New York subway considers buying walk-through trains like MTR's

Walk-through articulated trains, as used on MTR, an option to increase capacity and speed up services on the city's 109-year-old rail system

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 9:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 3:38am


For decades, the New York subway car has been a predictable space. Some have seats; some have benches. Graspable pole options vary only slightly. Mariachi bands play, and self-appointed preachers preach.

And if there is no seat, no space, no end to a performance, there is often no escape for a rider, at least until the next stop.

That may yet change. Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials are envisioning a subway car of the future that offers New Yorkers an end to being a captive population.

This month, in a 142-page document outlining needs for the next 20 years, the authority noted the benefits of articulated trains similar to Hong Kong's MTR trains that have no doors between cars, allowing unrestricted flow throughout the length of the vehicle.

"This will both maximise carrying capacity," the authority said, and allow passengers to "move to less crowded areas of the train, balancing loading and unloading times at all doors."

The inclusion in the report of articulated train cars, which came as a mild surprise to some transport advocates, does not guarantee that they are likely to be in use soon, or even at all.

It was not clear how the cost of the articulated cars compared with non-articulated cars, but for the first time in the subway system's modern history, the authority appears poised to seriously consider a model adopted in cities such as Berlin, Paris and Toronto.

Adam Lisberg, the authority's chief spokesman, said that increased capacity could improve "dwell time", which is the period during which a train is stopped in a station, often because of overcrowding, and allow more trains to run. He cautioned, though, that with a 109-year-old system, any major change required extensive review.

"If you make a bad call on changing equipment in a new subway car order, the consequences can be pretty serious," he said.

New York has a history with articulated trains. In 1924, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit introduced plans for "the Triplex", with a multi-sectioned body.

Today, many of the city's carriages are well past their prime, most strikingly those on the C line, known for their tin-can panelling, which will continue rolling beneath Eighth Avenue for at least a few more years.

Though newer models now on the tracks are expected to trundle on for 30 to 40 more years, transport planners have urged the authority to consider articulated trains for any fleet upgrades.

We are one of the largest systems in the world that doesn't do it. Our trains don't function right now to allow people to circulate
Richard Barone, the director of transport programmes at the Regional Plan Association

"We are one of the largest systems in the world that doesn't do it," said Richard Barone, the director of transport programmes at the Regional Plan Association. "Our trains don't function right now to allow people to circulate."

Elsewhere, the trains have proved largely successful. Brad Ross, a spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission, which began using an "open gangway" model two years ago, said capacity had increased by between 8 per cent and 10 per cent.

In its early months, Ross said, passengers would often let trains with traditional cars pass on a platform, preferring the features, or at least the novelty, of the new ones.

But there have been pitfalls. Ross said that young children have been disappointed that the driver's cab occupies the width of a car, precluding the pastime of peering out from a front window. "An amusement ride no more," he said.

Then there was the scourge of the sick passenger, most ominously on weekends or holidays such as New Year's Eve, Ross said, when evidence of overindulgence occasionally found its way on to a carriage's floor.

"In the past we'd be able to isolate that particular car and clean it," he said. "Now that you've got an open gangway, you can't necessarily."