Rail

N.Y. MTA report finds subway can speed up by as much as 50%

Posted on October 9, 2019

The next step for the MTA's task force is to examine appropriate and safe speed limits using train operation testing in actual conditions to determine running speeds in different configurations.
MTA/Patrick Cashin
The next step for the MTA's task force is to examine appropriate and safe speed limits using train operation testing in actual conditions to determine running speeds in different configurations.MTA/Patrick Cashin

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced preliminary findings of the Train Speed and Safety Task Force, which demonstrates subway train speeds on certain sections of track can be increased by as much as 50%. The task force initiated a study with engineering firm STV, with the help of Transport Workers Union, that remains ongoing but has already determined four core areas of focus that would lead to faster trains while prioritizing customer and employee safety.

The task force determined the following areas of focus to identify tracks where speeds could be safely raised: reducing running times through straight tracks and interlockings, improving running times through curves, alleviating bottlenecks and fine-tuning schedules to optimize train movement, and updating speed signage to increase train operator confidence.

The next step is for the task force to examine appropriate and safe speed limits using train operation testing in actual conditions to determine running speeds in different configurations.

  • The New York subway system was built more than 100 years ago, and to provide for safe operations, various measures were implemented to ensure that trains did not go faster than the conditions they could handle.
  • Two fatal incidents at 14 St-Union Square in 1991 and on the Williamsburg Bridge in 1995 cumulatively led to subway trains operating at slower speeds. Later, the NTSB concluded in both cases the accidents were mainly due to operator error, however, localized system and signal issues were also discovered.
  • At the same time, the MTA never completed the comprehensive speed and safety review they had commenced and thus the trains remained operating at slower speeds with actual devices installed to limit train acceleration.
The New York subway system was built more than 100 years ago, and to provide for safe operations, various measures were implemented to ensure that trains did not go faster than the conditions they could handle.
MTA/Patrick Cashin
The New York subway system was built more than 100 years ago, and to provide for safe operations, various measures were implemented to ensure that trains did not go faster than the conditions they could handle.MTA/Patrick Cashin

The slowdown was further compounded by the practice of train operators controlling trains, some of whom believed that the signal system was not properly calibrated, at speeds below the posted limits due to the perception they would be unfairly penalized. The result led to operators driving even slower than posted speed limits. Over the decades, car design and track geometry have improved, allowing cars to maintain stability and safe operation at higher speeds, but the speed limits were not changed to reflect these advancements in safety and comfort.

Under the task force’s preliminary recommendations, NYC Transit will coordinate with the TWU to ensure that mis-calibrated timed signal timers have been fixed and that operators will not be penalized. Overall, the task force’s findings build on the success of NYC Transit’s Save Safe Seconds effort to increase subway speed limits by locating and fixing mis-calibrated signals in parts of the system. The task force’s continuing work will expand the number of locations where speeds could be raised and increase operator confidence thanks to coordinated efforts with transit’s labor partners.

Final recommendations from the task force will be sent to MTA Chairman Patrick Foye for review and approval by the end of 2019.

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