Today’s Headlines

  • Byford’s Bus Action Plan Calls for Citywide All-Door Boarding, Route Redesign, and More (AMNY)
  • Still No Sign That Subway Reliability Is Getting Better (NY1)
  • Desperate Cuomo Betting on Unproven Ultra-Wideband Radio to Replace Subway Signals (NYT)
  • More Coverage of Friday’s Big Car-Free Central Park News (PoliticoNews, NYT, Post, WSJ)
  • Driver Exiting Wagner College Parking Lot Critically Injures 2-Year-Old Walking With His Mom (Post)
  • Video Shows Cops Running Heins Rodriguez Off His Bike Before Filing Trumped-Up Charges (News)
  • Will the MTA Run Enough J/M/Z Trains to Keep Up During the L Shutdown? (Voice)
  • Advocates Call for NYPD to Open Up Demographic Data on Turnstile Jumping Arrests (NY1)
  • MTA Will Add Four Elevators at Astoria Boulevard N/W Station (TL)
  • FDNY EMT Busted for Drunk Driving on BQE (Post)
  • Placard Culture at Work (News)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • Larry Littlefield

    RE signals — they have to do something.

    We can’t afford to replace the signals at the price that is being charged, and the old relay-based signals are harder and harder to buy and worse and worse in quality. It’s like trying go buy a battery powered transistor radio for my father in law on Saturday. The world has moved on, and they are hard to find.

    Meanwhile, the first solid state interlocking has failed.

    I only ask that they make it redundant and fail-safe. If it’s cheap enough, they should be able to install two completely separate systems to use alternatively, so they can boot the other up if the first one fails.

    And that they get a money-back guarantee, as they did on the first attempts at Bustime. All the early failures cost them was time.

  • Fool

    How many MTA employees does it take to clean a security camera dome on a platform at Rockefeller Center?
    -5

  • stairbob

    I’m excited about the bus revamp. Especially the complete route evaluation. It’s a huge project, obviously, but one that has potential to vastly improve transportation options for many, many New Yorkers.

    Also, “But bus speeds average about 8 mph, around the slowest among systems in major American cities, likely because buses spend half the time either idling at red lights or at stops.”

    I’d also imagine getting stuck in traffic caused by other motor vehicles plays an even larger part in slowing down buses on many routes.

  • sbauman

    the first solid state interlocking has failed.

    What’s been proven is that the MTA and its preferred vendor failed. Solid state programmable logic controllers (PLC) are responsible for the wave of factory floor automation that has reduced manufacturing jobs since the 1980’s. Some manufacturing environments are far less friendly than what’s found in the subways.

    I only ask that they make it redundant and fail-safe.

    The big problem with the railroad industry is that they started designing digital networks before the theory of how to design them was developed (1940-1960). They have consistently ignored the new technologies and theories developed in the last half of the 20th century.

    Reliability and how to obtain it is one of the theories they have ignored. The railroad mantra is that a signal system that does not permit a single train to move is 100% fail-safe. They have developed a methodology and components to achieve such fail-safe operation. It’s a niche market and an intellectual back water.

    They have ignored an important technical paper by Moore and Shannon, “Reliable Circuits Using Less Reliable Relays”, that was published in 1956. They continued to insist on using something called “vital” relays which are fewer and fewer manufacturers are willing to build.

    The key to reliability, a design criterion not included in railroad signal specs, is through redundancy. The railroad industry’s approach is to design better and better relays whose fail-to-break rate is supposed to approach 0. Getting to the last 0.001% failure rate is increasingly expensive. The Moore-Shannon approach was to use 2 or more relay contacts in series for a couple of orders of magnitude less cost.

    They then placed unnecessary and expensive constraints on using standard off the shelf PLC’s for railroad use. One such constraint was using “vital” relays powered through a resonant circuit for final output sigals. This was supposed to guard against internal computer errors. PLC’s already have such protection in the form of an embedded watchdog timer.

    If it’s cheap enough

    A PLC to replace the logic for each signal would cost less than $100K. That comes to less than $1.4B to replace all the “vital” relays in the system.

    that they get a money-back guarantee

    One first needs a performance spec in the contract. That’s been missing from the CBTC contracts.

  • sbauman

    Regarding: Desperate Cuomo Betting on Unproven Ultra-Wideband Radio to Replace Subway Signals

    The eight-month study, which tested the technology at the university’s underground tunnel system used by students to get around during winter months, found that ultra-wideband could measure distance precisely within about four inches.

    The first engineering question is how precise and accurately does the position measurement have to be. One rule of thumb is that it does not have to be any better than how accurately one can predict a train’s emergency stopping distance. That stopping distance is 275 ft +/- 35% from 30 mph, according to NYCT spec. That comes 96.25 ft from 30 mph. If one wants to increase service levels by decreasing the distance between trains, the first order of business will be to improve emergency braking rates. Having a signal system capable of resolving train position to 4 inches won’t improve emergency braking rates.

  • Fool

    See, I fail to see the difference in MM Wave tunnel installations vs the CBTC being installed today. It is a train based technology utilizing Active RFID beacons installed in the track bed.

    I fail to see how this would speed up installation in the tunnel sections today, seeing as how it is the same positioning blocks used today.

  • sbauman

    The bigger question is how would a new signal system provide greater service levels. Knowing a train’s position does not mean much, if one does not know what distance it will take to stop.

    I fail to see the difference in MM Wave tunnel installations vs the CBTC being installed today.

    Two possible ways.

    According to the proposal, the wayside equipment has ranging and speed capabilities. Thus, equipment in the car and RFID beacons may not be required.

    There would be no central computer nor wires to connect to one. Each tunnel installation would communicate to the device before and after it, as well as any train within its block. N.B. this goes back 50+ years, when I took switching theory in grad school. There are two models: distributed and central. They are equivalent. One exercise was given a central machine model convert it to a distributed one and vice-versa.

  • Maggie

    That’s great news that Astoria Boulevard station will get elevators as part of its revamp in 2019. Those are so incredibly long overdue. It’s really nice to see Andy Byford listening to riders in a positive, responsive, proactive way. Thrilled to see this from NYCTA.

    As a side grumpy note, my subway commute of crappiness this morning made me late for a meeting, and thoroughly convinced me that we should just shut ESA down. These are sunk costs with a laughably inadequate and inequitable payout. It would be nice to cut our losses, end this particular contractor gravy train, and reinvest the money towards fixing the subway. Lord knows it needs it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Two were flaggers. Then there was the supervisor and the union rep.

    How many workers does it take to remove an old signal with some asbestos in it?

    Two workers to actually do the work.

    The contractor’s supervisor and engineer.

    The NYCT engineer responsible for the signal job, plus one from the environmental group and one from system safety.

    And NYCT’s independent environmental consultant.

    Plus the flaggers.

    Each time a worker is killed on the tracks, or you have an incident like the City of
    New York’s contractor cause lead paint to rain down on a neighborhood while painting the Williamsburg Bridge, the number does up.

  • Vooch

    We should be under no illusions about the Central Park loop being car free.

    Gov‘t employees will still drive in the park same as it ever was.

    BdB will still barrel his 12 SUV convoy through the park. Serfs getoutmyway

  • Joe R.

    All this actually makes a great case to get robotic workers doing work in any dangerous work conditions sooner rather than later. You win twice. First off, you don’t have to pay the robots. Second, the excuses for all the redundant do-nothing jobs no longer exist.

    Note I don’t object to compensating workers well BUT only if their job is necessary AND they’re doing productive work. People standing around doesn’t fall into that category. In your example the only two people who should be there are the two workers doing the actual work. Flagging could be automated, and the other positions are do-nothing, make work jobs given to the politically connected.

  • Joe R.

    Note during much of the day the constraint isn’t how many TPH the signal system can handle. Rather, it’s the fact the trains are neutered because running them to their full capabilities might in rare situations cause a train to enter an occupied block because it can’t stop in the distance between signals. A new signal system will increase service levels by letting trains run to their full capability. This means trains will get across the line in less time. The end result of this is for any given number of trainsets you can increase frequency of service. Or you can use fewer trainsets for the same level of service.

  • Adrian Horczak

    There needs to be more attention given to the overcrowding on the J/M/Z lines during the L train shutdown

  • Larry Littlefield

    If the others weren’t there, the two doing the work might not do the work. Or they might dump the asbestos in the trash.

    That’s the problem.

  • sbauman

    it’s the fact the trains are neutered because running them to their full capabilities

    At train’s “full capabilities” are limited by their emergency stopping distance.

    The NYCT spec is 275 ft +/- 35% from 30 mph. That’s a maximum stopping distance of 371.25 ft from a speed of 30 mph. This translates to an acceptable emergency braking rate of 1.78 mph/sec from 30 mph.

    The BRT/BMT emergency braking spec was a minimum of 3.0 mph/sec from a speed of 50 mph. This translates to a maximum stopping distance of 612.5 ft from 50 mph. The assumption is that a train stopping from 50 mph, will at some point have a 30 mph speed. Applying the 50 mph BRT/BMT spec from a speed of 30 mph, yields a maximum stopping distance of 220.5 ft.

    N.B. there is no NYCT spec for an emergency braking rate for speeds in excess of 30 mph. This spec means there is no obligation for a train traveling in excess of 30 mph to stop at all. The brakes are rated only for speeds between 0 and 30 mph. This means the only safe way to operate trains with such brake specs is to operate the trains between 0 and 30 mph. This is what you refer to as “neutering”.

    No signal system has changed the emergency braking rate spec. Be assured that trains operating with a new signal system will be constrained to operate within the speed range of their emergency brakes. Safe operations under any new signal will exhibit the same lowered maximum service levels and increased travel times.

  • Urbanely

    I would love to see it. The J/Z is my line; I ride in from Queens. It’s already sardine-tight at the stops from Marcy onward. I can’t imagine how it could be any worse…but it will be. Increased frequency is a must.

  • Joe R.

    The trains can and do run faster than 30 mph even now with the neutering. I don’t know where you get the idea that it’s not safe at all to run trains faster than 30 mph when every subway system in existence does so.

    The reason for the neutering was that some signals spacings were too close for the speeds a train running at full acceleration capabilities might reach after leaving a station. As a result, the trains were detuned so they couldn’t reach high enough speeds such that they might overshoot the problematic signals. The signal spacing issue would be corrected with new signals, allowing the trains to run to their maximum capabilities.

    N.B. there is no NYCT spec for an emergency braking rate for speeds in excess of 30 mph. This spec means there is no obligation for a train traveling in excess of 30 mph to stop at all.

    Perhaps there is no NYCT spec but every equipment builder will ensure trains can stop as quickly as possible from their design speed. And while we’re at it, why can’t emergency braking use the motors like service braking? With modern equipment you can use the motors for braking even if the third rail has no power. You would just dissipate the power in the resistor grids instead of feeding it back into the third rail for other trains to use.

    Basically all I’m suggesting here is NYC does what every other subway system in the world does, namely have schedules dictated by the performance of modern equipment rather than capping train performance because of antiquated signals and/or equally antiquated emergency brake specs.

  • Joe R.

    If that’s the quality of the workers they get despite the unions, then we seriously need to consider hiring from elsewhere. Any worker who won’t do the job they’re being paid to do, even if unsupervised, isn’t worth a shit in my book. Paying them union wages/benefits just adds insult to injury.

  • sbauman

    Perhaps there is no NYCT spec but every equipment builder will ensure trains can stop as quickly as possible from their design speed.

    The NTSB report about the Williamsburg Bridge collision noted that NYCT modified the equipment builders’ brakes. This was due to replacing the manufacturers’ brake shoes that contained asbestos. All of NYCT’s acceptance tests for the modified braking system were conducted from 30 mph.

    With modern equipment you can use the motors for braking even if the third rail has no power.

    No you cannot. Both the DC and AC motors a magnetic field to act as a generator. That magnetic field is supplied by the third rail power. They don’t use permanent magnet motors.

    You would just dissipate the power in the resistor grids instead of feeding it back into the third rail for other trains to use.

    Regenerative braking did not work on the NTT’s. All the electrical braking systems dissipate the generated power into resistor grids.

  • You mustn’t take this ugly anti-worker rhetoric seriously. Either this guy is intentionally being dishonest, or else he has lost his grip on reality and actually believes his own outlandish declarations.

    Mendacity or madness? While I am sometimes tempted to suspect the latter, a shameful post such as this last one leaves no doubt that it’s the former.

  • Joe R.

    The NTSB report about the Williamsburg Bridge collision noted that NYCT modified the equipment builders’ brakes. This was due to replacing the manufacturers’ brake shoes that contained asbestos.

    Yes, they replaced asbestos brake shoes with composite shoes but failed to increase brake cylinder pressure to obtain similar emergency braking rates. That was the real cause of the collision.

    All of NYCT’s acceptance tests for the modified braking system were conducted from 30 mph.

    I wasn’t aware of this change in testing procedure but to me this merits a class action lawsuit against the MTA. Braking systems by definition must be tested at any speed the equipment is capable of reaching.

    Both the DC and AC motors a magnetic field to act as a generator. That magnetic field is supplied by the third rail power. They don’t use permanent magnet motors.

    And yet diesel locomotives, which don’t have any external electrical power source, have been capable of dynamic braking for decades. The answer is easy. They use a battery to supply the electrical field.

    Regenerative braking did not work on the NTT’s. All the electrical braking systems dissipate the generated power into resistor grids.

    Or the energy can be pumped into batteries or supercaps for reuse during acceleration. The NTTs in theory should have this capability as they need an internal DC supply for the inverters. It’s easy enough to connect some type of energy storage to this internal power bus. The economics might work against it, however, given that the cost of energy saved over the life of the system might be less than the cost of energy storage.

  • Joe R.

    Anti-worker rhetoric or not, the fact is enough people in MTA upper management believe what Larry said, namely that workers won’t do their jobs unless you have people hovering over them. This makes the situation ripe for patronage to fill what are essentially do-nothing “supervisory” positions.

  • sbauman

    I wasn’t aware of this change in testing procedure but to me this merits a class action lawsuit against the MTA. Braking systems by definition must be tested at any speed the equipment is capable of reaching.

    NYCT’s ever vigilant legal team foresaw this problem. They lowered the speed the equipment was capable of reaching.

    And yet diesel locomotives, which don’t have any external electrical power source, have been capable of dynamic braking for decades. The answer is easy. They use a battery to supply the electrical field.

    Not quite. Diesel electric locomotives have both a generator and traction motors. The generator supplies electric power for the traction motors. Dynamic braking is achieved solely within the traction motors. The generator keeps operating to provide the magnetic field required for dynamic braking. Should the generator or the diesel engine powering it fail, diesel-electric locomotives must rely solely on friction brakes.

    Or the energy can be…

    You are straying far from the original point. That point is that any new signal system will not increase either service levels or average operating speed. The reason still remains that these are constrained by rolling stock limitations.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m sure it will be maxed out. The problem is there is an at-grade junction, rather than a flying junction, where the Myrtle Avenue line merges in. That limits capacity. There is an at-grade crossing at the northwest corner of the Chicago Loop too, and they get lots of trains through there. But I doubt NYCT signals would allow as many.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I handled the budgets for signal projects, and dealt with the cost of old signal removal, while working at NYCT.

    As Mr. Unions are never unfair I don’t see what your objection is. The number of workers is limited. That number of consultants and others (overhead) is higher, and each costs far more.

  • iSkyscraper

    Byford clearly importing ideas from Toronto, where surface transit is a big deal.

  • Joe R.

    NYCT’s ever vigilant legal team foresaw this problem. They lowered the speed the equipment was capable of reaching.

    The alternative was to just test the equipment from maximum design speed, which incidentally is what the rest of the world does.

    Diesel electric locomotives have both a generator and traction motors. The generator supplies electric power for the traction motors. Dynamic braking is achieved solely within the traction motors. The generator keeps operating to provide the magnetic field required for dynamic braking.

    Technically, you just need an power source, which can be a generator, battery, third rail, or catenary, to jump start the field when you start dynamic braking. After you start dynamic braking, you can use some of the power generated to maintain the magnetic field. How do you think the generators in diesel locomotives work? Easy enough for mass transit equipment to use a battery to jump start the field in the absence of third rail power.

    You are straying far from the original point. That point is that any new signal system will not increase either service levels or average operating speed. The reason still remains that these are constrained by rolling stock limitations.

    Yes, ultimately average operating speeds are constrained by both the track profile and rolling stock limitations. However, the rolling stock was detuned over two decades ago for questionable reasons, mostly due to signal spacing if you believe the MTA. This detuning, and the installation of timers in locations where they were not needed, has resulted in longer running times than necessary. The MTA has had over 20 years to fix these problems and restore rolling stock performance. Note that on the L, which has CBTC, the trains are in fact safely running at their full acceleration capabilities. This only cuts about 2 minutes off the prior schedule because the line is solely local stops (and it has a lot of speed restrictions due to curves which must remain in place). Lines which are straighter and/or have express runs should see proportionately higher schedule reductions when the old signals are replaced.

    Basically, the problem as I understand it was the rolling stock was detuned because the signal system was set up for older trains which had lower performance than modern trains. There’s no inherent reason why the signal system can’t be fixed to allow modern rolling stock to perform to its full capabilities. No other subway system in the world has neutered its equipment because the signal system couldn’t keep up. While I understand the need to come up with a quick, temporary fix after the WB incident bought the signal problems to light, the MTA has had over two decades to find a permanent fix which allows the trains to run at their full capabilities.

  • sbauman

    The alternative was to just test the equipment from maximum design speed, which incidentally is what the rest of the world does.

    You’re assuming the new brakes could have passed a 3.0 mph/sec test from the maximum design speed (50 mph). The asbestos pads could operate at much higher temperatures without fading than the asbestos-free pads that replaced them.

    One way to avoid a temperature buildup is to have a larger area brake shoe and pad combo with which to dissipate more heat. That’s difficult to accomplish with NYCT’s tread brakes.

    The alternative is to limit the amount of heat generated by the brakes. The rate of heat generated is proportional to the product of the braking force and the velocity. NYCT tried to reduce the braking force by reducing the applied air pressure. For some reason the brakes did not stop satisfactorily. The other possibility would be to limit the maximum speed at which the brakes were applied.

  • Joe R.

    And yet another alternative is to brake with the motors in conjunction with the tread brakes. Technically, this can be done even in the absence of third rail power. For some reason NYCTA took the half-assed approach it did.

    And note that lots of other systems use tread brakes and have no issues maintaining braking rates from much higher speeds than 30 mph. Stop making excuses for the MTA. They need to restore train performance to what it was or face continuing to lose customers. A subway system which runs at bicycle speeds can hardly be called “rapid transit”.

  • sbauman

    And yet another alternative is to brake with the motors in conjunction with the tread brakes. Technically, this can be done even in the absence of third rail power. For some reason NYCTA took the half-assed approach it did.

    Self-excited generators use the residual magnetism in the armature’s iron core to generate its initial voltage. The residual magnetism is so low, that the stator winding can have no load until across it until its operating voltage is reached. If a load is applied before operating voltage is reached, the load will drain the drain the residual magnetism and the voltage.

    The time to reach operating voltage with no load is 10 seconds or more. There’s no mechanical load on the rotor other than friction while the stator has no load. This isn’t a problem for starting the generator in a diesel-electric locomotive with the diesel motor. However, this delay before braking is experienced makes self-excited generators inappropriate for most braking applications. That’s why external excitation, from the third rail, is required.

    lots of other systems use tread brakes and have no issues maintaining braking rates from much higher speeds than 30 mph.

    The problem is in resizing the tread brakes within the existing truck due to the need to dissipate more heat. Most systems now use disk brakes, where geometry constraints are more forgiving to provide for more heat dissipation. Disk brake systems may still have auxiliary tread brakes to keep the wheels clean. This is to ensure the wheels actuate the track circuits. The major braking effort is done by the disk brake.

    Stop making excuses for the MTA.

    I’m not. I’m pointing out the complications they encountered by initially making bad engineering decisions.

  • Joe R.

    That’s why external excitation, from the third rail, is required.

    There’s still no technical reason why a battery couldn’t provide the excitation if the third rail is dead. I personally think would be a great fail safe feature. It the tread brakes fail for whatever reason you can still stop the train using the motors, even if there is no third rail power.

    The problem is in resizing the tread brakes within the existing truck due to the need to dissipate more heat.

    Certainly true but in the rail world subway trains are relatively light. Tread brakes may not be up to the task of braking from 100 mph, but they can certainly handle the maximum service speed of 55 mph. Incidentally, the MTA speced this maximum speed for the NTTs. If the car builders had thought tread brakes would have caused issues, I’m sure they would have recommended adding disk brakes.

    I’m not. I’m pointing out the complications they encountered by initially making bad engineering decisions.

    We both agree they made bad engineering decisions. What I disagree with you on is your position that we can’t eventually allow the equipment to operate to its full capability. CBTC can certainly allow this. If stopping distances from 55 mph are longer than expected, then the system increases the block size when trains are at maximum speed. Remember the MTA was running trains at full capability for years prior to the WB incident. It was only an unusual set of circumstances which caused the crash. Had they not taken any remedial measures at all, the next crash caused by trains overrunning red signals may not have happened for years, decades, or ever. While I think safety is important, here the MTA took an overly caution approach. A better approach would have been to put in speed restrictions in the areas where signal spacing was inadequate if trains kept accelerating at full tilt. This would have affected running times far less than the MTA’s approach.

  • sbauman

    There’s still no technical reason why a battery couldn’t provide the excitation if the third rail is dead.

    The size and weight of such batteries combined with the desire to leave room for passengers preclude such use.

    I personally think would be a great fail safe feature.

    Track brakes fit the description. They also overcome the limitation imposed by the wheel-rail interface. Track brakes exhibit emergency braking rates in excess of 5 mph/sec. The BOT cancelled an order for 500 cars equipped with track brakes that the BMT had ordered, after unification in 1940. None of the truck designs used by the BOT and its successors has incorporated track brakes.

    the MTA speced this maximum speed for the NTTs. If the car builders had thought tread brakes would have caused issues, I’m sure they would have recommended adding disk brakes.

    The problem isn’t with an original design. The problem is the necessity to retrofit a larger brake size into an existing design.

    CBTC can certainly allow this.

    It does not. Only NTT trains operate on the Canarsie Line. Their braking system was designed with asbestos-free tread brakes and a 3.0 mph/sec braking rate from 50 mph. If trains, with longer emergency stopping distances were intermixed, any signal system would have to assume worst case.

    It was only an unusual set of circumstances which caused the [Williamsburg Bridge] crash.

    The unusual set of circumstances was a series of bad engineering decisions. Those decisions started with not requiring track brakes on all postwar trains.

  • Joe R.

    It does not. Only NTT trains operate on the Canarsie Line. Their braking system was designed with asbestos-free tread brakes and a 3.0 mph/sec braking rate from 50 mph. If trains, with longer emergency stopping distances were intermixed, any signal system would have to assume worst case.

    Only NTTs can operate on any lines where CBTC will be installed, so we can safely assume all trains on CTBC-equipped lines will be capable of a 3.0 mph/sec braking rate from 50 mph. As far as I know, there are no plans to retrofit CBTC in older equipment like the R32s, R40s, R46s, R62s, or R68s.

    Track brakes fit the description. They also overcome the limitation imposed by the wheel-rail interface. Track brakes exhibit emergency braking rates in excess of 5 mph/sec.

    Agreed that track brakes should have been in all postwar equipment. And some designs even exhibit deceleration rates in excess of 10 mph/sec.