Part of what makes New York the “city that never sleeps” are its subway lines. For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the subways always run. Some duplicative lines that offer extra peak-hour service shut down over night, but a straphanger can get on at any station and head to any other at any point in time. Now, according to reports, that could change.
For much of the past 18 months, MTA and Transit officials have struggled with keeping necessary maintenance on time and on budget while still offering as much subway service as possible. Yet, by starting work late at night during the week and wrapping up before the 5 a.m. rush the next day, the MTA has found progress slow and costly. In May of 2010, then-CEO and Chairman Jay Walder talked about full line shutdowns to improve work efficiency. “If you’re in London and you’re doing track work on the Jubilee Line, do you want me to tell you what the service announcement is on the Jubilee Line?” Walder said. “The service announcement is, ‘The Jubilee line is not running.’”
Even as late as last December, Transit President Thomas Prendergast expressed his desire to see such shutdowns implemented in New York. “Maybe for some of the more difficult tests, that take a long time to set up, pick one Saturday a month and do it at night, starting after five or six o’clock at night, look at things like that,” he said.
Now, according to a report in the Daily News based on MTA documents that will be presented to the authority board’s Transit Committee on Monday, the authority will shut down certain lines for “blitzes” that will look to speed up repairs. Pete Donohue has the details:
Every three months, a line segment — possibly stretching from midtown all the way to the southern tip of Manhattan or even downtown Brooklyn — would be closed for three or four consecutive weeknights, sources said. The new strategy likely will be tested first on the Lexington Ave. line between 42nd St. to the north and either Bowling Green in lower Manhattan or Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, to the south, sources said.
Trains would stop running at about 10 p.m. each night and wouldn’t start up again until about 5 a.m. the next morning. That would allow the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to get many projects and tasks done at once rather than piecemeal throughout the year. It’s a worthwhile tradeoff, one transit source familiar with the plan said.
“For a few nights, you won’t have service on a segment of a line but contrast that with work being done over far more nights and weekends with all the service diversions and train slowdowns.”
In addition to the Manhattan pilot, Donohue reports, Transit may blitz some Queens work too. The Manhattan-bound F would not run from Forest Hills to Parsons Boulevard for nine days in an effort to avoid eight weekends of construction.
The details of this plan will be, as I mentioned, released on Monday, but from prior conversations with MTA officials and various statements, it’s clear that the authority has high hopes for this pilot. Track workers won’t have to contend with train traffic that, due to necessary safety precautions, delays the work schedule. Furthermore, by going all-in during the week, the MTA can scale back weekend work as well.
With weekend subway rides on the rise, the MTA is willing to take a chance by cutting off service during the week on routes that have, as Donohue terms it, “parallel subway lines.” With ridership very low during weeknight overnight periods, the MTA is seeking a way to inconvenience fewer people while improving efficiency. It might take some getting used to this plan, but as the subways never sleep, the work must go on one way or another.