NYCT: Byford’s Speed and Safety Task Force Still Making an Impact

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Switch replacement has increased the speed of MTA subway trains. (Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

Switch replacement has increased the speed of MTA subway trains. (Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

More MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) subway trains are operating on time, in many cases at increased speeds, as a the result of a major effort to update grade time (GT) signals begun under former NYCT President Andy Byford.

NYCT train speeds have been safely increased at locations where outdated technology and deteriorating wayside equipment were causing unintended emergency brake applications unless operators ran trains at slower speeds to avoid setting off the signals. NYCT’s dedicated SPEED Team replaced the equipment in question with digital technology.

NYCT reported March 23 that it has installed 919 new digital timers on GT signals, implemented 270 civil speed increases across the system over the past two years, and reduced the amount of time trains spend holding at station platforms. The work builds on recommendations made in the “MTA NYCT Subway Speed and Capacity Review, Phase 2 Report,” which was commissioned as part of the Speed and Safety Task Force launched in July 2019. 

Speeds have been increased at 279 locations. Some examples: Changing the northbound curve entering City Hall on the R and W lines from 6 mph to 15 mph; changing the southbound speed limit at President Street on the 2 and 5 lines from 15 mph to 35 mph; changing the speeds on the express tracks on Queens Blvd. from 35 mph to 50 mph at multiple locations; and removing the 25 mph limit on the D line express in the Bronx, allowing for speeds about 40 mph near Fordham Road and Kingsbridge Road.

Key accomplishments to date:

• Taking advantage of lower ridership during the pandemic, the agency accelerated installation of new digital timers on GT signals, completing 900 by October 2020 (ahead of schedule) and 919 to date. 
• 156 slow-clearing grade timers were fixed in 2020, with an additional 14 fixed in 2021. 
• 485 slow-clearing signals have been found throughout the system and 413 have been resolved.
• 663 speed limits have been identified that could potentially be raised, and 581 of those locations have been evaluated by members of the NYCT Safety and Engineering teams. Of the speed limits evaluated, 279 have already been updated in the field, including 65 civil speed restrictions raised in 2020. 

NYCT’s Phase Two report, delivered in December 2020 and prepared by STV Inc., “verified that an increased speed on curves—labeled as ‘v6’ to denote a normal increased operating speed or ‘Comfort Level Speed’—is both safe and comfortable for customers (based on comprehensive testing and a balanced sample of riders). The report also estimates that running times could be reduced by a median of five minutes and 30 seconds on lines if grade time signals are working correctly and train operators drive the full speed limit, and offers a set of recommendations for sustaining and continuing the progress on speeds that [NYCT has] achieved to date.”

MTA noted that “members of the dedicated SPEED Team have continued to work closely with employees in several divisions within the Department of Subways to check on the reliability of grade time signals so that train operators are able to move customers at the maximum safe speed possible throughout the system. The dedicated unit has also traveled the system to identify parts of the system where previous speed limits can be safely increased.” 

“We’ve continued to identify root causes for slower speeds, and we’ve continued to move rapidly to fix grade time signals that were defective and to increase speeds where it’s safe to do so,” NYCT interim President Sarah Feinberg said. “But make no mistake, this is not the end. We will continue to inspect the system so that as new speed-related challenges emerge, we are prepared to address them promptly. We can’t return to an era when these things weren’t being effectively monitored—that’s not fair to our customers or our train operators, who need to be confident they can travel at the maximum safe speeds possible when moving our millions of customers. My thanks to train and speed safety task force chair Jane Garvey, TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano, former FRA Chief Safety Officer Bob Lauby, and the men and women of NYC Transit for helping us to accomplish these goals.” 


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