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Transportation

Independent Budget Office: old signals strand subways, but replacement is behind schedule more than half the time

NEW YORK – Responding to a request from Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) today released an analysis of MTA capital repair and improvement work on the New York City subway’s signal systems, finding more than half of signal projects are late and that signal work on the 7 (Flushing) line is more than 50 percent over budget.

All of the MTA’s subway lines except the recently upgraded L (Canarsie) line use antiquated signal systems that are unreliable and difficult to repair, and limit rail capacity even when they are working properly.

The IBO’s analysis found 19 out of 33 signal upgrade and repair projects in the MTA’s previous two capital plans were completed behind schedule or are still pending and behind schedule. In the current MTA capital plan, 14 signal projects were scheduled to begin by the end of 2017, but eight of these are delayed.

The IBO also found that the next line slated for completion of signal upgrades, the 7 line, is more than 50 percent over budget. The new signal system on the 7 line has an expected cost at completion of $405.7 million, up from an original budgeted amount of $265.6 million.

The number of subway delays has increased by 250 percent in the last five years, from 28,000 to 70,000 delays per month. Only two thirds of subway trains make it to their destination on time or less than five minutes late, whereas in 2012 more than 80 percent of trains hit that benchmark.

Despite the dramatic increase in subway delays and the consistent delays and budget overruns in signal upgrade work, capital funding has not kept pace with the system’s needs. Experts widely regard the signal system as a principal obstacle to improving both subway reliability and capacity, but the percentage share of New York City Transit capital funding devoted to repair and modernization of this system has declined in the past three MTA capital plans:

Percentage share of NYCT capital funds for subway signal repair and modernization:

  • 2005-2009 Capital Plan 20%
  • 2009-2014 Capital Plan 17%
  • 2015-2019 Capital Plan 14%

Moreover, more than half of this money is spent on repairs for the increasingly unreliable legacy signal system, rather than upgrading and replacing it.

Statement from Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer: “If the subway is New York City’s heart, then the mounting delays and catastrophic service failures we’re seeing are congestive heart failure, threatening the very life of our city. The subway’s antiquated signal system is a big reason why.

“In 1997 the deadline for all signal upgrades was set for this year. Today, only one line is finished, the 2017 deadline has been pushed back by 28 years to 2045, and The New York Times has reported that even the 2045 date ‘seems unrealistic.’

“This is intolerable. The city is doing its part. The mayor has increased the city’s contribution to the MTA capital budget. City taxpayers already pay a disproportionate share of the system’s costs. We’re now even using zoning policy to finance subway improvements.

“Our state government – which actually controls the MTA – must do its part by finding and appropriating the $20 billion needed to overhaul the signal system. “

I thank the professionals at the IBO for quickly preparing this analysis.”

The IBO’s full letter to Borough President Brewer can be downloaded here.

Categories: Transportation