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Five Years and $19 Billion - Byford to Unveil Massive Plan to Fix Ailing Subway

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The details will be revealed in a press conference later today. In the meanwhile, here is the preliminary article from the NY Times, pasted in its entirety for those who are blocked by the paywall.

A Sweeping Plan to Fix the Subways Comes With a $19 Billion Price Tag

By Emma G. Fitzsimmons

A sweeping proposal to overhaul New York City’s subway and improve the broader transit system is expected to cost more than $19 billion, according to two people who were briefed on Tuesday, and goes far beyond the emergency repair plan that was unveiled last summer after the subway fell into crisis.

The proposal by the subway’s new leader, Andy Byford, will be announced on Wednesday in a highly anticipated presentation before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board.

Mr. Byford has warned that the subway needs major upgrades to reverse its precipitous slide and the work will require short-term pain for millions of subway riders. His plan will focus on speeding up the rollout of a new signal system to replace the subway’s current antiquated equipment, according to the two people who were briefed on the plan on Tuesday and did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Mr. Byford wants to install new signals on significant parts of the system over the next five years, the people said. That is a far shorter timeline than previous estimates from subway officials who have said that modernizing signals across the system could take nearly 50 years. The existing signals break down on a regular basis and some are so old that replacement parts are no longer manufactured.

The signal work would require some stations to be closed on nights and weekends, but Mr. Byford decided against closing full lines because it would be too difficult on busy routes like the Lexington Avenue line in Manhattan, one person said. The proposal will also cover improvements to buses and paratransit services and could depend on changes to labor and procurement rules so that the work could be done more quickly.

Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the M.T.A., the state-controlled agency that oversees the subway, said on Tuesday afternoon that the cost estimates for Mr. Byford’s plan were not yet done and would be completed as part of the next capital plan.

“Any estimates are premature and are inevitably inaccurate,” Mr. Lhota said in a statement. “The point of tomorrow’s presentation is to show we can and we will modernize the N.Y.C. Transit System.”

In the first five years, officials would upgrade signals on subway lines that carry roughly half of the system’s daily riders, including parts of the 4, 5 and 6 lines and the A, C and E lines, according to an official with knowledge of the plan. The agency would also move quickly to install elevators at 50 additional stations in the next five years to make the subway more accessible.

Mr. Byford’s proposal is a road map for moving toward a modern and reliable subway, said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group.

“We were looking for an honest accounting of what it would take to fix the subway and the M.T.A. is producing an honest accounting,” Mr. Raskin said. “The plan will require significant funding, political will and sacrifice from riders, but the reality is we need to make those things happen because we need to fix the subway.”

As the subway descended into crisis last summer, officials started to implement a roughly $800 million short-term rescue plan. Mr. Byford’s proposal is aimed at making more comprehensive upgrades, from station bathrooms to elevators, and could involve major disruptions on a system that serves more than five million riders each day.

The hefty price tag is sure to prompt sticker shock for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who controls the authority and declared the state of emergency last June. Mr. Cuomo has suggested that long-term plans for the subway would require new funding sources, like congestion pricing, which failed in Albany this year, or new financing from the state and the city.

The debate over funding for the subway modernization plan could again pit Mr. Cuomo against his frequent political nemesis Mayor Bill de Blasio. Mr. Cuomo called on Mr. de Blasio to pay about $400 million toward the short-term subway plan, which he eventually agreed to do under pressure.

Mr. Byford’s plan is much more expensive. The authority’s current five-year capital plan is about $33 billion and that covers not just subways and buses, but also funding for two commuter railroads, bridges and tunnels and expansion projects.

Eric Phillips, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, said the city was not willing to help pay for Mr. Byford’s plan. He said the authority should use its existing resources and the state should approve a new revenue source, like the millionaire’s tax that Mr. de Blasio has proposed.

“While the devil is always in the details, early reports suggest the M.T.A. is finally focusing on the infrastructure riders need to get around,” Mr. Phillips said in a statement.

Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cuomo, said the governor’s office would review the plan. She reiterated the governor’s support for using new technology as part of the signal upgrades.

“Our bottom line is that the plan needs to be expeditious and realistic and we made it clear to the chairman that before it is finalized, the M.T.A. must bring in the top tech experts in the nation. Because if we can experiment with self-driving vehicles, there must be an alternative technology for the subways,” Ms. Lever said in a statement.

Transit advocates have raised concerns about whether officials at the authority have the credibility to tackle a major subway overhaul when its projects are regularly delayed and over budget. Mr. Lhota faced new questions on Tuesday about potential conflicts of interest in an investigation by The New York Times.

Mr. Byford, who previously led Toronto’s transit system, is widely respected by industry veterans and is viewed as meticulous and independent.

Still, his accelerated timeline for upgrading signals may face skepticism because of the agency’s track record. There have been serious delays in installing a new signal system, which is known as communications-based train control, or C.B.T.C.

Of New York’s 22 subway lines, only the L train has the advanced signal system. An effort to install the technology on the No. 7 line is years overdue.

Mr. Byford has said he hoped the No. 7 line signal upgrades would finally be completed this year.

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$20 billion as an estimate; $35 billion in debt currently, (MTA) as a whole.

NY should be ashamed of itself doing this to the engine of the US and global economy.

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The live feed of the presentation is here:

This is going to be a painful period for customers, and I sincerely hope that Mr. Byford has the (MTA) focusing on COMMUNICATION.  He kept re-iterating how the agency was becoming more customer-centric and how they were putting customers first. It sounds great but they need to start focusing on the small things and doing those things properly.  

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Finally! 

"Continuous night and weekend closures for up to 2.5 years per line" is basically what I've been saying is needed all along. I mean it seems pretty obvious, really. 

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1 hour ago, Via Garibaldi 8 said:

This is going to be a painful period for customers, and I sincerely hope that Mr. Byford has the (MTA) focusing on COMMUNICATION.  He kept re-iterating how the agency was becoming more customer-centric and how they were putting customers first. It sounds great but they need to start focusing on the small things and doing those things properly.  

As long as that period of pain leads to some tangible results, it will be a worthwhile exercise.

In regards to communication, you are absolutely correct. Obviously I haven't had a chance to really read through the proposal, but I will say this: regardless of what needs to be done, the riders need to be informed of what's going on. They're getting better with the service alerts as it pertains to planned events, but there's a lot of work that needs to be done with the unexpected service changes, especially with the ever-prevalent "residual delay" alerts that don't explain anything. As for the proposal itself, riders should be aware of what's happening, why it's happening and how long it should take. The weeks of constant and seemingly never-ending "track maintenance" service changes need to end as well.

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So I took time time to break this into its parts. Especially the CBTC portion. 

Honestly? If they can get the funds, which I estimate to be around 25 Billion as that 19 Billion figure was just the media blowing a preliminary number out of proportion, then this is definitely realistic.

What helps my thinking is that Flushing and QBL are already underway. 8th Avenue is part of the 2015-19 plan. The biggest hurtles may just be funding and logistics on that part.

Overall, I'm glad to see some sort of change seriously considered. ESPECIALLY on the procurement side as Mr. Moedler has been complaining about the process for as long as I've kept up with the meetings. He's also right in that we need to start demanding money from the Feds as we contribute a LOT to the country. Something I've also thought about as well.

There are cynics who are rightfully doubtful about the plan. And I cannot blame them. But the fact that they've already begun smaller parts of this plan in the past few months makes me want to take it really seriously. So I look forward to what happens. As I said before, the biggest roadblock here is funding. Let's hope for the best.

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Surprises:

  • The Crosstown ((G)) will get CBTC in 5 years?! That’s one of the most neglected lines in existence today.
  • Why is the (F) getting it in disjoint segments? One of the busier segments shared with the (G) has no CBTC.
  • 4 Avenue doesn’t get it despite traffic being so tight during the rush. Better control of train spacing and merge orchestration would be welcomed.
  • 2 Avenue—the newest line in the system doesn’t get it.
Edited by CenSin

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Okay, so I finally finished reading the proposal and here are the highlights:

First off, the majority of this plan consists of upgrading the signaling system to the CBTC standard within the next ten years. In the first five years, the plan calls for conversion of the Lexington Ave, Queens Blvd, Culver, Flushing and Crosstown lines, along with the lower portion of the 8th Avenue line, to CBTC signaling. In the following five years, 6th Avenue, 7th Avenue, Broadway, Fulton St and the entirety of the Rockaways will be converted. The majority of this work will be done with continuous night and weekend closures, which is quite ambitious in my opinion. Recalling CBTC-conversion work on the Canarsie and Flushing lines, there were many nights and weekends where service was reduced or suspended entirely and both of those projects still took an age to complete, the latter of which is still underway.

Another part of the proposal calls for improvements in service reliability. This includes a recent favorite here on the forum, which is to review certain service routes and reduce the reliance on specific interlocking junctions. If I'm reading this correctly, that may mean de-interlining of some lines as situations warrant. Also included is a plan to speed up running times, either through the elimination of unnecessary signals and/or improving line management.

In terms of the items riders will see on a daily basis, the stations and trains, both of these will see changes as part of the initiative. The proposal calls for around 300 stations to be brought to a state of good repair within ten years. Also accessibility will be greatly expanded with an additional 50 stations to be accessible by the early 2020s and well over half of the network by the end of the decade. A long-term goal laid out in the proposal is to have the entire system accessible by 2034, a much quicker timeline than the initial estimates of 2050 at the earliest. Regarding the new cars, along with the R211 order to replace the aging 32s-46s, more cars will be ordered to replace the remaining non-NTT fleet.

Naturally, this will all have to be paid for in some way. In an effort to reduce cost overruns and wasteful spending, the agency plans to proactively address any issues that may arise as it pertains to construction, maintenance, etc. They also plan to hold contractors to the timelines originally given so that projects don't go on forever. As seen with the now-defunct ESI program, the design-build method will be a cornerstone to the construction process, rather than the old method of splitting the two dragging the process out longer than necessary.

Finally, in an effort at transparency, the agency plans to give people access the semi-annual progress reports on the initiative, along with an upgraded capital dashboard to monitor progress and determine what's being done. Also, the agency has pledged to be more forth-coming with service information. They plan to release more real-time information to the public and make it more accessible to them. A common gripe about the real-time information is the fact that most cannot see it because there are so few information screens available in stations. Transit is proposing to add more screens to combat this issue.

As mentioned, this is an ambitious plan, one that will undoubtedly cause headaches in the short-term, but should this actually success, it will be worth it in my opinion. Now begins the fight for who's going to pay for it...

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42 minutes ago, CenSin said:

Surprises:

  • The Crosstown ((G)) will get CBTC in 5 years?! That’s one of the most neglected lines in existence today.
  • Why is the (F) getting it in disjoint segments? One of the busier segments shared with the (G) has no CBTC.
  • 4 Avenue doesn’t get it despite traffic being so tight during the rush. Better control of train spacing and merge orchestration would be welcomed.
  • 2 Avenue—the newest line in the system doesn’t get it.

Remember, originally, Sixth Avenue was supposed to get CBTC along with Culver and QBL. But a year or two back, it was switched to 8th Avenue.

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39 minutes ago, Gotham Bus Co. said:

Step 1: Allow <7> train operators to move faster than 10mph and bypass green signals. 

The MTA couldn’t do that. Think of the colorblind people!

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5 hours ago, CenSin said:

Surprises:

  • The Crosstown ((G)) will get CBTC in 5 years?! That’s one of the most neglected lines in existence today.
  • Why is the (F) getting it in disjoint segments? One of the busier segments shared with the (G) has no CBTC.
  • 4 Avenue doesn’t get it despite traffic being so tight during the rush. Better control of train spacing and merge orchestration would be welcomed.
  • 2 Avenue—the newest line in the system doesn’t get it.

The Culver Line signals need to be replaced anyway. It makes sense to replace them with CBTC, as opposed to Wayside signals.

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I sure hope they increase nighttime express bus service along the Corresponding corridors during the overnight shutdowns on each line.  

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So I did a bit of digging, and the estimate from Bloomberg sits at 37 Billion. Another unconfirmed amount, but it sounds far closer to the truth. When I compared that to the first two Capital Programs between 1982 and 1991 and adjusted for inflation, the costs are similar.

37 Billion in 2017 dollars equates to around 13.2 Billion 1981 dollars. Which isn't too far off from the cost of dragging the system from it's darkest days. But back then, there was political will. We need that again. And we need them (politicians) to swallow the true cost, accept it, and approve it.

Otherwise, the future is bleak.

Edited by LTA1992
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Glad to see issues beyond maintenance are being recognized. 

That said, this plan is rife with questionable proposals. For example, why are we giving crosstown, Fulton and the Rockaways CBTC while Fourth, Culver north and CPW don't get. The latter three are vastly more used than the former, and aren't limited by design to running less than conventional signal capacity. Seems like a mistake to me. 

In the larger sense, I want specifics. I understand this is a broad summary, but as a part of their efforts to communicate what they're doing, I also want them to give us the logic and mechanisms behind their conclusions. Generally, being able to examine internal decision making processes would do worlds for public perception and understanding of these issues, while also fostering a modicum of accountability. 

Let's just hope this gets funded. Congestion pricing anyone? 

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1 hour ago, RR503 said:

Let's just hope this gets funded. Congestion pricing anyone? 

It would just be a drop in the bucket of funding, while being a major inconvenience for years to come.

This project needs proper funding from the state, but we'll see about that if/when Cuomo comments on Byford's proposal.

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1 hour ago, BreeddekalbL said:

Also Mr byford said they did model 24/7 shutdowns and it was infeasible

https://twitter.com/2AvSagas/status/999318646093737989?s=19

In the tweet sagas said they used the Lex as an example. "There wouldn't be enough road capacity to replace the line with buses".

But, the (5) could run down 7th Ave, the (4)'s southern terminal could be Yankee Stadium, and the southbound (6) could terminate at 125 with riders walking or taking buses to other lines along 125th or Astoria, there could be express buses to.from the (Q) at 96. That would be interesting.

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7 hours ago, QM1to6Ave said:

I sure hope they increase nighttime express bus service along the Corresponding corridors during the overnight shutdowns on each line.  

VG8 will be very proud of the (MTA) if they do that...:D

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3 hours ago, N6 Limited said:

In the tweet sagas said they used the Lex as an example. "There wouldn't be enough road capacity to replace the line with buses".

But, the (5) could run down 7th Ave, the (4)'s southern terminal could be Yankee Stadium, and the southbound (6) could terminate at 125 with riders walking or taking buses to other lines along 125th or Astoria, there could be express buses to.from the (Q) at 96. That would be interesting.

When he said road capacity, he meant the surface.

Bustituting the East Side IRT 24/7 is not possible. To carry the 1.3 million riders who over the course of a day, you'd need, at least, 1,200 buses. Then how are they getting up and down 3rd and Lex without completely turning the avenues into busways? The East Side would be crippled. 

Weekends would be the best time to do it while providing extra service on the (2)(D)(N)(Q)(R). Hell, Broadway could run on an off-peak weekday schedule on weekends to compensate since I feel like many would switch from shuttle buses to the subway at 59th.

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40 minutes ago, Deucey said:

What makes this plan something more than FasTrack 2.0?

Hopefully with this plan they don't waste 3 hours setting up and taking down flagging materials each night LOL

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