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MTA tests subway signals, plans fixes to get trains moving faster

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http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-subway-signal-timers-20181026-story.html

By DAN RIVOLI

OCT 29, 2018 | 6:00 AM 

MTA train operator Kenric Lever, 41, says he slows his B train when it passes a malfunctioning signal beneath Central Park West. (Shawn Inglima for New York Daily News)

Trains should be able to pass a green subway signal between 81st and 72nd streets beneath Central Park West at a hair below 25 mph.

But during a recent rush-hour B train run, MTA train operator Kenric Lever slowed down so he would pass the signal at 13 mph.

“If you’re going the 25 that they tell you to go? Impossible,” Lever said.

He worried that a malfunction in the signal would raise a track-level stop arm — called a stopcock — that would automatically engage the brakes if he passed it near 25 mph.

If Lever’s train suddenly braked to a stop, it would be delayed and possibly sent off schedule. One off-schedule train can have a domino effect that throws other trains off schedule too.

The MTA’s Save Safe Seconds program, which aims to speed up subway service, has discovered 191 malfunctioning signal timers like the one that slows Lever between the 81st Street and 72nd Street stations.

One of the program’s aims is to make sure trains enter stations at “maximum attainable speed for the area.”

Between the rush hours, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., radar-gun equipped transit supervisors have been testing signals to see if trains can clear them at normal speeds. If the train’s brakes are tripped, they know something’s wrong with the signal.

The MTA has tested signals on about 90% of the subway system since September.

Transit officials plan a program to fix malfunctioning signals. They’ll start on the 1 and Q lines. Then they’ll move on to the D, N and R lines in Brooklyn’s Fourth Ave. line. They also plan to fix signals on the J, M and Z lines on the Williamsburg Bridge and east of Essex St. so they’ll be in shape before the L train shutdown in April.

Fixing the signals and reviewing speed limits will let trains run faster, transit officials say.

One updated speed limit lets Manhattan-bound A and C trains move at 15 mph between the Lafayette Ave. and Hoyt-Schermerhorn stations. For the previous 80 years, they’d been restricted to 10 mph, said Barry Greenblatt, NYC Transit’s subway service delivery chief.

“We’re looking at places where we can safely increase speeds,” Greenblatt told The News. “The one thing we’re looking at is, did we go too far?”

The signal timers are decades-old technology. More have been added to the system since two deadly crashes in the 1990s at Union Square and on the Williamsburg Bridge.

Train operators tell the News that the strict discipline culture at the MTA makes them fearful to pass some signals at posted speeds. They say that means they run trains at slower speeds, slowing down service.

“Everybody is like so afraid of any kind of mishap, even when it’s not your fault,” said one operator who was disciplined after his emergency brake was tripped for tripped when he overran a 20-mph signal timer in the Bronx at 5 mph.

MTA officials say they hope fixing the signals will lead train operators to realize they can safely run trains faster, without fear of discipline.

In the meantime, train operators said they’ll keep relying on their experience and tips from senior crew to know how fast they can move without their emergency brakes going off.

“It adds a level of stress and uncertainty that someone who’s responsible for carrying thousands of passengers really doesn’t need,” said Seth Rosenberg, a train operator for 11 years and a union shop steward. “We should be able to follow the rules.”

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It's not “malfunctioning“; it seems they calibrate them that way, just to be “extra safe”. The posted speed is like the “ideal”, and for many of them, it is set to clear right when you are on top of it, and would have no time to stop if it did happen to malfunction. So we're taught to stay back from it and “let it clear in front of you”.

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2 hours ago, Eric B said:

It's not “malfunctioning“; it seems they calibrate them that way, just to be “extra safe”. The posted speed is like the “ideal”, and for many of them, it is set to clear right when you are on top of it, and would have no time to stop if it did happen to malfunction. So we're taught to stay back from it and “let it clear in front of you”.

One of the big issues with the recalibration effort is that the formulae they use to set them don’t allow for that idea of sighting distance. So even if it is set correctly, you’ll be passing over it as it clears — meaning that ops will still run them as if they’re 3-4 mph slow. Yay capacity! 

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I thought trains passed way too slowly around that switch.  Perhaps a countdown timer would be more useful in letting operators know exactly when to proceed?

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15 hours ago, RR503 said:

One of the big issues with the recalibration effort is that the formulae they use to set them don’t allow for that idea of sighting distance. So even if it is set correctly, you’ll be passing over it as it clears — meaning that ops will still run them as if they’re 3-4 mph slow. Yay capacity! 

It doesn't make sense for the timers to clear just as your reach them. They should be green beforehand to give reassurance

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On 10/29/2018 at 7:59 AM, Eric B said:

It's not “malfunctioning“; it seems they calibrate them that way, just to be “extra safe”. The posted speed is like the “ideal”, and for many of them, it is set to clear right when you are on top of it, and would have no time to stop if it did happen to malfunction. So we're taught to stay back from it and “let it clear in front of you”.

It can be a malfunction since the relay, over time can become out spec over time. But yes, almost all timers are set wat too low.

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Ive seen shoulder of peak improvements of SB QBL express on Northern Boulevard bypass. Every train hits 40-45. E/F sounds like DC Metro now on ground CWR😃

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