Friday, August 10, 20183 likes

August 10, 2018: Hot Car Fever

PSA: you can now reach Signal Problems on the web by going to signalproblems.nyc, which is much easier to remember (and recommend).


On Wednesday, Katherine St Asaph had a bad case of hot car fever. “Earlier this year, Pope Francis was criticized for asserting that hell did not exist,” she wrote to me. I knew this was going to be good. “The statement was called theologically unsound and also plainly false, due to the existence of the 1 train in the summer of 2018.”

2018 is hardly the first summer of hell for the 1 train. On August 1, 2017, Kate Hinds, an editor for WNYC, reported car #2441 on the 1 train as being “hotter than the sun’s corona.” That same car was reported for no A/C the year before, too. On June 29, car #2441 made it three years in a row with no A/C. A few weeks later, Ritam, a PhD student at Columbia, took a digital thermometer on the 1 train and ended up on car #2441. He got a reading of 97.5 degrees. As of Wednesday, it has still not been fixed.

On May 29, Twitter user Megan Connolly reported car #2343 on the 1 to @NYCTSubway for not having functional A/C. “Thanks for letting us know,” customer service rep “JV” wrote back, “We’ll report it and get it fixed.” Almost two months later, on July 18, Ritam had the pleasure of riding in #2343. He got a reading of 95.7 degrees.

On May 8, Kelsie DeFrancia reported Car #2337, also on the 1, to @NYCTSubway for being hot. “We have forwarded your report to supervision so they can address the a/c issue in car 2337,” service rep “JV” wrote back. “Thanks for letting us know.” #2337 was reported again on July 27, August 1, and August 4. But that’s not the car Ritam reported on July 25 as being 89 degrees. He reported car #2237, not #2337. I made a typo when doing my Twitter search. Doesn’t matter. They have the same story. They are both hot cars.

Ritam also logged car #2168 as being a whopping 101.6 degrees on July 26, #1184 at 89.2 on August 3, and #2351 at 91 degrees that same day. Every tweet gets the same promise from NYCTSubway. And every car has had problems for months, if not years.

If there is a Patron Journalism Saint of the Hot Car, it is the aforementioned Kate Hinds at WNYC. She’s been covering the issue of poor A/C on 1 and 6 trains for years. But I’m going to rub salt in the very hot wound and link to an official MTA video released this year about how hot cars are super rare and the Subway Action Plan is supposed to eliminate most of them. I’m not doing this to roast the MTA, but because the video has a pretty good explanation for why the R62As on the 1 and 6 lines are especially prone to malfunctioning A/Cs:

The MTA claims about two percent of all subway cars in service on any given day might not have working A/C. Of course, two percent of 5,400 cars is 108 cars that are hot, and an overwhelming proportion of them will be those R62As, which run almost exclusively on the 1 and 6 lines. There are 824 R62As in the system—fewer running on any given day as some will be getting serviced—so while two percent of all subway cars doesn’t sound so bad, if most of those 108 cars are the R62As, then the odds of getting a #hotcar on the 1 or 6 lines are much, much better than two percent. Making some very conservative estimates, it’s probably somewhere closer to seven to 10 percent. In that case, if you regularly take two trips per day on the 1 or 6 lines, that means you’ll likely board a hot car, at the very least, about once a week.

Now about that Subway Action Plan. The MTA promises that it helped improve A/C reliability, even on those R62As. To be sure, this resulted in an improved reliability rate for that car model. But we don’t know what impact its had on HVAC functionality. The MTA only includes mechanical failures that force trains to be immediately removed from service in their car reliability metrics, which as we all know does not include HVAC failures. In any case, there are still lots and lots of hot cars.

But what seems to irk folks is not so much the cars are hot, but they seem to stay hot for the entire summer. That’s because, as Ben Kabak pointed out several years ago, “the MTA doesn’t have the leeway to take one car out of service.” The official NYCT Twitter reps may claim to be taking the car out of service, and perhaps they have a plan to do so at some point in the future, but they’re not going to do it quickly.

The trains in the subway system are linked together in sets. The number of cars per set vary, but the R62As are linked in two five-car sets. Simply put, they can’t take all the cars with broken A/C out of service—and the ones linked to them—while still running peak-hour service.

At the time Kabak wrote the post, he held out hope that once the R62As got their mid-life maintenance overhaul the A/C would work better. That doesn’t seem to have happened. According to the most recent NYCT report to the board, a “significant number” of R62As have gotten their 14-year maintenance overhaul by now. Yet, the cars are still hot.

Unfortunately, this means the problem isn’t going away any time soon. Although hot cars are a nuisance—or during heat waves like this week’s, actually dangerous—R62As are still serviceable foot soldiers with a mean distance between failure of 100,475 miles. That’s below the system average of 119,908, but well above the ancient R32s (31,114), R42s (34,217), and R46s (71,357). Those will have to be replaced first.

Here’s where things get a bit confusing. Cars on the lettered lines cannot run on the numbered lines, and vice versa. They were built by two different companies as two separate systems and therefore require different-sized cars. The newest car orders—the R179s and R211s—are for the lettered lines to replace those ancient, pre-Vietnam War models. The first order of those R211s, to be delivered between 2020 and 2023, are entirely for the lettered lines.

So it’s not even clear when the MTA will be able to accept deliveries for the numbered lines and finally replace those R62As, but 2023/2024 seems like the earliest possible date. They’re going to have hold on for a while yet. Unless something drastic changes, there’s going to many, many more years of hot cars to come.

News You Probably Can't Use, But About Which You Can Certainly Brood

  • MAJOR SERVICE ADVISORY: Most of the L is shutting down this weekend and will only run between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Parkway to “help prepare the L line for reliable service” during the shutdown. There will be 14 more weekends of this before the actual shutdown, so you’ll totally be an L shutdown pro by the time April rolls around. These shutdowns are to “ensure project duration stays within 15 months” which is a bit like when the doctor tells you to show up 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork so your appointment can begin on time. Another tidbit here is the full-on L shutdown will not start until the second half of April since they’re planning a weekend closure for April 13/14.

  • Remember last Friday when A/C trains were delayed during the morning rush because a work train got stuck in the tunnel for three hours? Here’s the story on that:
    Workers were in the Cranberry Tube, which runs under the East River along the A/C, to replace a power cable to a ventilation fan. At the same time, other Subway Action Plan work was going on, including installing continuous welded rail (CWR), which is supposed to reduce the number of broken rail incidents, even though according to NYCT’s own data “rail and roadbed” incidents accounted for only 3.4 percent of all delays in June.
    In any event, CWR is very heavy and needs a special train with three diesel engines. Normally that’s not particularly noteworthy, but the vent fan had to be shut off to replace the power cable. The fumes from the diesel engines became an issue. At 3:30 AM, the workers on the vent fan requested the diesel engines shut off.
    Normally this also wouldn’t be a huge issue, but at 4:01 AM, a train operator radioed that he couldn’t turn the diesel engines back on. Less than 15 minutes later, specialists were in the tube to troubleshoot. By 5 AM they determined the circuit breaker to start the engine kept tripping and this couldn’t be fixed on site. A/C trains were rerouted via the F. Rescue trains were dispatched.
    At this point, the main goal was to disconnect the three cars with diesel engines from the flatbeds, get the diesels to a spur off Chambers St where they would be out of the way, and the CWR cars to the Coney Island yard. As they tried to disconnect the train, they discovered the middle diesel was not working entirely while the other two were simply not taking power. They also had trouble disconnecting the trains.
    From there it only gets messier—running trains in the wrong direction on the wrong track to avoid grades too steep for the heavy trains, which trips signals, which have to be overridden by the tower dispatchers—but long story short: the CWR cars made it to the Coney Island yard around 11 AM and the diesels to the 38th St yard in Brooklyn around 2 PM. The incident resulted in 125 late trains, 51 canceled en route, and 46 canceled trains that never even left the yard. It was a mess.

  • I guess “Summer of Hell” is going to be used indefinitely to describe NYC-area transit woes during warmer months. Anyways, NJ Transit has issues.

  • Cynthia Nixon wants to get rid of New York’s infamous Taylor Law, which heavily fines public workers (such as transit workers) from striking.

  • Joe Lhota talked up mega-project cost reform at a construction industry gathering, where a major contractor responded, “As contractors, we are looking and we are worried that they are going to look at this as another leadership initiative, a flavor of the week, and nothing is really going to change.”

  • Speaking of, a former MTA procurement executive has been charged with Grand Larceny and criminal forgery for stealing $60,000-worth of iPhones and falsifying pay stubs.

  • Staten Islanders: MTA’s redesigned express bus network is rolling out August 19, the first of the five boroughs to get redesigned bus networks for the first time since the bus networks came into existence to replace streetcars. Here’s a guide on the new routes and how to figure out which one is best for you.

  • As bad as you think the subway is, LIRR is worse. On Monday, two incidents of people being struck and killed by trains delayed service into the morning rush. Then, “switch trouble” near Central Islip caused delays and cancellations throughout the day and into Tuesday. Alfonso A. Castillo of Newsday summarized the rest of the day’s incidents: “A ‘shortage of equipment,’ a signal problem near Huntington, a broken crossing gate near New Hyde Park, and an unspecified ‘weather-related track condition’ were blamed for various other hiccups during the p.m. commute.” Plus, there have been three train derailments in less than two weeks.

  • As bad as you think the subway is, LIRR is worse. Service was suspended on three branches Tuesday night due to power issues and the railroad warned commuters on Wednesday morning to expect delays of up to 45 minutes.

  • As bad as you think the subway is, LIRR is worse. The State Comptroller audited LIRR’s response to 11 major incidents last winter and found “in five of those events sampled, ‘the LIRR did not have a plan,’” and “Of the remaining six events with plans, none of them followed all the required steps,” including making any attempt to tell customers what was going on or how to get where they’re going.

  • The MTA’s new para-transit pilot in which the MTA outsources rides to yellow and green taxis, called e-hail, has proven enormously popular because it actually treats those with accessibility issues like human beings. But as the WSJ reports, e-hail’s popularity has resulted in more trips being taken per rider, which, even though these e-hails are cheaper on a per-ride basis, means a more expensive tab on the MTA. In short, the only service the MTA provides that is so good people want to use more is the one they have completely outsourced.

  • An MTA bus driver was busted for drunk driving after getting into an accident while driving the bus with people in it and everything. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. The driver has been removed from service and suspended without pay. The Daily News did add that the driver apparently deejays by night under the name Mistah Trickstah.

  • 22 percent of Nate Silver’s Twitter followers pronounce the LIRR “lurr,” which is legitimately insane to me.

In Which I Make An Educated Guess About When Things Will Get Better

This week's estimate: June 2022

Change log:

May 25, 2018: June 2022

March 30, 2018: 2030

March 16, 2018: 2024

February 2, 2018: 2021

January 20, 2018: 2020

Your Upcoming Service Advisories, Provided by Lance from Subway Weekender

Note: the service advisories reflect the most disruptive changes. Be sure to check the maps or the MTA website for a full list of service changes.

Weekend:

  • A C – Downtown service is express-only between 125 Street and Canal St

  • C – No service between 145 Street and 168 Street

  • D – Manhattan-bound service runs via N line between Coney Island and 36 St/4 Av

  • E R – Manhattan-bound service is express-only in Queens

  • J – No service between Crescent St and Jamaica Center

  • L – No service between Broadway Junction and 8 Avenue

  • N – No service between Queensboro Plaza and Ditmars Blvd

 Full service change map here.

Late Nights:

  • 2 – No service between 3 Av-149 St and 96 Street

  • 3 – No overnight service

  • 6 – Service is split and 125 Street

  • 7 – No service between Queensboro Plaza and 34 St-Hudson Yards (Tues. morning only)

  • A – Downtown service is express-only between 125 Street and Canal St

  • F – multiple diversions

    • All service is local-only in Queens

    • Brooklyn-bound service runs via E and A local lines between Roosevelt Av and Jay St

  • L – No service between Lorimer St and Broadway Junction

Full service change map here.

Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World

  • The DC Metro was considering running a special train for racists rallying in DC before the transit union basically refused to run it, forcing the Metro to back off.

  • London North Eastern Railway is testing a technology to detect which individual seats on the train are occupied so boarding passengers can determine—probably via a smartphone app—where they can sit.

  • Via Yonah Freemark, Paris is trying to reduce the number of polluting cars by paying 33 percent of the cost of electric/cargo bikes; give €600 in alternative transport to give up your personal vehicle; and more to companies that invest in electric vehicles. Meanwhile, NYC’s mayor tells delivery workers to drive instead of using e-bikes.

  • Spotted by Steven Higashide, I invite you to take a gander at perhaps the worst-designed trolley route map ever created:

  • It is with great sadness I must report Tama, the cat stationmaster of the Kishi station in western Japan, passed away last month after almost 10 years of service. She was mourned by locals and international visitors alike in a traditional Shinto ceremony. Before being laid to rest, Tama was given the final title of “honorable eternal stationmaster,” which I suspect sounds less silly in Japanese but adequately reflects a cat’s sense of self-satisfaction.

David Roth’s Esteemed Subway Rider of the Week

“Kate [David’s wife] was seated on the train today next to a man who boarded with a pint of ice cream—'a brand I've never seen before, and I know my ice cream’—that he seemed to have 1) brought from his home, 2) eaten some amount of, 3) topped with what she believed to be Chex cereal or something similar, and 4) then proceeded to eat using a Duane Reade card as a spoon.”

Dog in a Bag

MTA Rules of Conduct Section 1050.9 Subsection (h) Paragraph 2: no person may bring any animal on or into any conveyance or facility unless enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.

Have a dog in a bag photo? Reading this on the subway and see a dog in a bag? Take a picture and send it to aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Andrew Taranto

This has been another edition of Signal Problems, a weekly newsletter helping you figure out what is going on with the subway, made every week by Aaron Gordon, freelance transportation reporter.

If you’re a new or prospective subscriber, head over to the Subway Knowledge Base page for an introduction to the state of the subway and peruse the archive here. And if you’re enjoying this newsletter, please share it with others. It’s the best way you can say thanks.

As always, send any feedback, subway questions, or Dog in a Bag photos to aaron.wittes.gordon@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. As someone on a stalled Q train once told me, we’re all in this together.