which can be very corrosive,” Craig Schultz said. “Amtrak is working with an expert to assess the condition of the tunnel structures since the storm, and that work is ongoing. I think the point Mr. Boardman was making in his comments at the RPA Assembly is that damage from Sandy accelerated what was already an urgent need for additional tunnel capacity between New York and New Jersey. We expect that the tunnels are going to need major rehabilitation, which can only happen with prolonged service outages permitted by a new tunnel.”

So where do we go from here? As with all of these major infrastructure projects, Gateway needs a champion, and right now, it doesn’t have one. It needs money, and right now, it doesn’t have it. Will we wait to fund it until it’s too late or will someone come to their senses before we have to live in an era when six trains per hour can cross the Hudson River? The clock is ticking.

NextStopis “The Next Stop Is…”, the Second Ave. Sagas podcast, makes its triumphant return after a two-month break and not a moment too soon. In this week’s episode, Eric and I discuss Friday’s F train derailment, its the immediate impact and what the future could hold for the MTA’s rail replacement efforts. This is of course the hot topic of the week. Then, we spent a few minutes reviewing the changes at the top at the LIRR. With Helena Williams out and Pat Nowakowski in, the new President has his work cut out for him both in harnessing East Side Access and in responding to the potential for a summer strike.

This week’s recording checks in at just over 21 minutes — a perfect running time for your Monday evening ride. You can grab the podcast right here on iTunes or pull the raw MP3 file. If you enjoy what you hear, subscribe to updates on iTunes as well and consider leaving us a review. If you have any questions you’d like us to tackle, leave ‘em in the comments below.

Categories : The Next Stop Is
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Crews worked overnight to re-rail an F train that had derailed on Friday. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.

The MTA never works better than when in crisis mode. When something bad happens, crews are diverted to solve the problem, and issues can be resolved quickly. For an agency known to drag its heels, intentionally or not, on long-term planning problems, it’s refreshing to see it spring into action when push comes to shove.

We saw this play out this past weekend when, on Friday at 10:30 a.m., an F train derailed in Queens. By the Friday evening rush hour, Transit had restored local service, and although trains were taken out of service along parts of the line on both Saturday and Sunday mornings this weekend, the MTA anticipates a normal rush hour with both express and local service by 5 a.m. Monday. Workers had to re-rail and then remove an eight-car train and repair around 500 feet of rail while inspecting nearby infrastructure to ensure trains can operate safely.

Meanwhile, the MTA shared some findings over the weekend that indicate the focus of their investigation as well as their safety record. First, it appears as though operator error was not to blame. While the 1991 Union Square derailment that led to four deaths was due to the result of a drunk motorman, officials have all but cleared the F train’s crew of wrong-doing. Rather, the derailment happened at a spot that has become the focal point of efforts to combat broken rails.

According to the MTA, the rail that snapped, leading to this derailment, was manufactured in November and installed this past March. It’s not clear if it was installed incorrectly or if it contained a defect. It will, Transit said, be sent for metallurgical testing. We’ll see what comes of that.

Overall though, it’s not surprising that this rail broke. As what the MTA describes as its effort to reduce derailments to zero, workers map broken and defective rails to identify where large-scale replacement and hardening efforts should occur. During the presentation on this topic to the MTA Board in February, Transit targeted the Queens Boulevard corridor as one of five problematic areas, and the MTA has plans to install 23 miles of continuous welded rail to reduce broken rails and noise and vibration issues. That project, unfortunately, isn’t due to start until 2015 when funding is in place. (The other areas include the 7th Ave. IRT from Dyckman south, the 8th Ave. line from 207th to Jay St., 6th Ave. between 59th and Jay St., and the Astoria line from 57th St. to the phantom stop/11th St. Cut area in Queens.)

It is also important to keep numbers in perspective. The MTA says it has experienced 17 mainline derailments in the last decade, and for a system that runs 8000 trains per day, the derailment rate is less than half the national average. As recently as 1980, the MTA reported 20 derailments in one calendar year. Still, as deferred maintenance re-enters the picture and as Queens subway riders climb aboard their express trains in the morning, tensions will be high. These derailments are bad news, and we don’t expect them. That’s why, of course, they garner so much news coverage. But they serve as a reminder why New York City needs a fully funded and fully supported capital plan for the MTA. Anything worse puts everyone in danger.

After the jump, a video of MTA workers rerailing the F train. Read More→

Categories : Queens
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