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MTA to reveal ‘sweeping’ subway improvement plan, sources say

The plan is to be introduced at the MTA’s board meeting on Wednesday.

The MTA's new subway plan would aim to

The MTA's new subway plan would aim to install new signal technology. Photo Credit: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann

The MTA is set to reveal a sweeping plan to save the subway system, including proposals that would rapidly increase the modernization of the signal system, improve wheelchair accessibility in stations and restructure the inner workings of the department, according to two sources familiar with elements of the plan.

New York City Transit President Andy Byford is expected to unveil the plan at the authority’s board meeting Wednesday morning.

To address frequent service failures and capacity constraints in the subways, the plan will call for extended service closures on weekends and weeknights to replace much of the system’s ancient signal system with a modern equivalent known as Communications-Based Train Control, or CBTC, within ten years. That would be roughly 35 years ahead of previous estimates, according to the sources.

In the first five years of the plan, the MTA will aim to install the new signal technology on some of the most rider-heavy segments of five subway lines, including the Lexington Avenue, Eighth Avenue and Queens Boulevard lines.

The signal upgrades will also occur on the F and G lines in the outer boroughs so that, in total, CBTC will be in operation for 3 million daily rides, a little more than half of a day’s subway ridership.

The MTA will continue CBTC installation in the following five years to encompass most of the system, so that roughly 5 million daily rides are served, with the upgrades coming to major segments of every line except for the J and Z.

The L train already operates with a CBTC system and the installation of similar technology on the 7 line is nearly complete, after significant delays in the project.

Experts and advocates believe the modernization would reduce the volume and impact of signal-related service outages while also allowing the MTA to run trains more closely together, reducing wait times and overcrowding.

“Riders have been asking for a serious and credible plan to fix the subway. This is that plan,” said John Raskin, the executive director of the Riders Alliance, who was briefed on elements of the plan.

The MTA declined a request for comment. More details were not immediately available.

Byford’s plan also targets the system’s accessibility woes, according to the sources.

Only about one quarter of the authority’s 472 subway stations are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plan would, in part, double the current rate of ADA renovations at stations, with a goal of making 50 new stations fully accessible within five years.

The authority will strategically pick which stations will be made accessible to ensure that riders are never more than two stops away from an accessible station.

Jaqi Cohen, the campaign coordinator at the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, called the proposal a “great first step.” She said she hopes the plan also targets the frequency with which station elevators break down.

To improve corporate culture, Byford will call to restructure the framework of the MTA’s transit department, which oversees subway, bus and paratransit service, in order to reduce levels of management, create new departments and better facilitate upward mobility at the agency, the sources confirmed.

The biggest hurdle at the state-controlled MTA appears to be be funding the plan. An official price tag has yet to be determined, according to the sources. The New York Times reported the plan could cost more than $19 billion.

The work and costs for the first five years will be included in the MTA’s next capital plan, which will outline major infrastructure projects between 2020 and 2024.

City, state and federal governments all contribute funding toward the MTA’s capital plans.

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