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Union Tpke

Why Your Subway Train Might Start Moving Faster

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Two trains collided on the Williamsburg Bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn in 1995, killing a train operator and injuring dozens of riders. The incident, the fourth rear-end crash in a two-year span, led to rules that kept trains from going too fast.

More than two decades later, those rules have slowed down trains more than is necessary for safety, which contributes to a system plagued by delays.

Now the subway’s leader, Andy Byford, is changing the rules in some areas to speed up trains — a major effort to improve service for frustrated riders. Over the weekend, the speed limit was raised on parts of two lines in Brooklyn — the N and R trains — from 15 miles per hour to as much as 30 miles per hour. Other lines will be sped up in coming months.

“We want to keep pushing trains through the pipe and moving them,” Mr. Byford said in an interview. He will outline his plans on Monday to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board, which oversees the system.

The changes to the speed limit are one piece of Mr. Byford’s sweeping plans to turn around service and modernize a system that descended into crisis last year. Workers have also started to replace faulty signals that trigger a train’s emergency brakes at low speeds, a problem investigated by The New York Times and The Village Voice that has also led to slower service.

Subway riders often wonder why an express train suddenly crawls along slowly instead of zooming to the next stop. Slow train speeds are less disruptive than major delays caused by train breakdowns and sick passengers, but they have added to the feeling that the system is constantly delayed.

A collision between two trains on the Williamsburg Bridge in 1995 led to rules that kept trains from moving too fast.

A collision between two trains on the Williamsburg Bridge in 1995 led to rules that kept trains from moving too fast.CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

Mr. Byford says he is confident that trains can travel safely at higher speeds and that fixing the balky signals will allow train operators to travel at the correct speeds.

“This is all about getting the safe maximum out of the existing signaling system,” Mr. Byford said.

Over the summer, Mr. Byford created a new “speed unit” — a three-person team that traveled every mile of track on the system in an empty train to find areas where trains could safely move faster. The team identified 130 locations where the speed limit should be increased. So far, a safety committee at the transit agency has approved 34 locations for speed increases.

Workers recently started to change speed limit signs on the first segment on the Fourth Avenue line in Brooklyn between 36th Street and 59th Street. Overall, officials plan to change the speed limits at 100 locations by the spring.

The team also found 267 faulty signals that were forcing train operators to pass at slower speeds. The equipment, known as grade time signals, was designed to halt trains that are moving too quickly. But officials kept adding more of them — eventually 2,000, some of which were misconfigured.

About 30 signals have been repaired in Brooklyn, from the DeKalb Avenue station to the 36th Street station, on the B, Q, D, N and R lines, and near the 9th Avenue station on the D line. Mr. Byford wants to eventually fix all of the faulty signals, though he cautioned that the work is complex and could take awhile.

“This is a great move and I think it’s one that a lot of people have been waiting on for quite a while,” said Benjamin Kabak, who writes the Second Ave. Sagas subway blog. “I think it can provide immediate dividends in terms of speeding up service.”

Mr. Byford, who started running the subway in January, is also pressing elected leaders to provide funding for his ambitious $40 billion proposal to modernize the subway. Installing modern signals is a key part of the plan. Last week, Mr. Byford announced the hiring of a signals expert named Pete Tomlin, who has worked on transit systems in Toronto and London, to oversee signal upgrades in New York.

Riders on the B, Q, D, N and R lines will be the first ones to experience faster rides as a result of rule changes to speed up trains.

Subway officials have blamed “overcrowding” and growing ridership as the main reason for delays. But Mr. Byford quickly disagreed and instead focused on finding the root causes for delays. Trains on New York’s subway system travel at about 17 miles per hour on average, the slowest of any heavy rail system in the United States, according to a 2010 analysis by a transportation planner named Matt Johnson. Trains on the Bay Area Rapid Transit in the San Francisco area, for instance, averaged 33 miles per hour, he found.

Mr. Byford is trying to correct problems that resulted from changes made after the 1995 crash. The top speed for trains on the subway is about 50 miles per hour, though most trains travel slower than that. When Mr. Byford rode trains with workers, they told him slow speeds were a major problem.

“Operators told me, ‘We used to be able to drive through here more quickly,’” Mr. Byford said.

Mr. Kabak said he had noticed trains moving slowly for no apparent reason.

“There is a right balance between safety and speed, but at this point they’ve gone too far on the side of slowing down trains,” Mr. Kabak said.

Zachary Arcidiacono, a leader at the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents thousands of subway workers, said he had taken a ride on the “speed unit” train and felt comfortable with the changes Mr. Byford ordered.

“We moved at a higher rate of speed, and it was a smooth operation,” he said. “It’s nothing that would throw riders.”

Train operators had become so afraid that they would get in trouble for setting off “grade time signals” that they traveled below posted speed limits, said Mr. Arcidiacono, who joined the transit agency as a train operator in 2007.

“We were trained to go 5 to 7 miles per hour below the posted speed,” he said. “It became part of the work culture.”

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What Mr. Byford is doing is quite rare in government as when there is an accident or a tragedy, the response by the agency to what happened is that more is needed, not less. Thankfully, this particular action taken over 23 years ago is being re-examined. Once a program is  implemented, it remains and in many cases forever, instead of being re-evaluated as to whether it has it has achieved its goals, In this case, the goal may have been fewer accidents but at the same time there was the failure to recognize the effect  that the goal would have on the riding public. 

Think about it and in the case of other programs, how we constantly read that there is a need for more laws and rules every time something happens that is taken up by the media-political establishment in response to an accident or tragedy. In most cases there are existing programs in place that provide the services that need to be re-evaluated as to their effectiveness  but instead are  downsized for one reason or another to satisfy the needs and desires of the budget or a particular group. One particular program that is crying out for help is the need for more secure mental health beds in New York City. We constantly read about crimes being committed by persons off their medications but yet the number of beds has been cut by the governor to almost zero. This is one program for instance that should be evaluated to allow for many more beds for the seriously mentally ill patients to be sent to a secure facility for a longer period of time instead of being pushed back on the streets.

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Thanks for the update, I also wonder if they're planning on increasing top speed as well. Remove unnecessary timers and make the max speed on some portions 50+ mph. 

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There are a few places that come to mind when thinking of where can trains possibly go faster [safely] than they currently are.

CPW Express -- for instance, a n/b (D) can sometimes go painfully slow north of 135th, regardless of which track it'll stop at 145th on. Also, I never quite understood why a s/b (D) ever needed to slow down or stop just before 145th Street station (even if there's an (A) crossing in front, which I'm pretty sure is SOUTH of 145th).

Lexington Express -- For many years, I've experienced having a s/b (4)  or (5) I am on, crawl out of 125th...but occasionally in the past year, I was on a (4) , whose T/O decided to depart out of 125th noticeably faster than usual. I guess I should add for the record that on one weekend where n/b (4) trains were running local from City Hall to 125th, the T/O of the (4) I was on bolted right out of Grand Central (despite the obvious curve trains normally take slowly in & out of Grand Central).

4th Avenue Express -- Infamously slow section on the (D) between Grand Street & Atlantic-Barclays. Forget all the merging & diverging. How about the speed limits, signals, and timers??? scattered about? (althrough iirc the limited line of sight between DeKalb & Atlantic-Barclays is something else to consider)

IRT Jerome -- North of Fordham Road. I always noticed a (4) in either direction slowing down in this one area, be it going north towards Kingsbridge Road, or south towards Fordham Road. And, let's not forget the portal south of Yankee Stadium (I've noticed (4) trains approaching that curve at the portal slower than usual as of late).

Edited by Axis

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What’s up with south of Union TPK? (E)’s stop 400 feet before 75th Avenue lately or 240 feet into 75th Avenue, while the (F) does the same or their speed is reduced to 10-15 through 75th Avenue. 

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2 hours ago, VIP said:

What’s up with south of Union TPK? (E)’s stop 400 feet before 75th Avenue lately or 240 feet into 75th Avenue, while the (F) does the same or their speed is reduced to 10-15 through 75th Avenue. 

For the (E), it’s (F)s slowly merging in combined with poor ST design. For (F)s it’s a shitton of miscalibrated one shot DGTs.  

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2 hours ago, VIP said:

What’s up with south of Union TPK? (E)’s stop 400 feet before 75th Avenue lately or 240 feet into 75th Avenue, while the (F) does the same or their speed is reduced to 10-15 through 75th Avenue. 

Tell me about it.

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(2)(3) northbound express between 86th street and 96th street

(A)(D) the entire CPW express section

Many sections up and down the Lexington Avenue Line 

And probably many more areas I'm forgetting. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a local train fly past your 10-15 mph "express" train on a straightaway with no switches or curves.

Edited by josephnyy42
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1 hour ago, RR503 said:

For the (E), it’s (F)s slowly merging in combined with poor ST design. For (F)s it’s a shitton of miscalibrated one shot DGTs.  

A few weeks ago I was on an (E) express to Jamaica (reverse peak) during the AM rush with the preceding train having departed about 5 minutes prior. 

Right after leaving Forest Hills we had to stop and wait about a minute for the homeball just before 75th Ave to clear to a green over green with no train in sight. 

That new interlocking is a POS in desparate need of repair or better tower ops. 

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What disturbs me deeply is that by adding all the signals (many of which are unnecessary), clearly the problem is that management does not trust the employee to do his/her job. If you look at others that have held the position that Mr. Byford  holds over the years, management just does not care as most managers today are political appointees, not transit people. Thus the needs of the rider are secondary to the needs of the person that appointed them.

If anything, the Kiley-Gunn management structure took many of  the top positions out of the civil service structure where the person holding the position had to have knowledge of transit operations, and has made the system much worse. What looked good to the person on top that he/she could control the persons below as before the person had civil service protection, worked at the beginning but now it has made the system more unresponsive to the public.The power has shifted in terms of the civil service persons who had to have a basic knowledge of what the system needed to persons that is dependent upon the penny pinchers and the lawyers as decision makers.  At the same time, the voice of the employees who keep the system running day in and day out has virtually been stilled by the new decision makers who will do everything in their power to keep their views in front of the media. Thus a problem that cried out for a correction for so long is finally getting the attention it should have received if the program was evaluated 5 - 10 years ago and the only reason it is receiving its attention is that a person on top who did not care  about the political - media axis.

 

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HIGHLIGHTS: There are many

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 12/11/2018 at 12:27 PM, VIP said:

What’s up with south of Union TPK? (E)’s stop 400 feet before 75th Avenue lately or 240 feet into 75th Avenue, while the (F) does the same or their speed is reduced to 10-15 through 75th Avenue. 

The best of all:

 

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That reply about QB interlockings is a bit obfuscatory. The issue isn't so much safety margins, but chronic unreliability in the new timer installs. Specifically, the DGTs governing (F) movement on and off of D1 and D2, and the STs approaching Roosevelt in both directions. That latter issue is equally a factor of ST trust issues, something that was raised. This prompted what I can only read as a misunderstanding of what STs are by Byford

Followed by a rescue by Phil Dominguez:

 

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47 minutes ago, RR503 said:

STs approaching Roosevelt in both directions

Antecdotally the situation going eastbound at Roosevelt in the PM was bad even before the new interlocking and STs. Westbound i dont recall. 

Whats more, the operation of the new STs is less restrictive than what it was a year ago. The signals in the station used to be red by default when the new interlocking was cut over. Now they are all yellow by default, unless a diverging move is set

 

47 minutes ago, RR503 said:

This prompted what I can only read as a misunderstanding of what STs are by Byford

I see Byford's response as a catchall, with Dominguez reassuring that STs are tested. 

 

Edited by RestrictOnTheHanger

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2 minutes ago, RestrictOnTheHanger said:

Antecdotally the situation going eastbound at Roosevelt in the PM was bad even before the new interlocking and STs. Westbound i dont recall. 

 Whats more, the operation of the new STs is less restrictive than what it was a year ago. The signals in the station used to be red by default when the new interlocking was cut over. Now they are all yellow by default, unless a diverging move is set

Huh. I've heard there's been a marked decrease in speeds in both directions, which meshes with what I've heard here and elsewhere about all the ST25s and 20s clearing at 15 and 10. 

Are you sure they've changed settings there? Those signals should not be red without an occupying train unless they're being governed by GT (which, IINM, they never were) or if they're protecting an interlocking entrance without a clear route through.

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2 minutes ago, RestrictOnTheHanger said:

Another highlight, specifically mentioned on here and youtube

For those who haven't seen the video in question: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzDVm5zJnpQ

If you ever want to dive deep into timer locations, this channel has done an excellent job making a bunch of compilations -- though, of course, it's hard to say exactly which ones should be removed without seeing the relevant technical docs. I suggest taking a look. 

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13 minutes ago, RR503 said:

Huh. I've heard there's been a marked decrease in speeds in both directions, which meshes with what I've heard here and elsewhere about all the ST25s and 20s clearing at 15 and 10. 

Are you sure they've changed settings there? Those signals should not be red without an occupying train unless they're being governed by GT (which, IINM, they never were) or if they're protecting an interlocking entrance without a clear route through.

Yes I'm sure. I spend almost every weekday waiting for an express or local there in both directions. 

The new interlocking was cut over in stages about 2 years ago. 

What used to happen on all tracks, assuming no diverging route set and a green or yellow homeball, was:

All the mid platform signals (3 or 4 of them on each track) were red by default with no train approaching. The signal just before the station i think was yellow. 

Shortly before the train approached, a lunar ST number (20 or 15) lit up for a few seconds on all the signals. Then they cleared to yellow, and the signal before the station would turn green

While this was happening, the train approaching the station slowed down a bit. Noticeable but not severe. 

Some time around August, the operation of the mid station signals on all tracks was changed to a more normal ST operation. Now they are yellow by default, and the ST only shows up if a train is either leaving or has just left the station, or if a diverging route is set. 

I do agree that the STs are miscalibrated, despite the fact that the new interlocking has explicit STs both before and while entering the station. 

Edited by RestrictOnTheHanger

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14 minutes ago, RestrictOnTheHanger said:

Yes I'm sure. I spend almost every weekday waiting for an express or local there in both directions. 

The new interlocking was cut over in stages about 2 years ago. 

What used to happen on all tracks, assuming no diverging route set and a green or yellow homeball, was:

All the mid platform signals (3 or 4 of them on each track) were red by default with no train approaching. The signal just before the station i think was yellow. 

 Shortly before the train approached, a lunar ST number (20 or 15) lit up for a few seconds on all the signals. Then they cleared to yellow, and the signal before the station would turn green

While this was happening, the train approaching the station slowed down a bit. Noticeable but not severe. 

Some time around August, the operation of the mid station signals on all tracks was changed to a more normal ST operation. Now they are yellow by default, and the ST only shows up if a train is either leaving or has just left the station, or if a diverging route is set. 

 I do agree that the STs are miscalibrated, despite the fact that the new interlocking has explicit STs both before and while entering the station. 

That sounds like approach locking -- approach signals won't turn permissive for a train until said train gets close enough to the interlocking that it 'locks' its route in -- meaning a Tw/O can't change it without having to wait through countdown period. I wouldn't expect for an interlocking not used in normal service to be kept without a constantly established lineup, but I'm also not familiar with the way the old IND machines worked. If this is the cause, it sounds they may have modified those settings so the trigger for locking was earlier, or routes were locked by default. @Dj Hammers maybe you can shed some light here? Sadly I didn't really work too much around signals back then -- I wish I could be more helpful. 

Edited by RR503
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12 minutes ago, RR503 said:

That sounds like approach locking -- approach signals won't turn permissive for a train until said train gets close enough to the interlocking that it 'locks' its route in -- meaning a Tw/O can't change it without having to wait through countdown period. I wouldn't expect for an interlocking not used in normal service to be kept without a constantly established lineup, but I'm also not familiar with the way the old IND machines worked. If this is the cause, it sounds they may have modified those settings so the trigger for locking was earlier, or routes were locked by default. @Dj Hammers maybe you can shed some light here? Sadly I didn't really work too much around signals back then -- I wish I could be more helpful. 

@RR503 your posts are great, always a good read. Same for @Dj Hammers

This also reminds me of how the Canal St interlocking on southbound 8th Ave works, almost exactly like you just wrote since the T/O has to punch there to get a route. Always has to go in on timers. 

Edited by RestrictOnTheHanger
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16 minutes ago, RestrictOnTheHanger said:

@RR503 your posts are great, always a good read. Same for @Dj Hammers

This also reminds me of how the Canal St interlocking on southbound 8th Ave works, almost exactly like you just wrote since the T/O has to punch there to get a route. Always has to go in on timers. 

Thank you! I appreciate it. 

For those of you who want to see Canal’s approach locking in action, see this video from the above mentioned channel. On mobile right now so can’t link to time, but it starts around 9:25.

https://youtu.be/1VSZGJcmVhk

 

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