Tuesday, April 27, 2021

LIRR to Test Electric Railcars on Oyster Bay Branch; LIRR Conductor Reunites Customer With $107K Worth of Missing Jewelry Left on Train

By N Miller

OYSTER BAY, NY-MTA Long Island Rail Road President Phillip Eng on April 19th that the LIRR has entered into an agreement with Alstom to test batteries that could enable electric railcars to travel on the railroad’s diesel branches. Upon successful completion of an eight-month initial analysis, technicians will retrofit a two car-long electric train to operate on battery power without passengers on the Oyster Bay Branch. While on electric portions of the route, the train would run on third rail power and charge the batteries, then switch to battery power for the unelectrified segment between East Williston and Oyster Bay. If successful, the LIRR would ultimately be able to carry passengers directly between Oyster Bay and the railroad’s terminals in New York City without the need for a transfer, and that technology could expand to the rest of the railroad’s diesel branches.

As part of the initial assessment, technicians will investigate whether and where recharging stations might need to be built along the route and along other branches. Recharging would take place in yards when trains are out of service, and, if necessary while in-service, during existing station stops that would not be delayed by recharging. The Oyster Bay Branch was chosen as the pilot branch due to its short, 13-mile trip.  Other non-electrified branches would be tested in the future, as well as the feasibility of the battery technology and the ability to retrofit existing trains.

This appears to be the first test of battery-powered commuter rail cars in North America, and if successful could be deployed anywhere diesel commuter trains operate on the LIRR or Metro-North Railroad. If batteries succeed on the LIRR as they have for light rail in Europe and Asia, the use of battery-powered railcars promises over the long term eliminate the need for transfers to a separate diesel fleet to reach the railroad’s expansive unelectrified regions extending 160 miles from East Williston to Oyster Bay, Huntington to Port Jefferson, Babylon to Montauk and Ronkonkoma to Greenport. Battery-electric cars could open the possibility that in years and decades ahead, the railroad could entirely replace the noisy, carbon-emitting diesel fleet with quiet, reliable, zero-emission electric cars offering seamless transfer-free travel across the railroad.

In the near term, conversion of a fraction of the railroad’s 836-car “M7” electric fleet to operate with battery power on even just one of the railroad’s unelectrified branches would allow the LIRR to consolidate its diesel fleet on remaining unelectrified branches, enhancing the frequency of diesel service there and lengthening trains. In recent years, the LIRR has seen such a surge in seasonal demand for diesel service that it has had to lease additional cars from Maryland’s MARC train system.

Work on the program, being conducted with Alstom, will begin within the next month. In the first phase, expected to last eight months, technicians will evaluate specifications for batteries and where they could be placed aboard M7 cars. They will study the physical characteristics of the Oyster Bay Branch and the Port Jefferson Branch including hills and distances between stations and evaluate sites for recharging stations. Following this initial stage, technicians would operate prototype cars on the Oyster Bay Branch initially with no passengers. The outcome of these tests will enable railroad officials to evaluate the number of electric cars that could be retrofitted with batteries and when and which trains in passenger service could be converted to battery-electric cars. Alstom this year acquired Bombardier Transportation, which designed and built the M7 fleet and whose engineers are intimately familiar with all systems and workings of the cars.

The battery train test is the latest in a series of moves the railroad has made in the last three years to reconceptualize how it serves the public. Last year the LIRR became the first railroad in the world to show customers the number of passengers on board each train car via app. This year the railroad brought the technology to screens at station platforms that allow customers to move down the platform before boarding to find a car with more seats. To enhance safety, the LIRR unveiled the first-in-the-nation program to install flexible delineators and reflective pavement markings at all its railroad crossings and partner with Waze to alert motorists they are approaching a railroad crossing. As a result, the number of instances of motorists errantly turning onto tracks has virtually been eliminated, and the measures are being adopted across the country.

In 2019, the LIRR partnered with private industry to harness lasers to fight wet leaves that collect on the rails in autumn, causing delays and wheel damage that results in shorter trains. The same year the railroad created the LIRR Care program giving customers with mobility limitations the ability to prearrange personal assistance from staff members when boarding and/or exiting a LIRR train. The LIRR originated in the 1830s powered by coal-fired steam engines before major segments were electrified generally between 1900 and the early 1930s; for the rest of the railroad, the steam engines were replaced by diesels gradually between 1926 and 1955. The Oyster Bay Branch was electrified as far as East Williston in 1934. Plans for extending the branch’s electrification fizzled amid the Great Depression and World War II and remained on hold after the war as officials perceived that household transportation needs were increasingly being met by the automobile.

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PENN STATION-A gem of a Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) conductor was commended today for discovering and turning in a tray of $107,000 worth of engagement rings, some with embedded diamonds, left behind by a jeweler on his way to Port Washington Thursday evening, April 22. Assistant Conductor Jonathan Yellowday, a Murray Hill, Queens resident, was working on the 6:11 p.m. train from Penn Station to Port Washington when he found the case of jewelry in a plastic bag. The rings belong to jeweler Ed Eleasian who has an office in Midtown Manhattan. He was on his way home and didn’t realize he had left behind the tray of trinkets.  

Conductor Yellowday couldn’t believe what he had discovered and knew that he needed to get the items to the MTA police as soon as possible. “I got on the next train going back to Penn, turned it in, and the rest is history,” he said. 

Eleasian and his wife took the LIRR into Penn Station Friday afternoon to retrieve the items at the MTA PD District 4 office in Penn Station. The grateful jeweler was met by LIRR President Phil Eng, Conductor Yellowday, and MTA Board Member and Vice General Chairman of the Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation Union (SMART) Vincent Tessitore where President Eng presented Yellowday with a commendation for his swift and thoughtful actions.  

President Eng said in commending the conductor, “Not only did you find and return these 36 rings, but just think about the happiness of 36 couples down the road that will be joined together in happiness, and they’ll have a story to tell. So, thank you for your heroic actions and saving the day for 36 future couples. I understand the value of these diamond rings, but everything found and returned to the customer is immensely important to them. You treated this just as you should have and it’s another proud day for us at the railroad.”   

Conductor Yellowday, who has been at Long Island Railroad for seven years, has seen many lost items during his tenure, but nothing close to the value of this find. After receiving a heartfelt hug from Eleasian today, Conductor Yellowday said, “I could only imagine what you were going through yesterday when you realized that you didn’t have your jewelry. You know when you get on the 6:11 you’re in good hands.” 

This is such a feel good story. Also, this past weekend was the 187th Anniversary of the launch of MTA's Long Island Rail Road. In other news, after the being in service for nearly two months, the B98v and Q98v shuttle vaccine routes are now discontinued. It was done due to low ridership. People are using subway, other various bus routes, and rideshare services. 

 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

New York City Subways Has Made Signifcant Speed Improvements During Height Of The Pandemic; Service Changes Coming To The Weekend (D) Service In April

R142A (6) Train

MTA New York City Transit last month unveiled a series of encouraging updates about the success of its ongoing efforts to safely speed up trains throughout the system, including the installation of 919 new digital timers on grade time signals, 270 civil speed increases across the system over the past two years, and a reduction in time trains spend holding at station platforms. The work builds on recommendations made in the “MTA NYCT Subway Speed and Capacity Review, Phase 2 Report," which was commissioned as part of the Speed and Safety Task Force launched by the Governor Of New York on July 2019.

Aging and faulty grade time signals and excessive time spent holding at station platforms were among the biggest factors that led to slower train speeds and comparatively poor on-time performance in the subway system prior to the creation of a dedicated SPEED Team in 2018. Despite the pandemic, New York City Transit remained focused on safely increasing speeds and achieved several key accomplishments in 2020 which are expected to result in reduced running times for customers as they return to the system.

Interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg said this in a statement: "We've continued to identify root causes for slower speeds, and we've continued to move rapidly to fix grade time signals that were defective and to increase speeds where it’s safe to do so. But make no mistake, this is not the end. We will continue to inspect the system so that as new speed-related challenges emerge, we are prepared to address them promptly. We can't return to an era when these things weren't being effectively monitored – that's not fair to our customers or our train operators, who need to be confident they can travel at the maximum safe speeds possible when moving our millions of customers. My thanks to train and speed safety task force chair Jane Garvey, TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano, former FRA Chief Safety Officer Bob Lauby, and the men and women of NYC Transit for helping us to accomplish these goals."

Members of the dedicated SPEED Team have continued to work closely with employees in several divisions within the Department of Subways to check on the reliability of grade time signals so that train operators are able to move customers at the maximum safe speed possible throughout the system. The dedicated unit has also traveled the system to identify parts of the system where previous speed limits can be safely increased.  Many locations had speeds doubled or increased significantly. Some examples include changing the northbound curve entering City Hall (BMT Broadway) from 6 m.p.h. to 15 m.p.h., changing the southbound speed limit at President Street (IRT Nostrand Av) from 15 to 35 m.p.h., changing the speeds on the express tracks on Queens Blvd. from 35 to 50 m.p.h. at multiple locations, and removing the 25 m.p.h. limit on the IND Concourse express line in the Bronx, allowing for speeds about 40 m.p.h. near Fordham Rd and Kingsbridge Rd. STV’s Phase Two report delivered in Dec. 2020 verified that an increased speed on curves – labeled as ‘v6’ to denote a normal increased operating speed or “Comfort Level Speed” – is both safe and comfortable for customers (based on comprehensive testing and a balanced sample of riders). The report also estimates that running times could be reduced by a median of five minutes and 30 seconds on lines if grade time signals are working correctly and train operators drive the full speed limit and offers a set of recommendations for sustaining and continuing the progress on speeds that we have achieved to date.

Over the decades, car design and track geometry have improved, allowing cars to maintain stability and safe operation at higher speeds, but the speed limits were not always changed to reflect these advancements in safety and comfort. Meanwhile, timer signals continued to be installed throughout the subway system, with an uptick after two fatal crashes in the 1990s; one at Union Square on the Lexington Avenue Line and one on the Williamsburg Bridge on the Jamaica Line. Eventually, the number of timer signals grew to approximately 2,000 system-wide.  Over time, a number of these signals became overly restrictive. Over time, both safety measures, which have been extremely effective at their intended goal of preventing accidents, had the unintended consequence of slowing some trips and causing delays by forcing trains to go much slower than allowed.

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Not In Service R68A signed as a (C) train. Credit: csouth28

In other news, The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced that inspection of the Manhattan Bridge by the NYS Department of Transportation, as well as track maintenance work by NYC Transit personnel, will require the complete closure of the tracks used by the (B) and (D) trains between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and changes to subway service for two weekends in April.

On the weekends of April 16-19 and April 23-26 beginning at 11:30 p.m. Friday until 2 a.m*. Monday, trains will run in Brooklyn only, between Coney Island-Stillwell Av and Atlantic Av-Barclays Center.  trains will not run in the Bronx and Manhattan. (C) trains will replace (D) trains in the Bronx and Manhattan between 205 St and 59 St-Columbus Circle. Overnights and early mornings when the (C) does not operate, (D) Shuttle trains will operate between 205 St in the Bronx and 145 St in Manhattan.  Additionally, free shuttle buses will make all stops between W 4 St and Grand St in Manhattan. For full information, please visit the MTA website for full details.

This year marks one year that two MTA Transit employees passed away from COVID-19; one bus operator and one subway conductor. Last Saturday, March 27th, will also mark one year of the passing of Train Operator Garrett Goble from the heinous subway fire that has also injured 16 others. Mr. Goble will always be remembered as a hero. Here is Interim NYCT President Sarah Feinberg's statement: "This has been a year of intense grief and heartbreak for the New York City Transit family. In addition to the losses caused by COVID-19, we continue to mourn our beloved colleague Garrett Goble, who was senselessly murdered one year ago. We will never forget Garrett’s service or heroism. He showed New York City and the world what it means to be a public servant. Garrett was also a loving father, husband and son, a cherished friend and a kind and generous colleague. We look forward to joining with Garrett’s family to continue to honor his service, sacrifice and legacy with a permanent art memorial, which will be unveiled and installed later this spring at the Flatbush Junction subway terminus.” Please stay tuned for a podcast remembrance episode later this week.