Today I learned a fun new fact, would you like to know what it is? Okay, here goes: With average speeds of 17 miles per hour, the New York City subway system clocks in at the country's slowest. If you also sat on a Z train inching with painful snail sluggishness over the Williamsburg Bridge for, I don't know, 15 to 1,000 minutes this morning, you may be surprised to discover that trains even go that fast. Suspend your disbelief because this weekend, the MTA held a wild experiment on certain Brooklyn stretches of the N and R lines. Some lucky riders enjoyed the opportunity to zoom around at speeds approaching 30 mph, can you imagine?
Soon you won't have to, according to the MTA, which touted these first installments in its "Save Safe Seconds" campaign on Monday. Some 29 other sections of track have been slated for speed limit increases, which could allow some trains to travel as fast as 40 mph. This weekend's maiden voyage saw five speed limits bumped from 15 to 20 or 30 mph along the newly established lightning corridor between 59th Street and 36th Street.
The MTA attributes this exciting development to its "SPEED [Subway Performance Evaluation, Education and Development] unit," established by NYCT President Andy Byford over the summer. According to the NY Times, the team combed every mile of subway track and pinpointed 130 spots where trains could safely travel more quickly, 34 of which (including the aforementioned N and R segments in Brooklyn) have been given the green light to GO FAST. You, too, may eventually feed your need for subway speed!
"We want to keep pushing trains through the pipe and moving them," Byford told the Times, echoing the most basic request we would all make of our constantly stalling subway lines. "This is all about getting the safe maximum out of the existing signaling system."
The reason your M train lumbers along at a maddening tortoise pace often has to do with the goddamned signal system, which seems incapable of making it through a single rush hour commute without going to pieces. When a train exceeds the permitted speed limit, mechanical signals trip the emergency brake and bring everything to a screeching halt; as such, operators are often told to travel more slowly than necessary. But even when they're creeping along at all-too responsible rates, operators must still contend with faulty signals that freeze trains traveling the prescribed speed limit. A statement from the MTA says that it has so far identified 267 fritz-prone timer signals, 30 of which have been fixed so far.
Last week, the MTA appointed one Pete Tomlin our fearless signal modernization leader. "I love delivering world-class signaling systems," Tomlin said in a statement. "And as NYC Transit is probably the most prestigious system in the world with many challenges, it is tremendously exciting for me to be a part of something that delivers a world-class service for the people of New York." Personally, I wouldn't dream of asking for "world-class service": Something approaching reliability would be great, but even that feels like a tall order when we're talking about our catastrophe-riddled subway.
Still, have a nice time rocketing around on your zippy new fast trains, Brooklyn N and R riders. To everyone else, patience: The MTA says 100 as-yet undisclosed locations are scheduled for upgrades by the springtime. Maybe you'll get lucky and your ancient J train chugging grimly toward Manhattan won't take a full year to ford the East River. If the added weight of passenger overflow from the L train shutdown doesn't cancel out any hypothetical speed gains, that is.