2006-07-13 / Other News

Older Cars To Help Stem L Subway Overcrowding: TA

By Neil S. Friedman

After years of delays, detours and hundreds of million of dollars spent on upgrading the technology on the L subway line, the Transit Authority announced last week it would have to add older cars and divert others to accommodate the unanticipated increase in ridership over the last few years.

According to a TA spokesperson, it will take at least several months before the older cars can be put in service since an estimated $320,000 in signal work has to be completed before they can operate on the 14th Street-Canarsie line, which operates between Rockaway Parkway and Eighth Avenue and West 14th Street in Manhattan.

When the TA added 212 new R-143 subway cars, which cost approximately $1.5 million apiece, to the L line fleet a few years ago, it figured that would be sufficient to accommodate projected rider capacity. However, due to steadily rising populations in Williamsburg and other communities along the route, L line ridership has increased more than 16 percent since 2000, resulting in heavily-congested trains, though the frequency of trains operating during rush hours and most off-peak hours has remained the same. Now, according to a TA report, the new L line fleet of cars is "not large enough" for the surge in commuters.

The TA report indicated that L line ridership has gone from almost 17 million in 1994 to over 30 million in 2005. According to the TA, the five busiest stations - all but one are in Brooklyn - on the L line last year were: 1) First Avenue in Manhattan; 2) Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg; 3) Rockaway Parkway; 4) DeKalb Avenue and 5) Graham Avenue in Williamsburg.

Reconfiguring the signals means a setback for the newer $300 million state-of-the-art equipment that's been installed over the last few years to transform the L line into a virtual automated system that can be overridden by an operator during emergencies. Furthermore, the electronic message boards with real-time travel information on subway platforms that was scheduled to be operational this month, has been delayed and will not go online "until September at the earliest," the TA official said.

When City Councilman Lew Fidler, who has been a critic of the L line costs and delays, heard about the latest announcement, he told the Courier , "Unfortunately, I'm not surprised. This boondoggle has been running behind schedule and overpriced since they started it. It was a colossal waste of money and now they're just wasting some more."

The 14th Street-Canarsie line has been operating on its current route since 1931. According to the MTA, the line started as a steam-operated railroad running from what is now the Canarsie Pier to East New York prior to 1906.

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