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New York’s radical subway upgrade masterplan

New NYCT President hopes to compress 40 years of work into ten years.

An enhanced modernisation plan for New York’s deteriorating subway and overwhelmed bus system was unveiled by New York City Transit President Andy Byford on 23 May.

The ambitious vision, Fast Forward: The Plan to Modernize New York City Transit, calls for the introduction of CBTC signalling on five lines by 2023, together with upgraded power supply, and on six more by 2029, as well as night-time and weekend station closures to bring 150 stations to a state of good repair in the next five years, with another 150 in the following five-year period.

Further plans include enhanced accessibility, new elevators at 50 additional stations and a new fare collection system for contactless and smartcard payments across subway, bus and paratransit services by 2020.

To fulfil the plan, more than 3650 new cars will be required over the next ten years (all new cars to be CBTC equipped and retrofitting existing cars) as well as improved depot and maintenance facilities.

The scale of the programme and its reported USD19bn pricetag immediately drew distance from State Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who have repeatedly clashed over who should finance the rehabilitation of the subway. The rail network has long been a political football due to its unusual governance, serving the city but being controlled by the state. Following the declaration of a ‘state of emergency’ for the MTA in July 2017, the two sides spent months debating who should fund a USD8bn subway rescue plan. The eventual outcome was an approximate 50/50 split.

Mr de Blasio told local media: “It’s now fully understood that the responsibility for the MTA resides in the state of New York, ultimately with the governor… We finally know who to hold responsible — just like everyone holds me responsible for our schools.”

As Mr Byford outlined the proposal, he compared the subway’s dire situation to earlier emergencies that the city had overcome, including the 1970s financial crisis and the 11 September 2001 terror attack: “As I said when my appointment was announced [in late 2017], what is needed isn’t mere tinkering, a few tweaks here and there. What must happen is sustained investment on a massive scale if we are to deliver New Yorkers the service they deserve and the transit system this city and state need.”

Likening the scale of the subway challenge to that of revitalisation of the London Underground in the 1980s, he added: “This turnaround came neither quickly, easily nor cheaply. It was the result of sustained, adequate, predictable funding and a comprehensive plan to tackle the challenge in a methodical manner.”