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How 2 M.T.A. Decisions Pushed the Subway Into Crisis

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https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/09/nyregion/subway-crisis-mta-decisions-signals-rules.html

 

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How 2 M.T.A. Decisions Pushed the Subway Into Crisis

By ADAM PEARCE MAY 9, 2018

By now, New York City commuters are familiar with the wait. We descend from the bitter cold or the stifling heat to find subway platforms teeming with other bodies trying to make it to work on time. Delays ripple through the system, so there’s barely room to squeeze into the next train that arrives.

For years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority told us that rising ridership and overcrowding were to blame. Yet ridership actually stayed mostly flat from 2013 to 2018 as delays rose, and the authority recently acknowledged that overcrowding was not at fault.

Instead, two decisions made by the M.T.A. years ago — one to slow down trains and another that tried to improve worker safety — appear to have pushed the subway system into its current crisis. And there’s no easy fix.

Worker safety rules and changes to the signal system have made delays last longer.

With the two decisions, the M.T.A. dealt the subway system a blow that may be felt well into the future.

First, the agency decided to increase the amount of space required between trains. It installed or modified hundreds of signals, which regulate train spacing. In that process, signals throughout the system were misconfigured — set up in a way that slowed the trains down even more than officials intended.

Second, the agency adopted new rules for track work that expanded safety zones and increased setup times.

An analysis of internal M.T.A. documents and interviews with system managers and train operators suggest that these two changes removed extra capacity — the ability to run more trains than scheduled — from the subway system. This, on top of years of cost-cutting and deferred spending for maintenance in the 1990s and 2000s, is why the system is no longer able to rebound from disruptions as it once could.

“It’s a conga line of trains all the way down to Brooklyn,” said Kimberly McLaurin, a train operator on the numbered lines who started in 2008. “Any one thing can back up the line.”

Andy Byford, the new president of New York City Transit, “asked for an analysis of the impact of signal modifications on subway schedules” as part of a review announced in January, Jon Weinstein, a spokesman for the M.T.A., the transit agency’s parent organization, said in an email.

Faulty signals force train operators to slow down too much.

After a 1995 collision of two trains on the Williamsburg Bridge killed a train operator and injured more than 50 passengers, the M.T.A. began installing and modifying hundreds of signals to prevent trains from going too fast.

When a train passes over a signal’s switch, a timer starts.

The M.T.A. projected that the signal changes would not reduce the number of trains that could pass through a section of track each hour. But this assumed the signals would work properly and that trains would operate at the speed limit.

A good signal allows a train to pass through at the speed limit.

A misconfigured signal will trigger automatic braking even at speeds below the limit.

Some train operators slow down for all signals in case they are passing through a faulty one.

In reality, many signals are poorly maintained and misconfigured, triggering emergency braking at speeds below the listed limit. An unpublished 2014 internal M.T.A. analysis, first reported on by The Village Voice, found that the signal changes caused a significant slowdown, more than the M.T.A. expected.

Train operators face steep penalties after a number of instances of tripping a signal, like losing vacation days or being forced into early retirement.

“If you have two of those type of incidents, I’ve seen people forced into retirement because of something like that,” Ms. McLaurin said, noting that she always approaches the signal timers ready to stop the train, regardless of the posted speed. “I’m not playing with my job,” she added.

“Our instructors are the ones telling us, ‘Don’t go by what’s posted, go 10 to 15 miles lower,’ instead of just having someone fix it or adjust it,” Ms. McLaurin said.

The analysis stated that if the M.T.A. had known the signal changes would reduce the number of trains able to run on congested lines, they would not have been made.

But the damage was done. After the signal changes, two fewer trains could run on the southbound 4 and 5 lines hourly, forcing the thousands of passengers those trains would have carried to squeeze into already crowded cars.

Across the entire system, more than 1,800 signals have been modified since 1995.

New safety rules meant to protect workers have led to more delays.

After two track workers died within a week of each other in 2007, the M.T.A. created a track safety task force.

The task force recommended new slow zones adjacent to tracks where crews were working; an increase in the minimum crew size; and a longer, more careful setup process for work crews.

The slow zones, marked by lights and flaggers to alert train operators, contributed to an increase in work-related delays.

With the new rules, trains traveling near track work must go at less than 10 m.p.h. — 30 m.p.h. slower than the systemwide speed limit. Even far from track work, the slow zones create bottlenecks and reduce the number of trains able to run.


As the M.T.A. adopted more safety rules, the share of overall delays attributed to planned track work increased from 20 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2014, despite a similar amount of work each year.

Protecting workers is an important part of the M.T.A.’s mission, but the tracks are still dangerous after these new rules. In the last five years, three more workers have died on the tracks, and near misses are not uncommon.

The London Underground, a system of similar size and age, has had no track worker fatalities since 1998.

Tony Utano, the president of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, said he would fight any rule change that could put workers at risk.

“Many of these protections were put into place because our members were maimed and killed on the tracks,” he said.

In an email, Mr. Weinstein of the M.T.A. said that “the safety of workers and riders is our Number 1 priority,” declining to answer specific questions about the increase in delays because of track work.

New York City’s subway is the world’s largest 24/7 system, making it harder to protect track workers while doing maintenance without disrupting service. And even with Fastrack, when some tracks are shut down overnight to allow for a safer and faster job, the start of work can be delayed for hours.

For years, overcrowding was incorrectly blamed for being the root cause of delays.

As delays began to rise in 2013, the M.T.A. blamed rising ridership and overcrowding. But delays kept increasing even after ridership plateaued and fell.

Train dispatchers have often used overcrowding as a catchall category for delays without a clear cause or for ones caused by the crowded platforms that follow when equipment failures or track work disrupt regular service.

Average weekday ridership actually decreased by 40,000 people from January 2013 to January 2018, while trains went from being on time 84 percent of the time to 58 percent.

The M.T.A. recently acknowledged overcrowding was not actually at the root of the problem. The authority has also blamed old equipment, but train dispatchers have not recorded more instances of electrical or track problems causing delays despite maintenance cuts.

This won’t be easy to fix.

Before the 1995 Williamsburg Bridge crash, the M.T.A. had installed less expensive brakes with longer stopping distances without adjusting the signals to compensate. Afterward, the M.T.A. not only increased the distance between trains but also reduced the speed of train cars and installed speed-limiting signals.

Either lowering speeds or increasing spacing would have given the train enough stopping distance to avoid the accident. Since then, making both of those changes has brought the system to its current crisis.

When asked directly about the adjustments, Mr. Weinstein said repairs and upgrades were continuing as part of the Subway Action Plan, the M.T.A.’s $836 million emergency effort to improve the system.

Just 7 percent of the Subway Action Plan budget had been set aside for signal maintenance as of March 1.

When asked in September how long it would take for riders to see the impact of the Subway Action Plan, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told reporters, “I would venture to say if you were looking very carefully, you would see improvement already.”

But the subway kept slowing down. As of February, the number of delayed trains was up about 8 percent since last September.

 

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What's frustrating about all of this is the amount of disruptions and the LACK of work being done during said disruptions.  You see platforms shut down and pass by and nothing is being done, yet we CRAWL by the stations and CRAWL after we pass the station and then CRAWL some more.  We're receiving slower commutes in the name of safety with nothing to show for it.  Funny how after I made a stink about how long that Northbound staircase at Grand Central had been closed, yesterday I see that they've finally installed it after MONTHS with it closed (one staircase that was closed to the public 24/7 takes that long to install?), though it wasn't open yet for use.

Don't get me wrong, safety is very important and no one should be on the verge of risking their lives, but if we have to sacrifice, let's have something to show for it.  They keep shutting down service every weekend claiming they're making improvements, but if no one is working, then where are the improvements being made?  Then you check their website and they take pictures with all of these people supposedly flooding the tracks working.  It's a joke.  When the zones are set up for work, there should be bodies working and maximizing the amount of time those platforms and tracks are shutdown, otherwise they're just slowing down peoples' commutes for nothing, then when communities protest about projects that are delayed repeatedly and over budget, they can't understand why.  It's pretty obvious when work is being done and when it isn't.  

Edited by Via Garibaldi 8
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Anyone want to start a Twitter/Instagram feed of idling workers?

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4 hours ago, CenSin said:

Anyone want to start a Twitter/Instagram feed of idling workers?

Check the Astoria Line rehabs. They go to McDonalds instead of working and then eat when they are supposed to be working. This really is a huge problem. And, to make it worse, the contractors jack up the costs.

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10 hours ago, Via Garibaldi 8 said:

What's frustrating about all of this is the amount of disruptions and the LACK of work being done during said disruptions.  You see platforms shut down and pass by and nothing is being done, yet we CRAWL by the stations and CRAWL after we pass the station and then CRAWL some more.  We're receiving slower commutes in the name of safety with nothing to show for it.  Funny how after I made a stink about how long that Northbound staircase at Grand Central had been closed, yesterday I see that they've finally installed it after MONTHS with it closed (one staircase that was closed to the public 24/7 takes that long to install?), though it wasn't open yet for use.

Don't get me wrong, safety is very important and no one should be on the verge of risking their lives, but if we have to sacrifice, let's have something to show for it.  They keep shutting down service every weekend claiming they're making improvements, but if no one is working, then where are the improvements being made?  Then you check their website and they take pictures with all of these people supposedly flooding the tracks working.  It's a joke.  When the zones are set up for work, there should be bodies working and maximizing the amount of time those platforms and tracks are shutdown, otherwise they're just slowing down peoples' commutes for nothing, then when communities protest about projects that are delayed repeatedly and over budget, they can't understand why.  It's pretty obvious when work is being done and when it isn't.  

 I wholeheartedly agree with this. There should be coordination between departments to arrange for multiple facets of work being done during a service change. 

Because of the way the switches are layed out, you might have to close a whole segment of line just to work on one spot - but I'm sure there's work to be done in other places. This kind of coordination was the goal of fasttrack, it was said, but there's really no reason it shouldn't be applied to every. single. g.o. 

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2 hours ago, Union Tpke said:

Check the Astoria Line rehabs. They go to McDonalds instead of working and then eat when they are supposed to be working. This really is a huge problem. And, to make it worse, the contractors jack up the costs.

They've touted that the feedback from the reeopened other ESI stations has been overwhelmingly positive. I'm talking to a few business owners on 30th ave next week - all of whom are furious about the shutdown's terrible effect on their bottom line - and hoping to organize a deluge of "results not worth the extended disruption" feedback. The full shutdown was supposed to be a way to get work done faster - but the stations are supposed to open "spring 2018" and they're nowhere even close. 

If the shutdowns continue to broadway I'm talking to a bar owner over there to make them one of my station countdown clocks that shows minutes to the next train. It would start at about 384,000. 

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I mean, I still come on this forum to talk transit with you all (as it's still a hobby/interest of mine), but with that said.....

I seriously & honestly believe that what's going on w/ the buses, the subway, AND the RR's (esp. the LIRR) is sabotagery.... Things have gotten too detrimental much too quickly & all the technological advances being made isn't/won't be enough to cover up the incompetence & dysfunction coming from above... That's where it starts & that's where it'll end up ending.... Far too much politics involved.....

People try to play their part in not adding to vehicular congestion (take me for example) or simply can't afford their own personal vehicle & resort to patronizing mass transit & this is the thanks they get..... People have their breaking points & it's only but so much of this bullshit that they're going to put up with for any prolonged length of time & it's going to (continue to) negatively affect the city's economy.... NYC better clench that fist as tight as they can on those tourist dollars......

Edited by B35 via Church

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2 hours ago, B35 via Church said:

I mean, I still come on this forum to talk transit with you all (as it's still a hobby/interest of mine), but with that said.....

I seriously & honestly believe that what's going on w/ the buses, the subway, AND the RR's (esp. the LIRR) is sabotagery.... Things have gotten too detrimental much too quickly & all the technological advances being made isn't/won't be enough to cover up the incompetence & dysfunction coming from above... That's where it starts & that's where it'll end up ending.... Far too much politics involved.....

People try to play their part in not adding to vehicular congestion (take me for example) or simply can't afford their own personal vehicle & resort to patronizing mass transit & this is the thanks they get..... People have their breaking points & it's only but so much of this bullshit that they're going to put up with for any prolonged length of time & it's going to (continue to) negatively affect the city's economy.... NYC better clench that fist as tight as they can on those tourist dollars......

Quite frankly that's what is keeping this City afloat.  When I do have to ride the subway here and there, I look around to see who is riding, and it's mainly tourists and transplants, especially on weekends. They don't give a damn that the trains are delayed. They're just happy to experience "NYC".  When that wears off and people see how dirty this city has become, how poor transportation is, etc., they may not be flocking here so often as they have been.  

In my neighborhood I've noticed an extreme uptick in car services and Ubers on my block and on other blocks that had never been a problem in the past. At the very least you'd see a yellow taxi here and there coming from the City, but that wasn't too frequent. Now Uber and other car services are regularly on my block u-turning, flying down the block and so on. It's a quiet block, which makes it rather unnerving to cross the street and then see a car flying down a residential street. There's an Uber that literally is on Cambridge Avenue and West 236th street EVERY morning now if I go that way to get the express bus.  This morning he took the liberty to basically back up the street flying.  Luckily no cars were coming.  It's all reaching a head now though...

 

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On 5/10/2018 at 6:11 AM, B35 via Church said:

I mean, I still come on this forum to talk transit with you all (as it's still a hobby/interest of mine), but with that said.....

I seriously & honestly believe that what's going on w/ the buses, the subway, AND the RR's (esp. the LIRR) is sabotagery.... Things have gotten too detrimental much too quickly & all the technological advances being made isn't/won't be enough to cover up the incompetence & dysfunction coming from above... That's where it starts & that's where it'll end up ending.... Far too much politics involved.....

People try to play their part in not adding to vehicular congestion (take me for example) or simply can't afford their own personal vehicle & resort to patronizing mass transit & this is the thanks they get..... People have their breaking points & it's only but so much of this bullshit that they're going to put up with for any prolonged length of time & it's going to (continue to) negatively affect the city's economy.... NYC better clench that fist as tight as they can on those tourist dollars......

The problem is that the MTA and all the historically "technocratic" agencies like Port, etc. have all become victims of the spoils system. Everyone puts their buddy in the high up positions and puts their fingers in their ears. Now the music is ending and everyone's got to find a chair to sit on.

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8 hours ago, bobtehpanda said:

Everyone puts their buddy in the high up positions and puts their fingers in their ears. Now the music is ending and everyone's got to find a chair to sit on.

How can they hear the music with fingers in their ears? 🙂

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On 5/9/2018 at 6:29 PM, Union Tpke said:

Check the Astoria Line rehabs. They go to McDonalds instead of working and then eat when they are supposed to be working. This really is a huge problem. And, to make it worse, the contractors jack up the costs.

How do you know they are suppose to be working? maybe they are on lunch. or on a break. don't assume if you don't know for a fact!

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55 minutes ago, I Run Trains said:

How do you know they are suppose to be working? maybe they are on lunch. or on a break. don't assume if you don't know for a fact!

Last time they closed 39th for "enchantments", there was not a single worker there and all they did was replace some plywood. Regardless, trains still had to pass slow. They could have done this overnight given how little work they did.

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1 minute ago, R68OnBroadway said:

Last time they closed 39th for "enchantments", there was not a single worker there and all they did was replace some plywood. Regardless, trains still had to pass slow. They could have done this overnight given how little work they did.

Did you see the General Order?

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6 minutes ago, I Run Trains said:

Did you see the General Order?

The service change was listed on the site and said "station enchantments". It was on April 21-22.

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7 minutes ago, R68OnBroadway said:

The service change was listed on the site and said "station enchantments". It was on April 21-22.

Trust Me! what yall see, and what we see AINT THE SAME!! We get full details of the job and a lot of the stuff we get and see the public won't understand.

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2 minutes ago, R68OnBroadway said:

The service change was listed on the site and said "station enchantments". It was on April 21-22.

I don't see that listed on the weekend advisory for that date, but I know that there are some weekends that all the astoria line stations are getting bypassed in one direction so that work can be done at only two of them. That's the way the tracks are laid out. 

12 minutes ago, I Run Trains said:

Trust Me! what yall see, and what we see AINT THE SAME!! We get full details of the job and a lot of the stuff we get and see the public won't understand.

Very true - though I still contend the astoria line ESI is rather behind schedule, and I think this falls on the contractor doing the rehabs. 

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1 hour ago, I Run Trains said:

How do you know they are suppose to be working? maybe they are on lunch. or on a break. don't assume if you don't know for a fact!

I have a friend who uses the Astoria Line at different times of the day, and he sees this all the time.

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14 minutes ago, Union Tpke said:

I have a friend who uses the Astoria Line at different times of the day, and he sees this all the time.

If you say so, But Dont assume when you don't know exactly what it is or know the job! 

Edited by I Run Trains
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34 minutes ago, I Run Trains said:

If you say so, But Dont assume when you don't know exactly what it is or know the job! 

You can spin it however you want to, but it isn't that complicated to understand.  Either they're supposed to be working or they aren't.  I used to work in construction myself as a project manager and also on the insurance side, and when I had to attending meetings in the field, I always observed the different trades and who was doing what, so there's lots of sitting around. Lots, especially if there's no oversight. 

Usually the on-site managers have multiple projects to joggle so they have to move around and supervise, so the different trades aren't necessarily being watched the entire time.  Additionally, it could be that one trade needs another trade to do XYZ before they do their part, but either way, they're still sitting on their @ss.  The longer the project goes, the more people are paid, so in most cases, there's no incentive to finish the job. Furthermore, the (MTA) has already publicly admitted to using corrupt vendors to do these projects that milk them.  You really don't need eight guys standing around looking while only two at best are working.  

Edited by Via Garibaldi 8
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40 minutes ago, Via Garibaldi 8 said:

You can spin it however you want to, but it isn't that complicated to understand.  Either they're supposed to be working or they aren't.  I used to work in construction myself as a project manager and also on the insurance side, and when I had to attending meetings in the field, I always observed the different trades and who was doing what, so there's lots of sitting around. Lots, especially if there's no oversight.  Could be that one trade needs another trade to do XYZ before they do their part, but either way, they're still sitting on their @ss.  The longer the project goes, the more people are paid, so in most cases, there's no incentive to finish the job. Furthermore, the (MTA) has already publicly admitted to using corrupt vendors to do these projects that milk them.  You really don't need eight guys standing around looking while only two at best are working.  

You remind Me of the Boogie Man! Every time some body speak up to try to defend the system, here you come shooting it down adding you're 2 cents. I never fails... i can almost depend on you to comment AGAINST the (MTA).  Lmao! LIKE CLOCK WORK!

Edited by I Run Trains
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17 minutes ago, I Run Trains said:

You remind Me of the Boogie Man! Overtime some body speak up to try to defend the system, here you come shooting it down adding you're 2 cents. I never fails... i can almost depend on you to comment AGAINST the (MTA).  Lmao! LIKE CLOCK WORK!

You can snow the other people, but you can't snow me.  I've been in the trade, so I know how it works.  :D Now sometimes the work can be labor intensive, don't get me wrong, but still.  Outside of lunch, meeting minutes to review work to be done or that has been done and other important matters, and general breaks, there's really no reason why folks shouldn't be working, but all of what I mentioned can eat up a few hours a day with nothing done, so you add that plus people BS-ing with no oversight, and it's easy to see how a project can become delayed.  Sometimes it may not be the workers fault.  Perhaps the architect screwed up. I've had that on a few jobs in fact. Point is things happen day to day, and if you have an incompetent on-sight manager or incompetent and/or lazy people doing the different trades, it doesn't take much to fall behind and go over budget.

Instead of picking the lowest bidder, the (MTA) should focus on properly vetting the people that they use.  If they're too cheap, they're cutting corners somewhere. Maybe their insurance isn't what it should be or they don't have enough of it for the project and you find that out after the fact (after they've won the bid for the job).  We had a few of those types that I had to go after (fly by night companies).  Companies that play games with insurance can hold up entire projects and make the whole thing a disaster, let alone any shoddy work.

Edited by Via Garibaldi 8
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22 minutes ago, Via Garibaldi 8 said:

You can snow the other people, but you can't snow me.  I've been in the trade, so I know how it works.  :D Now sometimes the work can be labor intensive, don't get me wrong, but still.  Outside of lunch, meeting minutes to review work to be done or that has been done and other important matters, and general breaks, there's really no reason why folks shouldn't be working, but all of what I mentioned can eat up a few hours a day with nothing done, so you add that plus people BS-ing with no oversight, and it's easy to see how a project can become delayed.  Sometimes it may not be the workers fault.  Perhaps the architect screwed up. I've had that on a few jobs in fact. Point is things happen day to day, and if you have an incompetent on-sight manager or incompetent and/or lazy people doing the different trades, it doesn't take much to fall behind and go over budget.

Instead of picking the lowest bidder, the (MTA) should focus on properly vetting the people that they use.  If they're too cheap, they're cutting corners somewhere. Maybe their insurance isn't what it should be or they don't have enough of it for the project and you find that out after the fact (after they've won the bid for the job).  We had a few of those types that I had to go after (fly by night companies).  Companies that play games with insurance can hold up entire projects and make the whole thing a disaster, let alone any shoddy work.

sorry pal... don't feel like reading you're essay.. its probably meaningless to me like most of you're post! lol

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2 minutes ago, I Run Trains said:

sorry pal... don't feel like reading you're essay.. its probably meaningless to me like most of you're post! lol

It's ok. I know the truth hurts. :D

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11 minutes ago, Via Garibaldi 8 said:

It's ok. I know the truth hurts. :D

I'm sure you meant your Truth (VG8's POV)..  I also wanted to add that  in there for you you've been using that phrase so often over the past few years wanted to make sure you were covered. Working on that ® now i'll keep you posted.. Happy to be back from London so much back VG8 goodness to catch up on.

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1 hour ago, Via Garibaldi 8 said:

It's ok. I know the truth hurts. :D

правда ← no Russian language skills required to read

Quote

29GaI2S.jpg

 

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