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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

New York Subway Update

The NY Times has a more informative article today than yesterday, understandably enough. Apparently the impact of the relay-room fire is even greater than reported before:
The A line will run roughly one-third the normal number of trains - meaning that riders who used to wait six minutes for a train might now have to wait 18 minutes - while the C train will cease to exist as a separate line, at least for the time being.
Apparently, the three to five years estimated for repair is because of this:
Officials said they believed that there were only two companies in the world that were able to repair the signals. One is based in Pittsburgh, and the other in Paris.

The fixed-block signaling system has been in use since the New York subway's inception in 1904. The transit agency has invested $288 million on its first computerized signaling system, scheduled to make its debut on the L line in Brooklyn and in Manhattan in July. Computer-based train operation has been a goal for decades, but since 1982 the transit agency has focused its capital spending on basic maintenance.
Apparently somebody had the same thought that I did:
An expert on the city's subways expressed amazement that a single fire in a confined space could have such a long-lasting impact. "It seems astonishing that a single signal room would be so central to the operation of the line that it would take five years to recover from," said Clifton Hood, a transit historian at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. "That's about as long as it took to build that entire line of the IND."

The first segment of the Independent Subway System, of which the A and C are a part, opened in 1932. The city's three subway divisions were unified in 1940. Professor Hood noted that four stations that were closed after Sept. 11 were reopened in a year.
The shutdown of C and slowdown of A is causing havoc with commuters:
Yesterday morning, the first commute since the blaze gave a taste of the irritation that awaits riders in the days and weeks to come. "All I can do is wait here and hope for the best," said Ana Reyes, 51, a medical receptionist from Boerum Hill who had waited half an hour for the A train at the Jay Street station in Brooklyn. "Nobody tells you anything, so I just follow everyone else. If a train comes, I'm getting on it, and I don't care where it goes."

Other subway lines buckled from the added load of passengers from the A and C lines. At the Atlantic Avenue station, a major hub in Brooklyn, Patrick Joseph, 40, a construction worker from Crown Heights, was unable to board a crowded No. 2 train. "This is the second train I can't get on," Mr. Joseph said, adding that he was in his fourth day of a new job. "I'm definitely late. I've been on the train for an hour and 10 minutes and I have only traveled from Eastern Parkway."
The snow and cold weather may have contributed to the problem, because the fire was thought to have been started by a homeless person trying to keep warm. Apparently there are hundreds of homeless people living in the NY subways. A few more fires like Sunday's, and the economy of America's largest city may go in the tank, further swelling the ranks of the homeless. If anyone in Washington or Albany has any sense at all for physical or economic security, it would seem as though a real "Manhattan Project" is called for here. I'll bet just a small fraction $80 billion could get the job done in a few months--not just fixing the fire damage, but upgrading the operation and security of the subway system. And build or buy plenty of low-income housing besides.