Systemic Investments in the New York City Subway

Subway investments can include expansion of the map of lines, for example Second Avenue Subway; proposals for such extensions are affectionately called crayon, a term from London Reconnections that hopped the Pond. But they can also include improvements that are not visible as lines on a map, and yet are visible to passengers in the form of better service: faster, more reliable, more accessible, and more frequent.

Yesterday I asked on Twitter what subway investments people think New York should get, and people mostly gave their crayons. Most people gave the same list of core lines – Second Avenue Subway Phase 2, an extension of the 2 and 5 on Nostrand, an extension of the 4 on Utica, an extension of the N and W to LaGuardia, the ongoing Interborough Express proposal, and an extension of Second Avenue Subway along 125th – but beyond that there’s wide divergence and a lot of people argue over the merits of various extensions. But then an anonymous account that began last year and has 21 followers and yet has proven extremely fluent in the New York transit advocacy conversation, named N_LaGuardia, asked a more interesting question: what non-crayon systemic investments do people think the subway needs?

On the latter question, there seems to be wide agreement among area technical advocates, and as far as I can tell the main advocacy organizations agree on most points. To the extent people gave differing answers in N_LaGuardia’s thread, it was about not thinking of everything at once, or running into the Twitter character limit.

It is unfortunate that many of these features requiring capital construction run into the usual New York problem of excessive construction costs. The same institutional mechanisms that make the region incapable of building much additional extension of the system also frustrate systemwide upgrades to station infrastructure and signaling.

Accessibility

New York has one of the world’s least accessible major metro systems, alongside London and (even worse) Paris. In contrast, Berlin, of similar age, is two-thirds accessible and planned to reach 100% soon, and the same is true of Madrid; Seoul is newer but was not built accessible and retrofits are nearly complete, with the few remaining gaps generating much outrage by people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, like most other forms of capital construction in New York, accessibility retrofits are unusually costly. The elevator retrofits from the last capital plan were $40 million per station, and the next batch is in theory $50 million, with the public-facing estimates saying $70 million with contingency; the range in the European cities with extensive accessibility (that is, not London or Paris) is entirely single-digit million. Nonetheless, this is understood to be a priority in New York and must be accelerated to improve the quality of universal design in the system.

Platform screen doors

The issue of platform screen doors (PSDs) or platform edge doors (PEDs) became salient earlier this year due to a much-publicized homicide by pushing a passenger onto a train, and the MTA eventually agreed to pilot PSDs at three stations. The benefits of PSDs are numerous, including,

  • Safety – there are tens of accident and suicide deaths every year from falling onto tracks, in addition to the aforementioned homicide.
  • Greater accessibility – people with balance problems have less to worry about from falling onto the track.
  • Capacity – PSDs take up platform space but they permit passengers to stand right next to them, and the overall effect is to reduce platform overcrowding at busy times.
  • Air cooling – at subway stations with full-height PSDs (which are rare in retrofits but I’m told exist in Seoul), it’s easier to install air conditioning for summer cooling.

The main difficulty is that PSDs require trains to stop at precise locations, to within about a meter, which requires signaling improvements (see below). Moreover, in New York, trains do not yet have consistent door placement, and the lettered lines even have different numbers of doors sometimes (4 per car but the cars can be 60′ or 75′ long) – and the heavily interlined system is such that it’s hard to segregate lines into captive fleets.

But the biggest difficulty, as with accessibility, is again the costs. In the wake of public agitation for PSDs earlier this year, the MTA released as 2019 study saying only 128 stations could be retrofitted with PSDs, at a cost of $7 billion each, or $55 million per station; in Paris, PSDs are installed on Métro lines as they are being automated, at a cost of (per Wikipedia) 4M€ per station of about half the platform length as in New York.

Signaling improvements

New York relies on ancient signaling for the subway. This leads to multiple problems: maintenance is difficult as the international suppliers no longer make the required spare parts; the signals are designed around the performance specs of generations-old trains and reduce capacity on more modern trains; the signals are confusing to drivers and therefore trains run slower than they can.

To modernize them, New York is going straight to the most advanced system available: CBTC, or communications-based train control, also known as moving-block signaling. This is already done on the L and 7 trains and is under installation on other lines, which are not isolated from the rest of the system. CBTC permits much higher peak capacity in London; in New York, unfortunately, this effect has been weaker because of other constraints, including weak electrical substation capacity and bumper tracks at the terminals of both the L and the 7.

Moreover, in New York, the L train’s performance was derated when CBTC was installed, to reduce brake wear. The effect of such computer control should be the opposite, as computers drive more precisely than humans: in Paris, the automation of Line 1 led to a speed increase of 15-20%, and CBTC even without automation has the same precision level as full automation.

As before, costs form a major barrier. I can’t give the most recent analogs, because such projects tend to bundle a lot of extras, such as new trainsets and PSDs in Paris. In Nuremberg, the first city in the world to permanently convert a preexisting metro system to driverless operations, the cost of just the driverless system is said to have been 110M€ in the late 2000s, for what I believe is 13 km of U2 (U3 was built with driverless operations in mind, and then U2, from which it branches, was converted). It is said that automating U1 should cost 100M€ for 19.5 km, but this project is not happening due to stiff competition for federal funds and therefore its real cost is uncertain. In contrast, Reinvent Albany quotes $636 million for the 7 train in New York, of which $202 million must be excluded as rolling stock conversion; the Flushing Line is 16 km long, so this is still $27 million/km and not the $7-12 million/km of Nuremberg.

Maintenance regime

The maintenance regime in New York involves heavy slowdowns and capacity restrictions. Trains run 24/7 without any breaks for regular maintenance. Instead, maintenance is done one track at a time during off-peak periods, with flagging rules that slow down trains on adjacent tracks and have gotten more onerous over the last 10-20 years; only recently have planners begun to use temporary barriers to reduce the burden of flagging.

The result of this system is threefold. First, track maintenance productivity is extremely low – the train on an adjacent track slows down as it passes but the work stops as it passes as well. Second, speeds are unreliable off-peak and the timetable is in perpetual firefighting mode. And third, parts of the system are claimed to be incapable of running more than about 16 trains per hour off-peak, which means that if there is any branching, the branches are limited to 8, which is not enough frequency on a major urban metro system.

It takes a small amount of capital spending to increase efficiency of maintenance, through procuring more advanced machinery, installing barriers between tracks, and installing crossovers at appropriate locations. But it takes a large degree of operations and management reform to get there, which is necessary for reducing the high operating costs of the subway.

Deinterlining

New York has the most complicated interlining of any global metro network. Only four lines – the 1, 6, 7, and L – run by themselves without any track sharing with other lines. The 2, 3, 4, and 5 share tracks with one another. Then the lettered trains other than the L all share tracks on various segments, without any further segregation. Only some commuter rail networks are more complex than this – and even Tokyo has greater degree of segregation between different trunk lines, despite extensive through-service to commuter rail. The New York way guarantees more direct service on more origin-destination pairs, but at low frequency and with poor speed and reliability.

London, the second most interlined system, has long wanted to reduce interlining to increase capacity. The Northern line traditionally had just one southern segment reverse-branching to two central trunks, combining and splitting into two northern branches. When CBTC opened, the busier of the central trunks got 26 peak trains per hour; the more recent Battersea extension removed the interlining to the south, permitting boosting capacity up to 32 tph, and full deinterlining to the north would boost it to 36 tph, as on the most captive Underground lines.

In New York, it is desirable to remove all reverse-branching. At DeKalb Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn, the interlocking switches the four express (bridge) tracks from an arrangement of the B and D on one track pair and the N and Q on the other to the B and Q on one track pair and the D and N on the other; the process is so complex that every train is delayed two minutes just from the operation of the switches. Everywhere within the system, interlining creates too much dependency between the different trains, so that delays on one line propagate to the others, reducing reliability, speed, and capacity.

Some of the problem is, as usual, about high costs. Rogers Avenue Junction controls the branching of the 2, 3, 4, and 5 trains in Brooklyn, transitioning from the 2 and 3 sharing one track pair and the 4 and 5 sharing another to the 3 and 4 running on dedicated tracks and the 2 and 5 sharing tracks. For a brief segment, the 2, 3 and 5 trains all share tracks. This devastates capacity on both trunk lines, which rank first and third citywide in peak crowding as of the eve of the opening of Second Avenue Subway. There are already internal designs for rebuilding the junction to avoid this problem – at a cost of $300 million.

But some of the problem is also about operating paradigms. New York must move away from the scheduling ideas of the 1920s and 30s and understand that independently-operated lines with dedicated fleets and timetables, with passengers making transfers as appropriate, are more robust and overall better for most riders. DeKalb can be deinterlined with no capital spending at all, and so can Columbus Circle. It’s Rogers and Queens Plaza where spending is ideal (but even then, not strictly required if some operational compromises are made), and the 142nd Street Junction in Harlem where an extensive rebuild is obligatory in order to permit splitting the 2 from the 5 in the Bronx permanently.

Labor changes

Staffing levels in New York are very high. Trains have conductors and not just drivers; this is not globally unheard of (Toronto and some lines in Tokyo still have conductors) but it’s rare. With good enough signaling, a retrofit even for full automation is possible, as in Nuremberg, Paris, and Singapore. Maintenance work is likewise unproductive, not because people don’t work hard, but because they work inefficiently.

Improving this situation involves changes on both sides of the ledger – staffing and service. Conductors have to be cut for efficiency and not all of them can be absorbed by other roles, and the same is true of some station facilities and maintenance functions. In contrast, the low productivity of drivers in New York – they spend around 550 hours a year driving a revenue train whereas Berlin’s drivers, who get 6 weeks of annual paid vacation, scratch 900 – is the result of poor off-peak frequency, and must be resolved through increases in off-peak service that increase efficiency without layoffs.

Ultimate goal: six-minute service

I wrote two years ago about what it would take to ensure every public transit service in New York runs every six minutes off-peak, calling it a six-minute city.

Riders Alliance argues for the same goal, with the hashtag #6minuteservice; I do not know if they were basing this on what I’d written or if it’s convergent evolution. But it’s a good design goal for timetabling, with implications for labor efficiency, maintenance efficiency, the schedule paradigm, and the bus system.

No tradeoffs

It is fortunate that the agenda of systemwide improvements does not exhibit significant tradeoffs in investment. Other parts of the transit agenda do not need to suffer to implement those improvements. On the contrary, they tend to interact positively: accessibility and PSDs can be combined (and federal law is written in such a way that PSDs void the grandfather clause permitting the subway to keep most of its stations inaccessible), faster and more reliable trains can be run more frequently off-peak, better service means higher ridership and therefore higher demand for extensions. Only the issue of labor exhibits a clear set of losers from the changes, and those can be compensated in a one-time deal.

Moreover, the budget for such an agenda is reasonable, if New York can keep its construction costs under control. At the per-elevator costs of Berlin or Madrid, New York could make its entire network wheelchair-accessible for around $3.5-4 billion. Parisian PSDs, pro-rated to the greater size of New York trains, would be around $10 million a station, or $5 billion systemwide. Full automation at German costs would be maybe $6 billion with triple- and quad-track lines pro-rated. The entire slate of changes required for full deinterlining, including a pocket track for the 3 train at 135th Street, a rebuild of the 36th Street station in Queens, and a connection between Queensboro Plaza and Queens Plaza, should be measured in the hundreds of millions, not billions.

The overall program still goes into double-digit billions; it requires a big push. But this big push is worth two to three years’ worth of current New York City Transit capital spending. A New York that can do this can also add 50-100 km to its subway network and vice versa, all while holding down operating costs to typical first-world levels. For the most part, the planners already know what needs to be done; the hard part is getting construction costs to reasonable levels so that they can do it on the current budget.

88 comments

  1. Allan Rosen

    De interlining requiring many more transfers is a bad idea. The delays of two minutes at Dekalb is not true. They used to exist pre Christie Street. Now there are no delays at Dekalb. Getting rid of interlining would force all transfers to be made at Barclays Center which are very inconvenient requiring a six minute walk and many stairways. I once counted 72 stairs. This is not easy for those with mobility problems compared to a current easy across the platform transfer. You don’t encourage transit by making the system more inconvenient.

    • meirk

      Ottawa practically deinterlined its system a few years ago when they opened their subway* line (previously buses on the same alignment used to all funnel into the same busway trunk, practically guaranteeing a one-seat ride), forcing transfers. While someone else can comment on the details, from what I heard the overall experience was generally considered to be improved and made more convenient despite the forced transfers.

      *I know it uses LF rolling stock, but what makes it different from Vienna U6 other than age?

      • Allan Rosen

        It can only be considered an improvement if the increased transferring actually decreased passenger travel times because delays and running times were reduced by so much.

    • adirondacker12800

      I want to know how he plans on deinterlining DeKalb. Whatever that means. The Fourth Ave express trains don’t stop at DeKalb, they are one the innermost of the six tracks through the two island platforms. The Fourth Ave local trains are on the inner side of the island and dive under to get to the tunnel. The Brighton Trains are on the outer side of the islands. I come up with very peculiar service pattern where the northbound Fourth Ave express serves Broadway but the southbound express comes from Sixth Ave? And the northbound Brighton trains serve Sixth but the southbound comes from Broadway?

      • Alon Levy

        *they (and this isn’t even just my being enby, it’s that it’s actually plural among New York advocates)

        And the interlocking allows for all combos. So you can keep status quo, or you can have the B/D run on Flatbush to Brighton and the N/Q be the express on Fourth Avenue, or you can have the B/D be the express on Fourth Avenue and the N/Q run to Brighton, all without any train clashes like those at Rogers today.

        • adirondacker12800

          There is life south of 34th Street. There are tunnel trains. Unless you want to use the tunnel for Second Ave trains to the Culver and Fulton lines. The Utica Ave. line doesn’t have to be the 4 train/IRT it could be the T train/IND/Second Ave. train.
          Fourth Ave local remains a tunnel train? If I’m reading the track maps correctly tunnel trains can get to and from the Fourth Ave local tracks or the Brighton Line. They could if they wanted to, run more Astoria trains, today’s W, out to Brooklyn, but they don’t. Hmm. Where do the tunnel trains go?

    • Alon Levy

      No, there actually are delays at DeKalb nowadays (2 minutes is just the interlocking, it’s closer to 5 minutes if you also get rid of the timers on the bridge), and there have been for years. And the Atlantic-Pacific transfer is both shorter than you say and not really required, with how close the Broadway and Sixth Avenue Lines are through Manhattan.

      • Allan Rosen

        Try walking the transfer with a physical impairment and tell me how easy it is especially going uphill and walking up many stairways. I remember it being difficult and inconvenient even when I was able to walk well. Broadway and Sixth Avenue are not parallel and are only close between 33rd and 37 St. At 42 Street, they are 750 feet apart, about the distance of the transfer at Atlantic Avenue, so the walk is increased anyway you look at it. And to say, that everyone can just as easily use either line negates the entire reason for the Christie Street connection and assumes everyone is going or coming from Midtown. Those wanting Central Park West or further north or the Second Avenue Subway cannot use both the Sixth Avenue or Broadway lines interchangeably and would require the long walk at Atlantic Barclays they do not have today.

        • Matthew Hutton

          750ft is 225m, not far at all. And of course we should make adjustments for the disabled – and lifts etc should be provided. However in London a tube train is considered fully accessible if one carriage on a 140m platform is fully accessible. I think saying that you can’t have a 200m journey on the surface is a bit much.

          • Alon Levy

            (In New York it’s the same, boarding isn’t entirely level except for one car, deliberately the one with the conductor because it’s still not reliable enough that unaided boarding is possible.)

          • Allan Rosen

            It’s not only the disabled. Anyone with sciatica, knee problems, etc can find even 300 feet to be a hardship while able bodied people will think of a mile as a short distance. It’s all in your perspective. We need toth k of ways of making transit easier to use, or more difficult.

          • Jason

            I disagree. Society should not sacrifice inordinately to accommodate for the unlimited convenience of the few. After all, we don’t build subway stations 600ft apart on the same line just so that people can walk less than 300ft. I don’t understand why you think this case should be any different. 750ft of transfer is not bad at all. Transfer distance in many Tokyo stations is much larger.

          • Alon Levy

            Allan: in no other part of the system is 300′ treated as insurmountable. Bus stops are not 300′ apart, bus routes are not 300′ apart, subway stops are not even close to 300′ apart, path of travel for station ramp access for wheelchair user is more like 1300′ than 300′. If you can’t walk 300′, you can’t use the New York City Subway, even handwaving elevator accessibility, regardless of how much interlining there is.

            There are real issues of spoons – maybe walking a few hundred meters is fine at one end but not multiple times during the trip – but waiting for a train that may have a random 15-minute gap involves spoon consumption as well. So is riding on a train that randomly sits for 4 minutes waiting at a merge while the automated announcement says “we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us.” Having to rely on other people or other systems that are unreliable is incredibly exhausting.

          • Allan Rosen

            Alon, I ride the Q and you don’t. I cannot remember the last time I had. Four minute delay at Dekalb. In fact, I can’t remember when there has been any delay. Those were common fifty years ago, but not now.

          • adirondacker12800

            Perhaps tales of delays are from when one side of the bridge, then the other, was closed? That was quite a few years ago.

        • adirondacker12800

          The view from Columbia University is that there is no life south of 34th. I still want to know if the tunnel trains are Broadway local/Fourth Avenue local. Many many different service patterns are possible.

  2. adirondacker12800

    and the heavily interlined system is such that it’s hard to segregate lines into captive fleets.

    The curves on the Broadway/Jamaica line are supposedly too tight for 75 foot cars. Rumor also has it that they are moving the whole B division fleet to 60 foot cars because there are more doors on a train of 60 foot cars, 32 versus 40. The curves on the A division are too tight for anything other than 51 foot cars.

    which $202 million must be excluded as rolling stock conversion;

    If you don’t convert the rolling stock it can’t take advantage of the new signals.

        • Samuel

          The only places they cannot be run are the J and L lines, and a portion of the M line.

          Either way I’m okay with them ditching 5-door 75-foot cars, to be honest. Lighter cars (plus more weight distributed across the bogies, for reduced wear-and-tear), shorter overhangs (should make open gangways more feasible and comfortable), and more HVAC units per consist 🤷🏻‍♂️

    • Alon Levy

      I’m excluding the $202 million because I consistently exclude rolling stock costs; the reason is that Paris’s pace of automation is such that it bundles it with a new rolling stock order and with PSDs, and likewise, if you follow the Nuremberg links, you’ll see that the overall cost of the project were much higher since they include automation, new rolling stock, and the opening of U3 (which is a branch of U2).

  3. Stephen Stofka

    I’d like to comment here that Alon underestimates the scale of Tokyo’s interlining. In Tokyo, we have the following interlining system:

    A. Tokyo Subway

    (1) The Hanzomon and Hibiya lines, via the shared Tobu Skytree Line tail (2) The Fukutoshin and Yurakucho lines northwest of Ikebukuro -> This includes shared reverse-branched tails on the following two lines: Tobu Tojo Line, Seibu Ikebukuro Line (3) The Namboku and (Toei) Mita lines towards Meguro -> This includes the Tokyu Meguro Line, which reverse-branches into both routes -> This will also include the new Sotetsu Shin-Yokohama Line as of, theoretically, this month (4) The Tozai and JR East Chuo-Sobu Line -> This is a double interline, with interlining between Mitaka and Nakano in the west, and Nishi-Funabashi and Tsudanuma in the east, but *not* in the core

    Notice that about half of the Tokyo subway network is affected by reverse branch interlining!

    B. JR East: Literally the Entire Rapid Network, except for the Chuo Rapid Line

    First we have reverse branching:

    (1) The Sobu Rapid, Shonan-Shinjuku, and Saikyo lines interline from Nishi-Oi to Musashi-Kosugi or Shin-Kawasaki (unsure), on the Yokosuka Line (2) The Sobu Rapid and Shonan-Shinjuku lines interline from Musashi-Kosugi/Shin-Kawasaki to Zushi on the Yokosuka Line (3) The Shonan-Shinjuku and Tohoku (Utsunomiya + Takasaki) lines interline from Oji or Akabane (unsure) to Omiya, on the Tohoku Line (4) The Keihin-Tohoku and Yokohama lines interline from Higashi-Kanagawa to Ofuna, on the Negishi Line -> Note here however that this interlining heavily favors Keihin-Tohoku trains; most Yokohama Line trains terminate at Higashi-Kanagawa

    Second: we have core branching

    (1) The Saikyo and Shonan-Shinjuku lines interline from Ikebukuro to Nishi-Oi, on the Yamanote Freight Line (2) The Tokaido, Tohoku, and Joban lines interline from Tokyo to Ueno, on the Ueno-Tokyo Line

    C. Sotetsu

    The Sotetsu Line is completing the Shin-Yokohama Line, putatively this month, but interestingly enough, every new connection it gains with it will be a reverse branch! At Nishiya, Sotetsu trains from Shonandai or Ebina will have the following routing options, all reverse-branches in the core direction: (1) Yokohama, via the Sotetsu Main Line (2) Shinjuku (Ikebukuro? Omiya? Kawagoe?), via the JR East Saikyo Line (3) Nishi-Takashimadaira, via the Tokyu Meguro and Toei Mita lines (4) Akabane-Iwabushi, via the Tokyu Meguro and Tokyo Metro Namboku lines -> It is unclear whether or not Sotetsu trains will be able to run through from Akabane-Iwabushi to Urawa-Misono on the Saitama Rapid Rwy.

    D. Others

    Most of Tokyo’s private railways reverse-branch the bulk of their trains relative to subway connections. These include:

    (1) Keisei, reverse branching at Aoto (Main Line to Ueno; Oshiage Line > Asakusa Line) (2) Tobu Skytree Line, at 2 points: -> Reverse-branching relative to the Hibiya Line at Kita-Senju -> Reverse-branching relative to the Hanzomon Line at Hikifune (Skytree Line to Asakusa) (3) Tobu Tojo Line, reverse branching with the Fukutoshin and Yurakucho lines at Wakoshi (Tojo Line to Ikebukuro) (4) Seibu Ikebukuro Line, reverse branching at Nerima (Ikebukuro Line to Ikebukuro; Seibu Yurakucho Line > Fukutoshin, Yurakucho lines) (5) Odakyu Odawara Line with the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line at Yoyogi-Uehara (Odawara Line to Shinjuku) (6) Keio Rwy Keio Line with the Toei Shinjuku Line at Sasazuka (Keio Line to Shinjuku)

    Note that the only Tokyo private railways that don’t have any terminal reverse branching are: (1) The Seibu Shinjuku Line (which doesn’t connect to anything) (2) The Keikyu Line (which nevertheless maintains tail tracks at Shinagawa) (3) The Tokyu Rwy, with seamless connections:

    1. Den-en-Toshi Line > Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line at Shibuya 2. Toyoko Line > Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line at Shibuya (different station box) 3. Meguro Line > Tokyo Metro Namboku Line + Toei Mita Line at Meguro

    I am actually preparing two reports on the heavy nature of Tokyo reverse-branching, which to Western eyes is I suspect obfuscated by the fact that reverse-branches occur in many different parts of the system under many different operators. Unlike in New York, however, Tokyo’s network is fully accessible — I have never even seen a Tokyo station without an elevator, and most have PSDs — and its core frequencies such that the only way for Tokyo to unlock capacity by deinterlining is by adding concrete. For example, Tokyo Metro is now advancing a plan for a Namboku Line “branch” to Shinagawa, which will in practice yield the potential for deinterlining between the Namboku and Toei Mita lines.

    That said, Sotetsu going all-in on reverse-branching suggests that *deinterlining* is a teachable concept, even in Japan.

    • Phake Nick

      In Japan there are indeed example like Seibu opting against through running into Shin-Yokhama to avoid reverse branching.

      On the other hand, with the operation of Shonan-Shinjuku Line and Ueno Tokyo Line, all main JR commuter rail routes have become so interconnectedness together that I think someone counted most of the days there must be some delay in some lines propagating onto entire network.

  4. Connor Crowley

    Quick Note: There is no grandfather clause in ADA, that is a pervasive myth.

    MTA ADA “grandfathering” is derived from civil case settlements that are tenuous at best and the “equivalent access” shield of Access-a-Ride.

    • Paul

      Yes and no. ADA does apply to all public facilities, and those built before 1990 are not exempt. But it only required owners to make “readily achievable” modifications for accessibility. There’s room for debate about what that means, but installing elevators in a subway station that didn’t have them before is probably beyond the standard. And in general, existing buildings aren’t required to remodel whenever the building code changes, but if the new code does apply when you do a major remodel. This is what Alon was referring to: installing platform screen doors counts as a major remodel, so then the station needs to be brought up to code in other areas.

      • Connor Crowley

        Fair point that readily achievable is a loosely defined test. I see what you are referring to in regards to a major station renovation acting as a trigger for accessibility as a judge would see it as “you have already opened the patient.”

        So in a way, the unreasonable costs of construction are actually saving the MTA a significant amount of money, at the inhuman expense of the disabled.

        Having written that, as I understand it, the current “settlement” over AFA was not a class settlement. So any number of harmed parties can still file suit against the MTA for being inaccessible.

  5. Phake Nick

    >the process is so complex that every train is delayed two minutes just from the operation of the switches.

    As an interim measure, wouldn’t it be feasible to upgrade just the switch to a simpler, more modern, high performance ones?

  6. Stephen Bauman

    One should look at what is required for interlining to work before advocating its abolition.

    It takes about 1 minute for a 600 ft train to enter and clear an interlocking. One can verify this by observation or measuring the interlocking and train lengths and dividing by the operating speed. If 30 tph or 2 minute headways are desired, this means the interlocking will be idle for 60 seconds every 2 minutes between trains. If all trains are within 30 seconds of their scheduled arrival, then there will never be any merging delays at the interlocking. Similarly, if 40 tph or 90 second headways are desired, trains must be within 15 seconds of their scheduled arrival at the interlocking.

    The 15 or 30 second window to avoid delays should dictate the precision used for train schedules. The precision used for NYCT schedules is 30 seconds. This is true for both the static and real time schedules – regardless of CBTC operation. The operation isn’t sufficiently precise to provide the accuracy required.

    These results are similar, if one considers the requirements at stations for non-interlined operation at these service levels. A look at London’s static schedules reveals they are using 5 second precision.

    Paris and Moscow regulated their operations down to the second without CBTC. The function of keeping trains on schedule is Train Supervision. NYCT does it with hour glasses or not at all. Both Moscow and Paris use/used clocks (in seconds) at every station to provide feedback to the operating crew to show any deviation from operating schedules. Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) – keeping trains on schedule is a distinctly different function from traffic control – preventing trains from colliding. ATS can be implemented at minimal cost and permit operation up to the service level capability of the existing traffic control system. BTW, that service level capacity is around 40 tph, without CBTC.

    Tokyo uses a different system. Their crews are trained to know their operating speed and times down to the second, without looking at speedometers or clocks.

    • Alon Levy

      Moscow doesn’t quite regulate operations to the second. The Moscow system is that drivers know the headway and are supposed to use the time-since-last-train clocks at each station; so it can regulate the headway down to the second, but only at stations, so in blocks of about 2 minutes.

      • Stephen Bauman

        A leader’s departure time from a station is critical because that’s when the distance between leader and follower is close to its minimum. (It reaches its minimum when the departing leader’s increasing speed starts to exceed the follower’s decreasing approaching speed). Corrections at each station are sufficient in most cases to prevent merging conflicts throughout a multi-station trip.

        A system like the Paris Metro station’s old clocks would be more appropriate for merging operations. It avoids the obvious clock synchronization drift problem between the clocks on different lines.

        • Alon Levy

          Yeah, and that’s fine when you don’t have branching, it’s just not precise enough for the extent of interlining in New York.

          • Stephen Bauman

            I’ve mentioned the timing constraints precision and accuracy for avoiding merging conflicts. A 1 second precision is adequate to avoid merging conflicts. If a train leaves the closest station to an interlocking on time, the deviation from its scheduled arrival at the interlocking should be small and within the 15 or 30 second window for 40 or 30 tph.

            It’s possible for the agency to schedule merging conflicts. They are easy to spot from NYCT’s publicly available static GTFS schedules. Adhering to schedules will avoid merging conflicts, if such conflicts are not built into the schedule.

            Another measure to how well a schedule can be maintained is the timely departure at the beginning of its run. I’ve been tracking NYCT’s performance for several years, using its real time GTFS feed. It’s abysmal. Here’s my summary for this morning’s AM rush hour.

            AM AWOL Report for 24 May 2022
            Totals for time period: 05/24/2022 06:00:00 to 05/24/2022 08:59:59 1583 scheduled; 1395 operated; 88%

            Totals for time period: 05/24/2022 06:00:00 to 05/24/2022 08:59:59 by direction
            Direction: NORTH: 768 scheduled; 663 operated; 86%
            Direction: SOUTH: 815 scheduled; 732 operated; 90%

            These are trips that actually departed their terminals, after being posted on the real time system 30 minutes before their scheduled departure.

            AM Late Start Report for 24 May 2022
            Late Start Report from 05/24/2022 06:00:00 to 05/24/2022 08:59:59

            All trips: Count: 1276; seconds late – 21; std dev (sec) – 119

            By Direction
            NORTH: count: 619; avg seconds late – 30; std dev (sec) – 168
            SOUTH: count: 657; avg seconds late – 14; std dev (sec) – 31

            Here’s the report on the actual vs. the scheduled departure for trains that actually departed. The standard deviation is the most troublesome parameter. Not only is NYCT bad for avoiding merging conflicts; they are also inconsistent. That’s an unbeatable combination for poor performance.

        • Eric2

          Chinese metro systems go way out into the suburbs and mostly cover the role of regional rail. So while Chinese official regional/suburban rail is pretty pitiful, it’s not a big deal. In NYC, it’s a big deal because there is no alternative to LIRR/MN/NJT in the suburbs.

  7. df1982

    Can’t you de-interline the 2, 3, 4 and 5 at Rogers Ave without any infrastructure investment by simply running both the 4 and 5 to Utica Ave, keeping the 3 to New Lots and having only the 2 run down Nostrand? If you ramp frequencies to 15tph for each service, you should be able to avoid any capacity bottlenecks. It would also allow for a Utica Ave extension.

    • adirondacker12800

      The East Side of Manhattan has one four track trunk line and the West Side has two. It seems, by looking at schedules for ten minutes, they are optimizing for the most trains on East Side.
      Very roughly three quarters of the trains would be going to or through Utica Avenue and slightly less than a quarter of them to Nostrand. If you goal is to run as many trains as possible that might achieve MORE trains. It’s a passenger railroad, it’s goal is to move passengers, not trains.

      • Eric2

        More trains means room for more passengers.

        While in this model the northbound 2 might get pretty crowded for a few stops as it approached Franklin Ave (and similarly the 3 as it approached Utica), most passengers would get off at those stops and transfer to the express 4/5 across the platform. From then on the load on the 2/3 would be mild.

      • adirondacker12800

        If I work on the West Side why would I get on a train going to the East Side? Or vice versa?
        You do realize that people in Brooklyn and the Bronx have specific destinations they want to reach and return from, more specific, than “anyplace in Manhattan”? A 5 train come into 149th and Third and I want to get to Times Square it doesn’t do me much good. A 2 train comes in and I want to get to Grand Central it doesn’t do me much good. It’s a really long hike from Grand Central to Times Square. I’ll wait a few minutes for the right train. And on my return trip I can’t get on a train that’s running on the other side of town.

        • Eric2

          Why would you assume that everyone who lives on Nostrand wants to go to the West Side? They don’t. Assuming half of people want to go to the East Side (probably an underestimate), that’s half the passengers who would save time by transferring at Franklin Ave. For most people, the minimal time and effort cost of a cross-platform transfer to a train every 2 minutes is probably outweighed by the faster travel time of the 4/5 (which is express in Brooklyn). So more than half of the Nostrand passengers are likely to transfer to the 4/5 at the first opportunity.

          • adirondacker12800

            What part of “vice versa” didn’t you understand?

          • Eric2

            The “vice versa” is irrelevant, because we are discussing the overcrowding of the 2/3 in this plan. The 4/5 would be less crowded than at present.

        • Alon Levy

          Yeah, that’s the critique Uday makes of full deinterlining, which is why his proposal leaves the Bronx be (and this is fine – completionism is good but as I point out in the post, London’s half-deinterlined Northern line gets around half the capacity benefit a fully deinterlined line would have). In Brooklyn it’s different because of the cross-platform transfers at Franklin and Nevins, but in the Bronx it’s required to upgrade the transfer facilities between the 2 and the 4, just as in London it’s required to upgrade those at Camden Town.

    • fbfree

      I’m not sure Utica could turn back 30 tph. I was also under the impression, from afar, that Nostrand needed more than 15 tph to avoid overcrowding.
      BTW, the top post on my blog goes in depth into the options for deinterlining. I have a different idea than Alon for what to do on Queen’s Blvd, but for those weighing the options, or who like a fantasy subway map, it’s worth the read.

      • df1982

        Nostrand gets high frequencies at the moment but passenger loadings are very lumpy due to the 2 and 5 running uneven headways. Sometimes there are four minutes or more between trains in peak hour anyway for this reason. Running a train every four minutes exactly would at least even things out.

        Riders from the 3 heading to the East Side are used to changing at Utica or Franklin, and plenty of people coming from Nostrand do it by choice if the 2 happens to come before the 5. It’s a cross-platform interchange so it’s not a great impost.

        Not sure about the turnback situation at Utica, although this could of course be resolved with a Utica Ave extension. And you could theoretically go up to 18tph on each branch, but this would require work on the Uptown/Bronx end of the lines, as Alon has previously written about.

        • adirondacker12800

          There is only one subway line on the East Side of Manhattan and two on the West Side. It’s a passenger railroad. They aim to move passengers, not trains. Half empty trains on Upper Broadway don’t do much for people on Lexington Avenue.

          If you looked at the schedules you’d see that the 5 train northbound rush hour is “every 5 to 7 minutes” and 2 train northbound is “every 6 to 8 minutes”. People with stopwatches worry about it, not normal people. Last time I checked seven plus eight is fifteen. Four times fifteen is sixty. They have more trains now then they would if they had “every four minutes”. People with stopwatches care that the trains aren’t precisely, evenly, timed on Nostrand Ave.

          You’d also see that a few 5 trains originate or terminate at Utica now. That’s probably a combination of things including that MTA employees bring their bladders, bowels and stomachs with them to work, they work 8-ish hours a day. And they are desperately trying to run as many trains as possible on Lexington Ave.

          There is only one subway line on the East Side of Manhattan and two on the West Side. It’s a passenger railroad. They aim to move passengers, not trains. Half empty trains on Upper Broadway don’t do much for people on Lexington Avenue.

          • df1982

            Okay, let’s take things very slowly: there are two pairs of tracks that head from Manhattan to Franklin Ave, one from the West Side and one from the East Side. In theory they should both be able to handle 30tph, so 60tph in total, but due to antiquated signalling and the current distribution of services this is not achievable. East of Franklin you currently have the 2 and 5 serving Nostrand, the 4 running express to Utica and the 3 running local to New Lots (in this sense the line is a little anomalous since the shorter segment runs express and the longer one runs local). Due to the track layout this service pattens impacts capacity, and there is a proposal to spend $300m to rework the Rogers Ave junction to fix this situation and allow for improve frequencies.

            My proposal was to spend nothing on concrete, and instead change the service pattern so that the 4 and the 5 both run express to Utica (15tph each, so 30tph in total), the 3 (15tph) continues to run to New Lots and the Nostrand line is served only by the 2 (also 15tph).

            There are two potential pitfalls to this proposal:
            1. forced interchange for passengers on the 2 who are heading to the East Side. However, this merely replicates what is already the situation for local stops on the 3, and since Franklin Ave offers cross-platform interchange it is not a major sacrifice (from my observations large numbers of commuters do this at present anyway if the 2 happens to come before the 5, in the knowledge they may be able to save time by connecting to a 4).
            2. in the AM peak hour (pre-Covid), the Nostrand Ave line ran more than 15tph, probably around 20tph. So the question is can Nostrand Av patronage be adequately served by 15tph? However, under the present service patterns (5min peak headways for the 5, and 6:30 for the 2), you have uneven headways, which often produce a 2min gap between trains followed by a 4-5min gap. If you run even 4min headways you at least spread crowding evenly and therefore improve reliability. You might still end up with the problem that people at President St literally can’t fit onto the trains at the peak of the peak (at least once there is a return to pre-Covid patronage), but that’s when you need to think about de-interlining in the Bronx, upgrading signalling to allow 36tph, and buying new rolling stock with open gangways. In a worst case scenario President St commuters could always walk to the Nostrand Ave 3 stop, which is literally a block away. West of Franklin there is no issue as both lines would run a combined frequency of 60tph regardless of the service pattern east of Franklin.

            The other benefit of this proposal is it would allow for a Utica Ave extension of the 4/5, which would also run 30tph (and thus potentially draw patronage away from the Nostrand Ave stations, since the catchment areas of the two lines would overlap).

          • adirondacker12800

            West Side trains down Utica, it’s setup for that. West of Franklin Ave. the trains from the East Side are on the inner tracks and the ones from West Side are on the outer tracks. By the time they get to Nostrand the East Side trains are on the north side and the West Side trains are on the south side. Supposedly there are bellmouths east of the Utica Ave station, which is somewhat west of Utica, for that. They ran out of money. Send West Side trains down Utica, The trains have rearranged themselves for that, that far east. East Side trains can go to the end of the existing line. That doesn’t recreate the problems between Franklin, President and Nostrand or need any “fixing”. It doesn’t fix the problem just east of Franklin but it doesn’t recreate it either.
            Utica could get Second Ave trains… An echo of the Second System. Change at Eastern Parkway for IRT lines, and to Eighth Ave. lines on Fulton.

      • fbfree

        Taking another look at the track map for turning back the express at Utica, there’s two tail tracks with a double cross-over after the platform. You should be able to turn 30 tph on that with crews stepping back, as long as the cross-overs can be cleared in anything but dead-slow time.

        I was a little distrustful as the last time I was looking at this, I was trying to understand how one would turn back the local, which would then allow higher frequencies and faster service towards the Livonia elevated. Turning back the local is not currently possible.

      • adirondacker12800

        I don’t even want to think about trying to get some yokel from the hinterlands who wants to know where the green train is so they can get to Kennedy Airport, to contemplate the difference between a circle and diamond train. There are 22 letters they can use give ’em different letters. There are even roll signs for the “11” train which is suspected to be a Flushing express. Or perhaps a stadium super express.
        Others have been sighted.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unused_New_York_City_Subway_service_labels

        If you want to conceptualize things it’s probably better to go with a Vignelli scheme.

  8. marvin gruza

    I am at a loss as to how the NYC Atlantic Avenue LIRR line will be allowed to be such an underutilized asset. This branch which will be used minimally after LIRR’s Grand Central Terminal opens. It along with one of the two sets of tracks between Jamaica and Valley Stream should be converted to high frequency subway express use. Obviously the Atlantic Ave terminal needs a tunnel under the lower east river to link to either the 8th Ave IND or Broadway BMT.
    Such a line would:
    *provide South East Queens with service
    *provide major relief to the Queens Blvd IND
    *provide a real backup way out to Jamaica in case of emergencies
    *provide good and subway priced access from Queens (and long island) to the many Brooklyn subway lines that pass through the Atlantic terminal.

    • adirondacker12800

      It wouldn’t be high frequency if you wanted to use a Manhattan trunk. There are people using the trunk.

    • Eric2

      Atlantic Terminal is right above the Q tracks so it seems possible to connect the two there (though this falls into the “crayon” category which this post specifically does not want to talk about). I just checked and travel times to Midtown would be roughly equivalent to the E train.

      But you could get nearly the same effect just by making the Atlantic Avenue LIRR line a shuttle within the NYC Subway fare system. No construction needed (except a few fare gates). A transfer would be needed, but it would be an easy one (the LIRR and Q stations are right on top of each other). This would also leave more Q trains to meet demand from Brooklyn.

      In the long run I prefer Alon’s proposal for a new cross harbor line).

      • adirondacker12800

        People on Q trains and B trains are already using it.
        The LIRR tracks run roughly east/west and the subway lines run roughly north/south. Tearing down the mall hovering over the LIRR tracks would cost a lot. Taking the Brighton Line out of service for a few years while it’s done is probably the deal breaker.

  9. John Frum

    The NYC subway is increasingly outdated as standard 9-5 rush hour commuting has been made obsolete by Covid and remote work. A great deal of lost ridership will not be coming back. Why not invest in on-demand microtransit services that can cover local neighborhoods instead of just getting people in and out of Manhattan?

    • Alon Levy

      Because microtransit is a failure. It lasted a few years because of VC funding for losses and then they cut their losses and exited. Reasons include,

      1. Labor costs – one driver per 8 passengers instead of 800 (and driverless cars are still vaporware).
      2. Too many meanders – on-demand microtransit tried to be door-to-door but soon turned into something like fixed bus routes with unmarked stops, because the meanders are inefficient.
      3. Wrong scale – intra-neighborhood travel is done on foot, maybe by bike; work travel is based on job centers and those are fixed at the timescale of a private business.

      In Paris, Métro ridership is back to pre-corona levels on Tuesday through Thursday; Monday and Friday are below normal levels because of hybrid work.

  10. Subutay Musluoglu

    Hi Alon – Can you please better describe what you have in mind when you say rebuilds of Queens Plaza / Queensboro Plaza / 36 Street, and the 142 Street Junction in the Bronx.

    • Alon Levy

      Sure!

      1. A QBP/QP rebuild means building an in-system transfer between the two stations. It looks like 230 meters along Queens Plaza between the eastern edge of the QBP platforms and the QP station; it’s comparable to the 7th-8th or 6th-7th distance, both of which are annoying and yet have existing in-system transfers. This is for an Astoria Line/QB Line transfer, since the 7 gets the Court Square transfer already.

      2. A 36th rebuild means converting the station to express, as befits its status as the 53rd/63rd Street Tunnel junction. I don’t think there have ever been plans to do this at this station, but there have been elsewhere, like Columbus Circle, and the TA did retrofit 59th/Lex as an express stop.

      3. 142nd is far and away the hardest. Two things are needed: the easier is to increase transfer capacity at 149th so that it’s tenable to have all Lex express trains run on Jerome to Woodlawn and all West Side express trains run on White Plains to Wakefield or Dyre Avenue. The harder is to reduce the 3 train to a shuttle from 148th to 135th, which means building a continuous third track from 142nd to 135th with a platform.

      • marvin gruza

        the 59th/lex conversion from a local only station added side platforms on the express tracks that are on a lower level and did not involve move tracks etc. This is not the case at 36th Street which would require a major expensive disruptive rebuild. The costs could not possibly justify the benefits.

      • Stephen Bauman

        I tried to trace the source of downtown Lex Av express bottlenecks back around 2000. I had just retired and was younger. I got to Grand Central around 7am and recorded arrivals and departures. The line was a mess at Grand Central, so I worked my way uptown to see where things started to go wrong. I kept going back, back, back.

        I did witness a few “operator errors”. Once, I positioned myself at the 138th St station and recorded the merge between Jerome Ave trains on the Express track and White Plains Rd/Dyre Ave trains on the local. One Jerome Ave train stayed on the express track for several minutes after the signal changed to green. The train operator was reading a book and had not noticed the signal change. This operator wasn’t the systemic problem I was seeking. I continued my exploration.

        There were frequent merging foul ups at E 180th St because downtown trains from Dyre Ave must cross the local track to get to the middle track at E 180th. Downtown West Side #2 trains should be routed through the yard to avoid this conflict but not all are. This accounted for some but not all the delays further down the line. A better solution would be for Dyre Ave trains to operate as locals between E 180th and Third Ave along with the #2’s. The East Side #5 trains operating could operate as expresses. This would provide Eastside and Westside service for those at these local stops. Some #2’s could operate as Thru Expresses to provide a balanced merge south of Jackson Ave.

        The later availability of the real time feeds allowed me to trace back the mess at E 180th to late departing trains at Dyre, E 241st St and Nereid Ave.

        The constraint on downtown Lex express service level capacity has not been mentioned here or in the many MTA/NYCT reports. One can easily measure service level capacity at stations that have not converted to CBTC. There are 3 signal positions that can usually be monitored. There’s a signal positioned at the station’s exit. Do the following experiment during off peak times. Measure the time from when a train leaves the station until the signal turns back to green. It’s usually around 90 seconds from the start of train movement until the signal goes back to green. This means that 90 second headways or 40 tph are possible, if dwell time can be managed. One can repeat this experiment on the red/yellow signal on the station platform and the signal where the train just enters the station.

        There’s one exception – that’s 125th St. Downtown expresses cannot exit the station at full speed because they must switch tracks to continue as expresses. That interlocking’s position is too far away from the station to permit the slow switch speed to coincide with the train’s slow speed on leaving the station. The position is too close so that departing trains have not cleared the block controlling the station exit before they slow down to switch tracks. This delay reduces service level capacity to the 35 tph range. They operated 33 tph back in the 1950’s. There are a bunch of timers in the station to partially overcome this problem. Unfortunately, operators go at much slower speeds on their station approach than the timers permit.

        The MTA has suggested straightening the curves at both ends of Grand Central and eliminating the curves and moving platforms within the Union Sq station. Neither will increase the service level capacity, without addressing the 125th St problem.

        • adirondacker12800

          Unfortunately they let people use the trains and they don’t know or care that the doors should be open for 11.375 seconds.
          The Dyre Avenue line was supposed to be a branch of the Second Ave…. Either all or half of the four express tracks they were plotting in 1930. I suspect that’s why it was a shuttle for 20-ish years, The Second Ave was coming reallll soon.

          • Stephen Bauman

            Generally speaking the 90 second minimum headway at stations is broken down to 3 30 second long segments. The first 30 second segment is from when the approaching enters the station to when the doors open. The second 30 second segment (dwell time) is with the doors open until when the train starts moving again. The third 30 second segment is from when the train starts moving until when the signal at the station entrance (back of station) turns green and the follower starts the first 30 second segment.

            This allows for more than the 11.375 seconds for the doors to remain open. Part of dwell time is taken up with operating procedures to protect against incompetent workers. A conductor once opened the doors on the wrong side. It was on the express track at the IND 59th St 8th Ave stop. Nobody fell down because of the center platform. NYCT’s response was to have the conductor point through the window before opening the doors. There’s also a door enabler switch actuated by the operator to make sure both operator and conductor agree on which side to open. This adds about 5 seconds to station time before the doors open.

            I’m familiar with the Dyre Ave Line’s history. There used to be a Bronx Park terminal north of 177th St where West Side trains terminated. The Lex continued up to E 241st St. That was a grade crossing. They still managed 31 tph, according to the TA’s 1954 service level map.

          • adirondacker12800

            The Third Ave trains were merging and diverging at Gun Hill Road too. The 1939 map on nycsubway.org also has Third Ave trains going to Freeman Street on the White Plains line and Ninth Ave trains going to Woodlawn. And all sorts of other peculiar things.

      • adirondacker12800

        Queens Plaza isn’t Times Square and Ditmars Blvd isn’t Grand Central. People can already do it out-of-system. OMNY may even be able to tell how many dozens of them a day do it. Meh. Adding stops to the express train makes it less express-y. For the few stops between Queens Plaza and 74th/Jackson Heights they can take the local. Meh. There’s a yard at 148th St. Trains will still be coming in and out of it.

  11. Matthew Hutton

    The other question is whether the 24 hour service adds any value, especially away from Friday and Saturday nights.

    • Luke

      As a non NYC-er, this has always seemed like some of the lowest hanging fruit. I understand that the 24hr service is kind of a sacred cow, and of course there are labor considerations, but how much of the subway’s late-hour service could be easily taken over by better intra/interburough bus routes? (Again, non NYC-er, so maybe nearly none; I don’t know)

      • Matthew Hutton

        I’ve never seen late night traffic of any volume that would break night-buses when I’ve been to New York City.

        I’d even so boldly say that London is more of a 24 hour city than New York 😝

  12. fjod

    “London, the second most interlined system”

    Wait till you see Amsterdam – 4 lines, all of which interline with each of the others (and one orphan too – but this one is a new addition)

    • Mattthew Hutton

      London isn’t interlined at all really other than I guess the northern line and the sub surface lines.

  13. Jeff

    RE the benefits of PSD’s they also help keep trash off of the tracks, which would reduce maintenance and track fires
    RE De-interlining, why not focus on actually doing the easy stuff instead of arguing about the hard stuff? For example it would be pretty easy to deinterline the AC/BD north of Columbus Circle with existing cross platform transfers at CC and 125th Street to switch from local to express. Not a huge fix but a step in the right direction (and there is other low lying fruit out there as well)

    • adirondacker12800

      I can imagine many ways “deinterline the AC/BD north of Columbus Circle ” happens. All of the Concourse trains run express on Central Park West to and from Sixth Ave.? Using letter designators is fraught because if all the upper Manhattan trains all run local they are the E train and the Queens Blvd express is the A/C. Quick back of the envelope calculation is that if a quarter of the people trade their one seat express ride for an all local ride they waste a million hours a year. Or they have a three seat ride which wastes a million hours a year. What train goes where?

      • Matthew Hutton

        The time delay from a cross platform interchange with 30tph will be very small.

        • adirondacker12800

          If I’m trading my current one train ride for a three train ride I’m not saving time. Or I’m trading my express ride for an all local ride and I’m not saving time.
          Which trains go where? All of the Concourse trains run express on Central Park West and then use Sixth? All of the Upper Manhattan trains run local on Central Park West and local to the World Trade Center? If you do that you have to turn 30 trains an hour at the World Trade Center and today’s Queens Blvd train goes to Brooklyn. Or nothing is going to the World Trade Center and the Queens Blvd train is turning around south of Penn Station?
          I want to know what is going where.

          • Matthew Hutton

            It would definitely be better because you’d get a train every 2-3 minutes not every 10.

          • Alon Levy

            One way to do this is as you say, but seriously. So, all Grand Concourse trains go express on CPW and then on Sixth, and perhaps some also run peak-direction express on CPW; let’s call them D and diamond-D, retiring the B. I’m ignoring what they do in Brooklyn – this kind of assumes the D runs the route of the Q today in Brooklyn and the is a peak-direction B, but the Upper Manhattan decision and the Brooklyn decision are unconnected.

            In this schema, all Washington Heights trains go local on CPW, and passengers who wish for faster trips can transfer cross-platform to the express at 125th. Those trains then turn at WTC; let’s call them A, maybe with some peak-hour diamond-A skipping 163rd and 155th. WTC can’t turn 30 tph, and that’s fine – there isn’t demand for 30 tph on this line, and around 15-18 tph at peak should be enough.

            Then the E trains run express south of 50th Street – 53rd Street can connect to either the local or express tracks. This makes the route an awkward Queens-Manhattan-Brooklyn-Queens route, but the M does that already today and people aren’t confused to death.

          • adirondacker12800

            If all of the Concourse trains are Central Park West Expresses you can change, at 125th, from an Upper Manhattan local to an express to Columbus Circle or West 4th Street. Anyplace else on the 8th Ave lines you have to change back to a local at Columbus Circle. Yech. Or slog allllll the way down Central Park West on a local. A quick back of the envelope guesstimate is that people would be wasting a million hours a year.

            If there are 30 trains an hour between Columbus Circle and Canal Street on the 8th Ave local tracks the Queens Blvd train can’t use the local tracks. It goes to the lower level at 50th, the express tracks for 42nd and 34th and turns around on the three tracks in the center between 34th and 23rd. The express tracks get rusty between 23rd and Canal where you might be able to send some of them to Brooklyn and some of them to the World Trade Center. You can’t change between local and express at 50th or 34th. What flavor of mayhem happens at 42nd?

            The A-division/IRT has a fetish for single digits. I don’t know why the 5-diamond isn’t the 11, the 6-diamond the 12 and the 7-diamond the 13. And the stadium super expresses the 14. There were rollsigns for that kind of thing but they never did it. They’d probably have to bring back double letters. Or come up with A-circle, A-diamond, A-hexagon. … There would still be trains terminating at 168th and using the 174th Street yard? Hmmm. A few of the Lefferts Blvd trains only go to 168th. Hmm. Some of the Queens Blvd trains used to go to Rockaway Park. Take the World Trade Center out of service for a few years, double deck it and send Queens Blvd trains to Brooklyn? Hmmm. Any E train in any direction would go to the airport. Hmm. Except for the Lefferts Blvd trains. Hmm.

            I haven’t asked yet how many more trains they have to buy to do this. Or how much staff they have to hire and train. Or how much more yard they have to double deck to store them all.

            ..it all looks great in the spreadsheet. Not so much in real life.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Most likely you’d make the A and C run as express from 145th street to Columbus circle and the D (and B) as local. And then the E as local from 50th street. So you’d only end up changing back for express D stops on 6th avenue that you wouldn’t have got the 4 train for, and where the 1 train from Columbus circle wouldn’t be a better bet.

          • adirondacker12800

            The 4 train is an East Side train. The A/B/C/D trains are West Side trains. So is the 1. What does the 4 have to do with passing through Columbus Circle, which is on the West Side, on whatever train?
            All of the Concourse trains are Central Park West locals and the Upper Manhattan trains are express someone is still changing trains twice or slogging all the way on the local. With added benefit of abandoning the upper level at 50th Street. Change from the express to a local to get to 7th and 53rd to change to a local that goes to 50th and 8th. Or change to the 1 for 50th. Which isn’t across the platform. It might be faster to walk.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Yes, but the D train goes between the 1, 2 and 3 and the 4, 5 and 6 south of Central Park.

          • adirondacker12800

            It does in the sense that Sixth Ave is between Park ( Fourth Ave. ) and Seventh Ave. but from the point of view of a subway user in the Bronx they don’t go the same places. The N,Q,R and W are between the 1,2 and 3 and the 4, 5, and 6 too.
            ….. I’m not going to get off a Concourse trains at Yankee Stadium to change to the 4 to then change again at Union Square when I can more or less achieve the same thing at Herald Square or perhaps Broadway-Lafayette…. whatever trip you are imagining.

    • Alon Levy

      Yep, and DeKalb is also pretty easy thanks to the cross-platform transfer at Pacific and to the proximity of the two mainlines in Manhattan. The 2/5 in the Bronx is the really difficult one, which is why Uday leaves it out in his formulation.

      • adirondacker12800

        Where are the tunnel trains going? You want to send all 30 of the Sixth Ave trains to the Brighton, tunnel trains can’t go to the Brighton. 30 Broadway trains to Fourth Ave, over the bridge, that means the tunnel trains are Fourth Ave locals. The cross platform transfers at the station formerly known as Pacific would be between Broadway tunnel trains and Broadway bridge trains. The Sixth Ave trains would be on the other side of Flatbush Ave across the four tracks of IRT trains.

    • Tom M

      Meanwhile, two-mile plus long autonomous freight trains in Australia have been running since 2018

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