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MTA makes progress in push to get subways moving faster

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The agency’s SPEED Unit is working hard to make commutes less slow

A subway train speeding through a tunnel. Max Touhey

Slowly but surely, subway trains—at least in certain parts of the transit system—are starting to go a little bit faster.

The MTA announced this week that it’s made progress with its Save Safe Seconds campaign, which aims to get trains moving more quickly throughout the system. That’s being accomplished in two ways: by recalibrating signal timers that aren’t working properly, and by IDing areas where speed limits can safely be raised.

According to the MTA, speed limits have now been raised or done away with altogether at 24 spots within the subway system, while 59 malfunctioning timers (out of 320 that have been IDed) have been fixed.

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 slowthanks 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.

To fix this, NYCT has enlisted a SPEED Unit (it stands for Subway Performance Evaluation, Education and Development) to investigate and identify where these changes can be made. Thus far, they’ve IDed dozens of areas where speed limits can be increased; according to the MTA, a safety committee has approved bumping or lifting the limits at 68 of those.

The most recent area where this was carried out is just south of the City Hall stop on the R/W line; previously, the speed limit for northbound trains was a mere 6 MPH, but thanks to the SPEED Unit’s testing, it has since been bumped to 15 MPH. In other spots—like on the southbound 2 3 line between Bergen Street and Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn—the speed limit was lifted altogether.

And there’s a major perk of the SPEED Unit’s work: the changes can be implemented “often for little or no cost,” as Byford said in a statement.

“The SPEED Unit continues to examine hundreds of miles of track to find areas where we can safely increase speeds,” he continued. “Their work is absolutely essential and demonstrates that New York City Transit employees are fully committed to making tangible changes that will improve service for our customers.”