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The unedited classwork of a student journalist at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, currently focusing on the issues concerning the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Long Wait 4 Train

Late last month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in response to reports of rising subway delays, announced plans to overhaul how its trains are managed. But until the plan takes effect in 2009, commuters from the Bronx and elsewhere still suffer delays.

The re-organization would dedicated bodies -- among them the "IRT East" which will oversee the 4,5,6 and 42nd Street Shuttle S -- to govern specific routes."The goal," says James Anyansi, a spokesman for the MTA, is to "decentralize the system so that you have one general manager for each line. That person will be accountable to the customers."

The entire subway system was delayed 24 percent of the time according to the report issued by New York City Transit. The reports, released on a three month delay, studied data from May and measured the percentage of times the subway reaches its final destination on time.

The worst performer was the 4 train, which shuttles between the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. It was prompt only 70.1 percent of the time, a ten percent decrease from performance results from the same month last year.

Anyansi cites multiple reasons for train delays, including passengers holding doors or getting sick on their commute and technical problems like signal trouble. The largest contributor to delays, he says, was track gangs working on construction. 

Track workers at the 170th street station near Highbridge, Bronx, confirmed statements by Anyansi that efforts are in place to prevent those types of delays.Track work is expressly forbidden between the rush hours of 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. and again between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., when customers experience the most difficulties.

Location may be the main reason for the 4 train's sluggishness. The 4 train shares the Manhattan section of the line or "corridor" which runs along Lexington Avenue with both the 5 and 6 trains. The competing lines tend to choke the path at peak hours when the NYCT runs more trains with higher frequency, says Anyansi.

On other routes, adding more trains might speed things up, but on this already overburdened track commuters know that more trains would mean more delays. "If you send out three extra trains but I'm sitting in a tunnel for ten minutes because there's so much train traffic, it doesn't make sense," says Bronx commuter Latisha Williams.

"It's just because of congestion," says Herril Mulligan, a conductor on the 5 train for the past 11 years, explaining the lag. "It's too many trains out there."

But more trains are needed, says Lauraine Patterson who takes the 4, which has a stop at Yankee Stadium, twice daily from her home on 170th street in the Bronx to downtown Brooklyn. Citywide population growth has lead to unprecedented numbers of subway riders, according to the MTA. Patterson finds she frequently must let packed trains pass because there's no room. "Especially when the Yankees are playing, it's awful," she says. "The trains are so overcrowded you can't get on." The problems are so routine that Patterson's employer even implemented a 15-minute "grace period" for workers who are delayed by morning train troubles.

The situation has stymied the MTA. Says Anyansi, "It's so saturated that even if we wanted to we couldn't add more service." They're banking on the planned re-organization to fix the problems. "The hope is it will make your service a lot better," he says, "and once service is better it will go a lot faster."

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