The Michaels, Grynbaum and Horodniceanu, discuss the MTA's capital program. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The Michaels, Grynbaum and Horodniceanu, discuss the MTA’s capital program. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Sporting his trademark bowtie, Dr. Michael Horodniceanu took the stage last night at a Transit Museum-sponsored event to discuss the MTA’s two capital programs that are due to come online this year. He presented about the ins and outs, the designs and challenges, and the impacts of both the 7 line extension and the Fulton St. Transit Center. While the presentation trod well-worn ground, a subsequent Q-and-A with New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum revealed some of the limitations affected future transit growth. MTA Capital Construction does a reasonably good job at fulfilling its mandate, but beyond projects that are in progress and funded, the future remains murky.

Over the past few years, I’ve constantly stressed the need for a transit champion. We have, for instance, the 7 line extension because the city under Mayor Michael Bloomberg foot the bill; we have the Fulton St. Transit Center because the federal government contributed nearly $1.5 billion to first rebuild Lower Manhattan and then later to bolster the economy. We have East Side Access because Al D’Amato and George Pataki fought for it, and we have the Second Ave. Subway thanks, in part, to Chuck Schumer’s efforts. Everything else we don’t have because no one came to fight for it.

In a way, that’s what Horodniceanu discussed during the interview segment of the presentation. Grynbaum pushed the MTA Capital Construction president on transit expansions we’ve discussed here. Will we have light rail, perhaps in Staten Island, or a subway to Laguardia? Nothing’s happening there, Horodniceanu said, vaguely referring to the late 1990s NIMBY opposition to the N train extension to Laguardia. In other words, no politicians are stepping up to the plate, and the MTA isn’t about to stick its neck out for such a plan without solid support in Albany or City Hall.

What about the 7 train? As we well know, the original plan called for a station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. that was cut due to budgetary concerns. Even a shell station met the axe, and the MTA has left in place the barest of provisions for a future side-platform station. Furthermore, the tail tracks extend down to 26th St. and 11th, and it would have been relatively easy to extend the train to 14th St., perhaps to a meeting with the L.

In discussing these aspects of the work, Horodniceanu said it was “not part of the plan for the MTA to pay the money” to see any of these aspects of the 7 line extension through right now. “Had someone been more generous,” he said, there’s no limit to what the MTA could have done with the 7 line. But money is a constraint, and politicians are only willing to fork over so much to complete a project. (Not everyone, after all, is Santiago Calatrava building the world’s most expensive subway stop.)

At one point, as Grynbaum pressed the issue, Horodniceanu spoke about the other part of the equation — costs — and he ducked and dodged as best as he could. Things are just more expensive in New York City, he claimed, but he made some concessions toward labor laws and work rules that burden construction projects with what many would call overstaffing. Still, costs seemed nearly besides the point Horodniceanu was trying to make. If no one will fight for the project, it’s not going to happen.

In closing, Horodniceanu joked that he hopes he’s still live when East Side Access and the Second Ave. Subway are completed. I hope I am too, and I’m less than half the good doctor’s age. He also seemed to indicate that nothing is next without political support. We have our wishlist of projects, and the MTA kinda sorta has theirs. But until funding and a champion materialize, we’ll be left to dream of an era in which the MTA built out our transit network. It all could be coming to end within the next decade. Where are the champions?

Categories : MTA Construction
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As a new year dawns, it’s become an annual tradition these days for commuter rail lines in New York City to announce record ridership numbers and continuing growth. Metro-North, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit have seen numbers not matched since the age of the automobile dawned, and with congestion in the region worsening and gas prices rising, this is a trend with upward growth that shows no signs of slacking off.

Along with higher ridership comes more crowded trains. We’ve seen this in the subways, and commuter rail passengers who are on packed trains every day live through it as well. It is starting to become a problem and one, at that, with no easy solution. Jim O’Grady at WNYC has the story, railroad by railroad:

Riders like Wadler wonder why the railroads don’t simply add more trains. The answer is limited track space. Long Island Railroad has nine branches that converge on a three-track bottleneck beneath the East River that it shares with freight and Amtrak trains. Railroad president Helena Williams says most of those trips end at Penn Station, where track space is at a premium. “We only have so many opportunities to put trains through our system and into Penn Station,” she told WNYC during an interview at the MTA’s Midtown headquarters…

Metro-North has six fewer branch lines and more rail yard space than Long Island Railroad. But it, too, has short platforms and is bursting with passengers, especially on the New Haven Line. Metro-North would like to add double-decker trains, which carry more people and are used by commuter lines around the country, including the LIRR and New Jersey Transit. But spokesman Aaron Donovan says the issue is not enough headroom—for the trains…

New Jersey Transit has dozens of double-decker trains that fit through tunnels under the Hudson River. The problem is the number of tunnels: two. Spokeswoman Nancy Snyder says those two tunnels carry all of the Amtrak and commuter train traffic between Manhattan and points west.

O’Grady’s piece drills down on each railroad’s challenges, and we know that New York City is constrained in that Manhattan is an island. But while the situation is dire, there is some faint glimmer of hope for certain commuters. First, East Side Access may eventually open, bringing more riders on the LIRR and better distributing them throughout the city. The Penn Station Access plan could follow which would help Metro-North. New Jersey Transit, though, in the ARC-less present, is relying on Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel to remove some trains from the Hudson River bottleneck, and it’s not clear when, if ever, that tunnel will become a reality.

We can wring our hands over ARC and the missed opportunities, and we should be worried that few in Albany and Trenton are actively seeking a solution to this capacity problem. We should discuss through-running at Penn Station to bolster capacity as well. But because of geography, politics and economics, these capacity concerns represent a problem that won’t soon disappear.

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Progress at Second Avenue Subway‘s 72nd St. cavern as of January 21, 2014. Photo: MTA Capital Construction / Rehema Trimiew

After nearly a century of waiting, after multiple starts and stops, planning sessions and economic downturns, New York City’s very own Great White Buffalo is ostensibly 34 months away from its debut. While many long-time Manhattanites won’t believe until they ride a Q train to 96th St., the Second Ave. subway is closer to a reality today than it has been at any time its long and tortured history. If all goes according to plan, revenue service will start in December of 2016, and the real estate industry is starting to notice.

In a big story in this week’s issue of Crain’s New York, Joe Anuta went in depth on the impact of the subway and the future of sales and rents along Second Avenue. Although most business owners and residents have spent the past six years complaining about the explosions and dust, the noise and equipment that subway construction had wrought, those who own in the area are starting to reap the benefits while those who rent may draw the short straw. While brokers predicting a 300 percent increase in prices, the subway is making its impact felt.

Anuta reports:

All along Second Avenue on the Upper East Side, the picture is much the same. Property sales and prices have taken off in the past six months, and several new construction projects have been unveiled. In another sign of change, prices of condos along the avenue rose in 2013 for the first time in four years.

By all accounts, the reason is simple: Seven years after construction of a new Upper East Side subway line was restarted after a long lull, a mile-and-a-half-long stretch of the Second Avenue subway, running from East 96th to East 63rd streets, will finally open in less than three years, to the great relief of residents, some of whom have to trudge nearly a mile to ride the overburdened Lexington Avenue lines. “Can I use a corny expression here?” asked Barry Schneider, co-chair of Community Board 8′s Second Avenue Subway Task Force. “We see light at the end of the tunnel.”

…The seismic shift in commuting patterns looming in the area has caught the attention of, among others, one of the city’s most prolific landlords. Extell Development Co. first began assembling a series of properties along Third Avenue between East 94th and East 95th streets a decade ago, but only last month filed for permits to potentially tear down several of the buildings to build a tower that could top 150,000 square feet. Also in January, -Manhattan-based Anbau Enterprises filed to demolish three buildings between East 88th and East 89th streets along First Avenue, where it plans to build a SHoP Architects-designed, 150,000-square-foot project it bills as “affordable luxury,” slated for completion in 2016.

This is all well and good for those who bought and held on through the Great Recession and the construction process. They’ll stand to reap millions in sales and rents as demand for the area shoots through the roof, and the real estate industry could become a major player in forcing future phases of the Second Avenue Subway. They have the most to gain from increased property values up and down Manhattan and are uniquely positioned to pressure Albany, City Hall and the MTA. (More on that in tomorrow’s podcast.)

But there’s a story in between the lines here, and it involves the renters — businesses and residents — who have stuck it out throughout the six or seven years worth of construction. They’re going to escape the construction, but will they become victims a second time when the economic activity generated by the Second Ave. Subway pushes them out? It’s still too early to tell, and life won’t be wine and roses along Second Ave. over the next 34 months. Yet, while we can begin to see what the subway will do for the area, some people will win and some will lose. That story has yet to unfold.

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The Riders Alliance wants more bus countdown clocks installed throughout the city, but they carry a hefty price tag.

For bus riders in Brooklyn and Queens, “soon” now has a set date. BusTime — the MTA’s real-time bus tracking service — will go live for the city’s most populous boroughs on Sunday, March 9. Bus riders in those two boroughs will now know, via text message, smart phone apps or the the web where their buses are and how far away that next bus is. It will be a huge boost for riders long accustomed to spotty service and maddeningly inconsistent waits.

“MTA Bus Time is yet another way we are trying to improve service for our customers,” Carmen Bianco, President of MTA New York City Transit, said in a press release. “As we have seen with train arrival information in the subway, customers appreciate when they know when that train or bus will show up at the station or stop.”

With the addition of Brooklyn and Queens bus routes, including express bus service, the entire city will have access to bus tracking information, and the MTA has met its self-imposed deadline for bringing the service online. This last installation adds 9000 bus stops to the system as well. What it doesn’t include yet are countdown clocks — or, more accurately, station countdowns — at each station, and transit advocates hope to change that.

At a rally hosted by the Riders Alliance (of which I am a board member), bus riders and other transit advocates called upon politicians to help fund a NYCDOT initiative that would see digital countdown timers installed at key bus stations throughout the city. The timers — similar to the one atop this post — would be a big help to those who aren’t aware of BusTime or are not otherwise comfortable with the technology that makes the bus location information readily available.

“Countdown clocks have been a huge hit on subway platforms,” John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, said. “Now it’s time to bring them to bus stops. We have the technology and we have the interest from riders.”

What is missing from Raskin’s equation is, of course, money. A 2012 study by Brad Lander noted that countdown clocks at bus stops would cost around $4000-$6000 to install, but the solar-powered free-standing signs in place as part of the Staten Island pilot would cost up to $20,000 each. That’s a prohibitive cost and an insane one. Ridership doesn’t warrant installing one at every bus stop, but for key bus stations, these simple timers that countdown stops shouldn’t cost that much.

“The best way to get where I’m going is the bus. I try to time it using printed schedules but most of the time the bus doesn’t follow the schedule,” Thomasin Bentley, a Riders Alliance member, said. “I want to use the bus. It’s clean and affordable. Bus countdown clocks would allow me to make the most of an otherwise great system. The text messaging service is a good start but I find it difficult to understand, and I’m a real tech person. I can imagine that it’s hard for other people to figure out as well.”

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The dedicated bus lane will run Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue.

The dedicated bus lane will run Lenox Avenue to Second Avenue.

When the MTA Board’s Transit committee meets later today, one of their agenda items includes a formal blessing of the unnecessarily controversial M60 Select Bus Servicer route. After months of planning, rollbacks and NIMBY opposition that highlighted the flaws with the process, the committee will vote on the reduced plan, and thousands of bus riders who need better service to Laguardia Airport and down 125th St. will get it. We can celebrate the moment, but it’s also yet another example of missed opportunities for relatively cheap and easy transit upgrade.

In announcing the new route this past fall, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast spoke generally of the improvements. “The 125th Street corridor is a vital thoroughfare for Harlem residents and businesses alike,” he said in a statement. “I’m glad we will be able to improve service for our customers while still maintaining commercial loading zones for businesses in the area. Select Bus Service will speed up bus service by as much as 20 percent on the M60 where half of the route’s boardings and alightings happen right on 125th Street.”

The Board materials fill in the details. The new SBS M60 will be a 24-hour bus line that fully supplants the route’s current local service. (The remaining 125th St. crosstown local buses will continue to serve all stops.) Service frequency will increase by 10 percent on the weekdays and around 14 percent on the weekends, and with a dedicated bus lane, for all 125th St. buses, that will run for a little less than one mile between Lenox and 2nd Avenues.

The Board committee book describes the bus lane: “Most of the bus lanes will be offset, or one lane away from the curb, which will accommodate deliveries, community parking needs, and right turns; the bus lane between 3rd Avenue and 2nd Avenue will be curbside and only in the eastbound direction.” It’s better than nothing, but even as the MTA stresses that it and NYC DOT “attended over 50 community meetings,” I can’t help but feel this whole thing is another missed opportunity.

As this new service gears up to launch in the spring, it is definitely an improvement so long as bus lane enforcement comes with it. Outside of the need to improve access to Laguardia, a bus ride down 125th Street is often an exercise in patience and futility. This wide cross-street is chock full of traffic stretching from Fairway on the West Side to the Triborough Bridge on the East. Parking and double parking are constant problems, and as with 96th St., it can be faster to walk at rush hour than to sit on a bus.

With 125th St., the city could have taken the opportunity to rebuild the street space. The street is wide enough to support true BRT with center-running lanes and dedicated boarding areas. It has the ridership to warrant such improvements as well. Instead, Community Boards concerned with the loss of a few parking spots and one quarter of the local bus service threw up road blocks after road blocks to the point that the MTA and DOT never shelved the idea for good. Even after local politicians intervened, the plans are a watered-down version of the initial proposal, and parking will still obstruct the bus lane at certain points. Certain Community Boar members too are still unhappy with any plan that removes parking spaces and improves transit.

So again, the needs of the few and loud outweigh the needs of the many, and we applaud the SBS M60 plans because they will exist in a few weeks. It will be easier for commuters, students and New Yorkers to journey down 125th St. and for travelers to reach Laguardia. For the airport, ultimately, though, what New York City truly needs is a direct subway connection, and for a cross-street, we need bus rapid transit. For now, we’ll just have to keep dreaming.

Categories : Buses, Manhattan
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Of all the gimmicks on the L train, this one from Animal New York is the most L train thing around. London Kaye, a 24-year-old artist, crocheted the poles of an L train on Valentine’s Day. This was an unsanctioned guerrilla art installation that Animal New York filmed. It’s cute; it’s twee; it’s the L train.

Kaye spoke of her time knitting a train, and those from ANY who went with her said the crews loved it. “I feel like if I did this in a small town,” she said, “I’d get stopped by the cops. But here, there is so much action. Who’s going to stop a little girl crocheting?”

So that’s your “Only In New York” moment of the week. Here are the weekend service changes:

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 21 to 5:00a.m. Monday, February 24, Bronx-bound 1 trains run express run express from 96 St to 145 St due to steel repair work south of 125 St to 133 St.

From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, February 22 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, February 23, 4 trains are suspended between Woodlawn and Crown Hts-Utica Ave in both directions, due to track panel installation at Bedford Pk Blvd, and 161 St Yankee Stadium. 5 trains replace 4 trains in Brooklyn and Manhattan. D trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service in the Bronx.

From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, February 22 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, February 23, 5 trains replace 4 trains in Brooklyn. 5 trains are extended to Crown Hts-Utica Av, and New Lots Av, due to track panel installation at Bedford Pk Blvd, and 161 St Yankee Stadium.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 21 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, 7 trains are suspended between Flushing Main St and Mets-Willets Point due to CBTC construction related work. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 21 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, A trains are suspended between Jay St-MetroTech and Utica Av in both directions due to track tie renewal north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn. Transfer between A trains and free shuttle buses at Jay Street-MetroTech or Utica Avenue.

From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, February 22, and Sunday, February 23, C trains are suspended between W4 St and Euclid Av in both directions due to track tie renewal north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 21, to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, February 23, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, February 23, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Av to Queens Plaza due to track maintenance at 46 St and 36 St.

From 12:15 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, February 22, and Sunday, February 23, and from 12:15 a.m. 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Jamaica Center-bound E trains run express between Roosevelt Av and Forest Hills-71 Avenue due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Avenue and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 12:15 a.m. Saturday, February 22, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Jamaica Center-bound E trains skip Van Wyck Blvd and 75 Av due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, February 22, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Jamaica Center-bound E trains run local from Queens Plaza to Roosevelt Av due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Avenue and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:15 p.m. Friday, February 21, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Coney Island-bound F trains are rerouted on the M line from Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts Rock Ctr due to station work at Lexington Av-53 St for Second Avenue Subway construction.

From 12:15 a.m. Saturday, February 22, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Jamaica Center-bound F trains skip 75 Av, Van Wyck Blvd, and Sutphin Blvd due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Avenue and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 21, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Coney Island-bound F trains skip 4 Av-9 St, 15 St-Prospect Park, and Fort Hamilton Pkwy due to signal work at Church Av. For service to these stations take a Coney Island-bound F train to 7 Av or Church Av and transfer to a Queens-bound F or G train. From these stations, take a Queens-bound F or G to 7 Av or Smith-9 Sts and transfer to a Coney Island-bound F.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, February 22, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Jamaica Center-bound F trains run local from 21 St-Queensbridge to Roosevelt Av due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Avenue and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 21 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Church Av-bound G trains skip 4 Av-9 St, 15 St-Prospect Park, and Fort Hamilton Pkwy due to signal work at Church Av.

From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, February 22, and Sunday, February 23, Ditmars Blvd-bound N trains are rerouted via the D line from Coney Island Stillwell Av to 36 St due to design survey work near 20 Av.

Beginning 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 21, until early summer 2014, Coney Island-bound Q trains skip Parkside Av, Beverley Rd, and Cortelyou Rd due to painting and concrete repair work on station platforms at Parkside Av, Beverley Rd, and Cortelyou Rd.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 21, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, February 24, Coney Island-bound Q trains run express from Newkirk Plaza to Kings Hwy due to concrete repairs and painting work on platforms at Parkside Avenue, Beverly Road and Cortelyou Road.

From 6:00 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, February 22, and Sunday, February 23, Bay Ridge-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Av to Queens Plaza due to track maintenance work at 46 St and 36 St.

From 6:00 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, February 22, and Sunday, February 23, Forest Hills 7Av-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Av to Forest Hills-71 Avenue due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Avenue and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

(Franklin Av)
From 5:45 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Saturday, February 22, and Sunday, February 23, Franklin Av Shuttle trains run every 24 minutes due to installation of contact rail heaters north of Prospect Park.

Categories : Service Advisories
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While news from the transit world has trickled to a crawl during the cold, snowy days of winter, all eyes have shifted to the east where a labor dispute is playing out that could have ramifications that echo from Montauk to Manhattan to Manitou. With the Long Island Rail Road’s largest union creeping toward a strike and MTA CEO Tom Prendergast’s warning of a huge fare hike if the MTA can’t fulfill its net-zero labor dreams, the next few months could be more important for the MTA’s future than most straphangers realize.

When we last saw this tale, Prendergast had just issued his warning. If the MTA has to grant wage increases to all of its unions without any hope of work rule reform, the fares will go up. It’s the only way the MTA can cover these increased costs, the MTA Chairman has stressed. It’s not a new line from the man who sits in that role, but it’s one inching ever closer to reality. Meanwhile, the MTA and the UTU are living in an era in which the first Presidential Emergency Board determined that the MTA could pay for raises with endless Pay-As-You-Go payments and the MTA’s never-ending ability to borrow more money. Welcome to fantasyland.

So this week, the politicking and maneuvering picked up a bit with a bunch of members of Congress urging the MTA to avoid a strike. Their argument relied on the same one put forward by the PEB without a nod to the MTA’s financial reality. Here’s the Daily News’ take:

Twelve members of New York’s Congressional delegation urged the MTA to soften its hard-line wage freeze stance as a March 21 strike date loomed for Long Island Rail Road workers. In a two-page letter Wednesday to Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Tom Prendergast, the lawmakers called for MTA officials to rethink their position despite what they called the agency’s “past financial stresses.” “We urge the MTA to reconsider its insistence on a wage freeze or concessions to fully pay for wage increases,” read the letter from the office of Rep. Steve Israel (D-L.I.)…

In the letter, Israel and his fellow lawmakers argued for the MTA to return to the bargaining table by pointing out that the presidential panel found the authority could afford to pay for a rise for LIRR workers. The letter, which was signed by all four Long Island Congress members and most of those from New York City, quoted the panel’s argument that “it simply cannot be concluded that the MTA’s current financial position is one in which it is unable to pay for wage adjustments.”

But in speaking at an Albany hearing last month, Prendergast raised the possibility of a 12% fare hike for 2015 if all contract-less MTA workers received raises like those recommended for LIRR employees. Prendergast predicted “dire consequences” — including the possibility of a $2.75 subway ride, up 25 cents, and a $125 unlimited monthly MetroCard, up from the current $112.

To avoid a strike, the MTA will request a second PEB meditation, and the UTU will not be able to walk off the job until late June. There’s no indication that the MTA will accept anything other than a finding favorable to the agency, and it’s possible that they’ll push the issue until the end. The public wouldn’t be happy with a strike, but the LIRR is one railroad that should be pushing for labor reforms. Meanwhile, I’d dispute the stance that the MTA has a “hard-line wage freeze stance.” They’ll willing to grant a wage increase as long as work-rule reform comes with it.

Still, the larger issue here is the fact that of the MTA’s 60 unions, 59 of them are working without a contract. The TWU is agitating for raises too, and if the UTU earns its contract, the other labor unions will push for a similar resolution. At that point, the increased costs of labor — which do not factor into the MTA’s rather optimistic budgets — will fall on the shoulders of the riders. Should the MTA grant wages if everyone else has to pay more? Should work rule reform follow a bump in salary? The answers to these questions will set the tone for the MTA’s economic structure for the foreseeable future.

Categories : LIRR, UTU
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I mentioned briefly on Tuesday the hour-long program on Penn Station’s construction and destruction. Although mine’s still waiting on the DVR, if you missed the special, you can now watch in online. I’ve embedded it above for your viewing pleasure.

Those who’ve seen it speak glowingly of the story but note how quick the 51 minutes seem. There’s enough backstory in Penn Station’s history, use and untimely destruction to fill many hours of quality public television, and we’re left with just a snippet. Anyway, enjoy. I’ll post some thoughts after I’ve had a chance to watch the program myself.

Categories : Penn Station
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The iPhone reigns supreme underground. (Via Transit Wireless)

The iPhone reigns supreme underground. (Via Transit Wireless)

While waiting for the Q train at Times Square on Wednesday night, I pulled out my phone and hopped on the station’s free wireless network. I could have used Verizon’s LTE service three flights underground, but the wireless seems faster and doesn’t whittle away at my data plan. After a few minutes, the train pulled in, and I wrapped up my emails and Tweets.

For New Yorkers, an underground wireless network and subway cell service is a new development. After fits and starts, the MTA and Transit Wireless has gotten the latest program off the ground, and with service in place at around 40 stations, within the next handful of years, all 277 underground will enjoy the luxury of subway cell service. Wiring the tunnels is a long way off, but things are moving apace.

Yesterday, Transit Wireless offered more details on its Phase 2 rollout. While more Manhattan stations will enjoy the service, Phase 2 is newsworthy because it hops a river. Most of the stations in the next round are in Queens. The next base station will be locating in Queens, and officials trumped the next phase.

“Hundreds of millions of new annual subway patrons will soon receive the benefits of having all the major wireless carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Wi-Fi service in underground stations – including Queens,” William A. Bayne Jr., CEO of Transit Wireless said. “We are not only extending our network to all underground stations in Queens and additional stations in Manhattan; we are setting the stage for future innovations that will provide riders with an enhanced experience in the New York City subway system.”

I don’t have the full list of Queens stations, but Transit Wireless notes that Phase 2 will encompass 11 midtown subway stops, including Herald Square and Grand Central, and 29 Queens stations. The next full set of 40 will be online by June, but eagle-eyed observers will note that some of the Phase 2 stations such as Bryant Park are already wired. “The MTA’s firm commitment to bringing our transit system into the 21st Century continues to bear fruit with new technology that will improve our customers’ daily commutes,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement. “Providing cell phone and data connectivity to our Queens customers is the latest step in keeping everyone connected and bringing a new level of security with the ability to dial 911 in an emergency.”

Meanwhile, Transit Wireless has released a new infographic detailing usage in 2013. While only 40 stations were online, the company saw 2.6 million Wifi connections and transmitted over 60 terabytes of data. iPhones were the top device, and a plurality of users were, unsurprisingly, between the ages of 25-34. Only 8 percent of users were 55 or over — which explains why that generation is so skeptical of the utility of BusTime as well. Times Square and Columbus Circle were the most popular stations of the 36 measured.

Ultimately, the expansion of wifi is a great development for the city. It makes waiting for trains more tolerable and allows passengers to get more information about train service while inside the system. The phone calls haven’t been disruptive, and outside of a few isolated texting incidents, straphangers have remained focused on their surroundings. The tunnels should be wired too, but that seems to be a project for a different time. Make of that what you will.

Categories : Subway Cell Service
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While returning home from a trip to the Peekskill Brewery this past Sunday, we found a pair of seats in the front car of our Hudson Line train. As the express pulled out of Peekskill en route to its next stop at 125th St., I noticed two train employees in the front cab. This change in staffing came about as a direct result of the fatal crash in December, and the ongoing NTSB investigation.

Since the accident and following a year of bad publicity and poor operations, Metro-North has lost one president. Much as NJ Transit Executive Director is stepping down in a few weeks, former Metro-North President Howard Permut stepped down two weeks ago. His time was up, and Joseph Giulietti’s is beginning. Needless to say, there are likely many more changes on tap for Metro-North.

On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board issued another set of recommendations to Metro-North. Their investigation is far from complete, and as the Daily News has repeatedly noticed, they haven’t focused much on the train operator who may or may not have dozed off while driving. But for now, the NTSB wants Metro-North to install permanent speed limit signs along its route and place crash-resistant cameras inside and outside their train cabs to improve oversight and, in case of need, investigations.

In a letter to Giulietti, Deborah Hersman, chair of the NTSB, explained the board’s request:

Information developed thus far in our investigation of the December 1, 2013, derailment indicates that, while Metro-North posted signs for temporary speed restrictions, it did not use approach permanent speed restriction signs for permanent speed restrictions, such as the 30 mph speed restriction at the derailment location. As a result of the accident, Metro-North installed approach permanent speed restriction signs to aid operating crews at the derailment location, as well as in three other locations where the permanent speed restriction is greater than 20 mph less than the prevailing speed. The NTSB believes that Metro-North should take additional steps by implementing a more systematic approach and install such signs at all locations where permanent speed restrictions are in place. Although posting of these signs may not have prevented the December 1, 2013, accident, in the process of investigating that accident and the others mentioned above, the NTSB noted this issue and felt it needed the attention of Metro-North. It is crucial that locomotive engineers and conductors know the location of speed restrictions that are identified by milepost in the timetable or in operating bulletins. This will alert train operating crews that speed restrictions are forthcoming and will comply with industry best practices.

Additionally, the NTSB issued a call for inward and outward facing cameras. “The images and audio captured by recorders can be invaluable to our investigators,” Hersman said. “Understanding what is happening inside the cab just prior to a crash can provide crucial information about how to prevent future accidents.”

The release from the NTSB seemingly came out of nowhere as it the investigation, as I mentioned, is still ongoing, but Hersman was due to meet with Giulietti yesterday. The NTSB seems to think it can attract attention to some operating, especially in light of Metro-North’s temporary measures and signage.

As New York Senator Chuck Schumer voiced his support for the NTSB’s recommendations, the MTA vowed to continue to work with the NTSB to improve rail safety. “We have received the NTSB’s recommendations and we are studying them closely,” agency spokesman Adam Lisberg said to the Daily News. “Metro-North is working with the NTSB to address questions about implementation of the report’s recommendations.”

Categories : Metro-North
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