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MTA will bump subway speed limits along certain lines to reduce delays

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Signal recalibration and speed limit increases will help trains go faster

This weekend, a small but significant change was rolled out on the N and R lines in Brooklyn: Trains passing through the 36th Street and 59th Street stations were allowed to go at speeds up to 30 miles per hour—much faster than their normal 15 MPH limit.

That change was ordered by New York City Transit chief Andy Byford, who is hoping to reverse a longstanding trend—namely, the fact that some trains run unnecessarily slow thanks to safety fixes implemented after 1995 train crash on the Williamsburg Bridge. An investigation by the Village Voice earlier this year found that those fixes—including one known as signal modification—have contributed to the delays that have plagued the subway in the past few years.

At an MTA board meeting this morning, Sally Librera, who leads the department of subways, detailed some of the changes that will be implemented to speed up trains, noting that “significant progress” has been made in figuring out how to safely make the trains go faster.

In addition to properly calibrating signals in certain areas so that trains can reach their designated maximum speeds, NYCT is also increasing the speed limit in areas where they’ve found it’s safe to do so—the Fourth Avenue line in Bay Ridge was the first spot to make the change. According to the New York Times, those speed limit bumps will be implemented in 100 locations by next year.

Byford’s Fast Forward plan, which has yet to be funded, calls for a total overhaul of the signaling system—from its current state to communications-based train control, or CBTC—that would improve speed and reliability on the trains. But until funding for that plan is secured (the estimated cost is $40 billion), NYCT is making do with what it’s got. “This is all about getting the safe maximum out of the existing signaling system,” Byford told the Times.