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transportation
MASS TRANSIT
Transit Officials Celebrate New York’s Once and Future Subway
Second Avenue line heralds new era of rail construction
By Aileen Cho
Progress. Existing station renovation and improvements lie at heart of capital program. (Photo courtesy of MTA New York City Transit)
The world’s most comprehensive subway system, New York City’s 722 miles of track and 468 stations, has made it through 100 years. Operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and carrying five million daily riders, the transit net has survived largely due to rehabilitation efforts of engineers.

Now, New York City Transit Authority officials hope to build extensions that will define the idea of subways for the next 100 years–quieter, greener, safer, more reliable and efficient. In the next five years, NYCTA plans to spend $4 billion on new design and construction, including $2.75 billion for the first segment of a new 8.5-mile Second Avenue line traversing Manhattan’s east side.

At the same time, the current system needs constant attention. Keeping it running for another 100 years is vital to New York City’s economic survival and transit officials emphasize that it will be the priority recipient of capital funding.

Both expansion and maintenance hinge upon the $17-billion capital plan presented by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent agency of NYCTA. It hopes federal and state lawmakers will help fund the program, but hikes to the $2 fare may be needed as well. "The last capital program was paid for by the MTA," says Peter Kalikow, MTA chairman. "This one needs the state to pay for it. We don’t think funding $17 billion is a luxury–it’s necessary."

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MTA’s 2005-2009 proposed program includes $500 million for 20 out of 59 projects aimed at hardening the system against acts of terrorism, $2 billion to extend an existing subway line west from Times Square to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center near the Hudson River and $4 billion to extend Long Island Rail Road commuter service to Grand Central Terminal. MTA created a new division called the Capital Construction Co. for these expansion projects, which account for $4 billion of the program.

But the program’s mainstay is the core system of subways, buses and commuter rail. MTA plans $12 billion to continue progress made in the previous five-year cycle. Subway-wise, that includes upgrades to 59 stations, new communications technology, 50 miles of tunnel lighting and overhaul of maintenance shops.

Almost 40% of core subway work is focused on bringing about a "state of good repair," of aging facilities, ideally by 2025, says Cosema Crawford, the transit authority’s chief engineer. But "we really needed $16 billion" in this capital plan to achieve that plus normal replacement and system improvements, she adds. The goal is now 2028 or later.

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The agency is nearing its goal of making 100 of its stations compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Seventeen of 37 remaining stations would undergo rehabilitation in the next five years as part of the $2-billion allocation for station work. In the same period, a maintenance shop would get a $200-million overhaul and excavations, on average 30 ft deep, would begin for 76 fan plants. Also, 240 of 721 track miles of old signals and cables must be upgraded. The cables and signals are so old that when "we take them out of service, we send some components to the Smithsonian Museum," says Crawford.

Technology that includes solar panels and fuel cells, tested on various stations in the previous capital plan, will be incorporated into agency design guidelines and used "where it makes sense," says Crawford (ENR 4/12 p. 26). Subway contractors are expected to comply with Construction for the Environment rules, including use of ultra low-sulfer diesel equipment, recycling of demolition materials and other measures.

Some $500 million would fund installation of communications-based train control equipment on two lines, following an ongoing pilot project that uses computers, lasers and radio frequencies to track and control train speeds, locations and proximity to other trains in real time. Crawford says the technology will increase capacity up to 20% on each line.

New Start

That technology will be incorporated into the new Second Avenue Subway line from the beginning. The $17-billion, 8.5-mile line, if built, should embody the principals of a 21st-century subway. The opportunity comes with lessons learned in green design, circulation, acoustics and structural methods from new subway construction...

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