Home MTA Construction A glimpse at the FASTRACK future

A glimpse at the FASTRACK future

by Benjamin Kabak

During Monday’s MTA Board committee meetings, the Transit Committee received an update on the Orwellianly named FASTRACK program. The MTA’s overnight shutdowns have helped speed up maintenance on key subway trunk lines while saving the authority money, and after a series of treatments in the heavily-trafficked and heavily-redundant parts of Manhattan this year, the treatment will spread out of the so-called Central Business District.

The key slide from the presentation [pdf] for travelers wondering what the MTA’s future plans will be is this one:

As we see, when FASTRACK moves out of the areas of the city well covered by trains, shuttle buses enter the equation. There me be lines parallel to 8th Ave. one block east, but for some areas, service grows a bit more scarce. Notably, the MTA will have to provide some shuttle bus service in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan as well as along the Queens Boulevard route.

FASTRACK for the Lexington Ave. line through the Upper East Side is intriguing as well. The double-decked tunnels allow for some interesting service patterns in which express trains will run while locals do not and vice versa. That’s good for people heading to 86th St. and not so great for those trying to reach the stops in between. The MTA has yet to announce any 2013 dates for theses shutdowns, but they’re on the way.

Meanwhile, the 10-page document offered up some other numbers. During the first quarter of 2012, FASTRACK allowed the MTA to realize savings of over $5 million while addressing backlogged maintenance requests. Ridership drops through the CBD have been around three percent while buses have picked up some of the slack. Finally, the fourth quarter work later this year will involve removing all debris from the rights-of-way and cleaning the Joralemon, Clark, Cranberry and Rutgers tubes.

One way or another, it sounds as though we’re stuck with FASTRACK for the foreseeable future. It may mean less convenient overnight subway service now and then, but if all goes well, it should mean more reliable service overall. Fair trade?

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Marc Shepherd May 23, 2012 - 1:02 pm

Yes, I’d say FASTRACK is a clear win.

Bolwerk May 23, 2012 - 10:50 pm

I wish they’d FASTRACK the SAS now.

Evan May 28, 2012 - 5:27 am

Here here. Would that they could.

Mike May 29, 2012 - 3:04 pm

Ridership drops, at a time when ridership should be rising given increased city population and increased gas prices? It’s a huge fail. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 10PM is an unconscionably early time to shut down a subway line.

Jerrold May 23, 2012 - 1:32 pm

I THINK that I know which subway tunnel is which, but maybe not everybody knows. It might be a good idea to refer to tunnels by names such as the BMT tunnel, the IRT 7th Ave. Line tunnel, etc.

Benjamin Kabak May 23, 2012 - 1:40 pm

Hah! Using the arcane route initials instead would be just as bad.

Here you go:

Joralemon: 4/5
Clark: 2/3
Cranberry: A/C
Rutgers: F

Jerrold May 23, 2012 - 1:47 pm

Thanks! I DID have some of them mixed up. And let’s not forget Montague: R and sometimes N.

The Cobalt Devil May 23, 2012 - 1:42 pm

Unless I’m reading the slides wrong, they do break them down by BMT/IND. Which is pretty archaic nowadays, since only transit workers and train nerds use the old IRT/IND/BMT designations any more. Try asking your average rider where the BMT subway is and wait for the blank stare.

Benjamin Kabak May 23, 2012 - 1:45 pm

Transit uses the BMT/IND/IRT distinctions for internal references. The only people who know about them are transit buffs, city historians and Transit employees. Many who know of them today have no idea about the origins of the three separately owned systems.

Jerrold May 23, 2012 - 1:50 pm

It might depend on how old he is, and if he was born here or not!

Evan May 24, 2012 - 5:12 pm

Personally, I think that for the sake of making the city’s history come alive, the MTA should make a proactive effort to use the designations, and explain them accordingly.

After all, the subway was never formed as one organized entity; it was the combination of three distinct organizations, and neglecting to use these designations would give the false impression that the subway was built by one party. This is unless, of course, this is exactly the impression the MTA wants to give.

It would also explain why a numbered train would NEVER be found on the route of a lettered line, and why IND-size cars would NEVER be found on the BMT Nassau Street Line, the BMT Canarsie Line or the BMT Jamaica Line, even when the BMT and IND are pretty much intergated in Lower Manhattan.

al May 23, 2012 - 1:42 pm

Looks like they could use more low floor articulated buses to carry the load during FASTRACK closures in Qns, Bx and Bk.

Jerrold May 23, 2012 - 1:52 pm

P.S. I was answering Cobalt, regarding that “average rider”.

SEAN May 23, 2012 - 2:31 pm

For the E &F, cant the MTA just add aditional Q60 frequencies?

WilletsPoint-SheaStadium May 23, 2012 - 3:28 pm

Not exactly. The Q60 runs strictly on Queens Boulevard, whereas the IND Express trains stop at Queens Plaza, then Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway, a bit of a distance away from Queens Blvd. The Queens Blvd Local service runs up Steinway Street to Broadway, then east down Broadway until Queens Blvd at Grand Avenue.

They’ll need specific Subway Shuttles, but one would think that they would run Express/Limited Service between Queens Plaza/Queensbridge and Roosevelt Ave. In either case, I’m sure the 7 will be the more desirable alternative.

SEAN May 23, 2012 - 3:53 pm

OK, that makes more sence than what I typed.


Andrew May 23, 2012 - 7:09 pm

I doubt there will be any expresses. Through riders should be on the 7 – the buses should be only for people going to intermediate stops.

pea-jay May 23, 2012 - 2:49 pm

No UWS/Hamilton Heights/Harlem work on the ACBD or 123 lines? Are they in that good state it’s not needed? Which would be surprising because both stretches have 24/7 service on both local and express tracks unlike the Lex which doesnt have overnight express service.

Alek May 23, 2012 - 3:05 pm

What about the J/Z fastrack?!

John-2 May 23, 2012 - 3:35 pm

That’s probably going to wait until everyone’s familiar with the new Bleecker-B’way Lafayette transfer, since the uptown connection to the 6 will really simplify the alternative route if the Nassau-Center Sts. loop is closed between Essex and Broad.

George May 23, 2012 - 3:37 pm

It would just be J since Z doesn’t run overnight.
I hope they don’t do it though. I’m used to the Bowery Station looking like the 14th circle of hell.

Stewart Mader May 23, 2012 - 3:16 pm

Absolutely a fair trade. I think FASTRACK has been a big success for the MTA, and the station improvements are noticeable. Another part of FASTRACK that hasn’t gotten much coverage, but has been very well handled by the agency is communication. I’ve noticed – and appreciated – posters showing the affected section of a line grayed out and travel alternatives highlighted, nightly tweets alerting riders to impending FASTRACK work, photo sets on Flickr showing work, and summaries posted to the MTA website the day after each nightly work period detailing the amount of track repaired/replaced, station surfaces painted, debris removed, etc. This rider thinks the MTA deserves a lot of praise for its communication about FASTRACK, in addition to the important work accomplished on the system.

Nathanael May 26, 2012 - 10:21 pm

FASTRACK is one of several reforms pushed by Walder which he imported from London. (They call them “blockades” there, for some obscure reason.) The communication system regarding planned service disruptions? Also imported from London by Walder.

George May 23, 2012 - 3:34 pm

If they’re going to shut down Lexington Avenue lines overnight, they should run Metro North shuttles between 125th St and 42nd St overnight, and also maybe keep the northern entrances to Grand Central open so people have access up to 48th St.

Jerrold May 23, 2012 - 4:03 pm

Very good idea!
After all, at certain times in the past when the #7 was not running for whatever reason, they put on some extra LIRR trains on the Queens portion of the Port Washington Line. The fare for that train was equal to the subway fare at that time.

R. Graham May 23, 2012 - 4:09 pm

That would be costly and pointless. Local and express will not be shut down at the same time. It will only be either local or express shut down at any given time.

Jerrold May 23, 2012 - 4:59 pm

To R. Graham: Wait a minute! Isn’t that what FASTTRACK is, when they shut down the ENTIRE line overnight?

Ben May 23, 2012 - 6:03 pm

The sections of the Lexington line they’re talking about closing are the part where the express and local trains are in separate tunnels—the point of the “entire line” closure is that there aren’t any work zones that trains have to run through (so no work interruptions for safety, and no live third rail near the work site), which is automatically true on this segment. Arguably it dilutes the brand a bit, but I’m not sure anybody cares that much for the brand in this case anyway.

R. Graham May 23, 2012 - 6:16 pm

Ben definitely said it best. I don’t really need to elaborate on that, but what I will elaborate on is the fact that the upper East side of Manhattan is probably the most frustrating area in the city for a FastTrack shutdown for the Authority.

Why? because it really is served by only one subway line. Now as you get into the deeper stretches in the outer boroughs you’re going to have the same problem but not the same magnitude of crowding by far.

Need proof? For those of you who are out there that late when it happens next year tell me exactly what Grand Central looks like when local service is killed for that stretch and tell me what 125th Street looks like. The reasoning is simple. Those who live between York and Lexington. Yes you have buses running up and down each of those Avenues but the key is getting to them. Getting to the M15 on 1st, etc. Crosstown buses, let’s end the argument while you’re ahead.

Now I’m not advocating falling short of a full shutdown, but I’m saying I understand all of the reasons why the authority is taking advantage of avoiding the full closure. 1. Because two levels with only service on one level is still a shutdown and 2. Lexington Avenue Line being the only line in that area of town for a lot of people would mean a LOT, A LOT, A LOT of buses.

The Cobalt Devil May 23, 2012 - 4:10 pm

Keep in mind that FASTRACK is more of a money-saving function than getting the work done quickly. Adding more trains to Metro-North means more engineers, conductors and operations staff working overnight, which will more or less defeat the purpose of saving the MTA money.

Since the M101-102-103 run all but empty along Lex Ave most nights, they’ll have plenty of capacity to take the load off the N/Q and Sixth Ave lines as an alternate.

Alek May 23, 2012 - 3:43 pm

I think for the broadway fastrack the pattern would be like this

-N trains run in 2 sections
Between Astoria-Ditmars to Queensboro plaza
Between Atlantic ave and Stillwell ave

-R train service ends early. Trains run bay ridge to 36th st all night

-Q trains runs between stillwell and prospect park. Shuttle bus provides alt service.

That is my guess

John-2 May 23, 2012 - 4:50 pm

Since the Brighton line is the more heavily used of the South Brooklyn lines, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Q runs to/from DeKalb via Sixth Avenue either from/to 57th-7th or Queens Plaza, so that the Brighton maintains a one-seat ride overnight from Midtown Manhattan

pea-jay May 24, 2012 - 12:22 am

The old Orange Q…

Larry Littlefield May 23, 2012 - 7:57 pm

“FASTRACK for the Lexington Ave. line through the Upper East Side is intriguing as well. The double-decked tunnels allow for some interesting service patterns in which express trains will run while locals do not and vice versa.”

Were they to complete Phase II of the SAS to 125th Street, as promised before Silver held it up, they could “fastrack” from 125th Street to Atlantic Avenue. As it is, if they shut down it won’t be pleasant for the Upper East Side.

R. Graham May 23, 2012 - 9:27 pm

Even if Silver didn’t hold it up I couldn’t see SAS making it all the way downtown by now. But I am going by the way things are being done today so that may or may not be a fair assumption.

Bolwerk May 23, 2012 - 10:58 pm

Well, what they should do is shut down the avenue in sections and cut and cover it. They could actually use local construction companies, instead of foreign conglomerates.

Larry Littlefield May 24, 2012 - 9:22 am

I think it would have been done to 125th Street by now. He held it up as a result of a demand that it got all the way downtown.

R. Graham May 24, 2012 - 9:27 am

And he was absolutely right. It really is no point to build the line with no provisions or assurances that it will go downtown. Otherwise downtown’s portion would end up like the Bronx portion….

Exactly! And that’s my point.

Bolwerk May 24, 2012 - 1:37 pm

No he wasn’t. He delayed and made more expensive a project that obviously has to happen anyway.

IIRC, what got his knickers in a knot was the fact that it wasn’t starting in downtown, not that it wasn’t going to downtown.

R. Graham May 24, 2012 - 3:04 pm

It was too my understanding that he had a problem with the fact that there was only talk of the phases leading from 125th to 63rd and that any southern portion would only be discussed and planned in a if necessary context.

I remember it this way because I remember the debates and being apart of some stating that the line itself is truly useless if it doesn’t go downtown and connect itself with transfers to other subway lines further down the line truly taking crowds away from the Lexington Avenue option.

AG May 24, 2012 - 3:44 pm

This is a 24 hour system which makes maintenance much more difficult than other subway systems. I personally can’t think of a better way than FASTRACK…

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