2016-04-13 / Front Page

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer Holds Meeting On No. 7 Line Situation

By Thomas Cogan

Last week, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer called another town hall meeting about service on the No. 7 train line, the first in two years.  It drew a lot of attendees, who gathered at Sunnyside Community Services on 39th Street.  There, they heard a panel of New York Transit Authority officials talk about ongoing projects due for completion and new projects to insure a safe and productive future for the No. 7 and all the other means of transportation in the city.  Much of that talk was meant to allay the anger and frustration of Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside residents, who, being in proximity of and dependent on the No. 7 line, are in a denunciatory mood regarding service problems any time they and transportation officials meet.  Leading the transit officials was Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim, president of Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York City Transit since just after Christmas.  As in past years, the N.Y. Transit people did a good job of explaining how problems were being addressed and how the future would be better, while the audience both praised their expertise but wondered why this state of crisis seemed perpetual if their remedies were as good as advertised.

The panel before the night’s audience comprised Hakim and three other transit officials and, to provide a voice for transit riders, Melissa Orlando, founder of a blog called 7-Train Blues.  Hakim, whose career includes 23 previous years at the MTA and  recently more than five years in New Jersey, part of that time as executive director of NJ Transit, began by saying that the challenge of maintaining frequency of subway service and improving it is a “happy problem.”  On the 7 line alone, a half-million riders are carried each day between Main Street in Flushing and the Hudson Yards on the lower west side of Manhattan, along a line that, except for the Times Square-Hudson Yards extension that was opened seven months ago, has been used for fully a century.  Nearly 70 percent of it is elevated, but one part that is not, the Steinway Tube between Queens and Manhattan was, like a great many other parts of the citywide system, damaged by Superstorm Sandy three and a half years ago and has had to undergo repair and the replacement of its signals.  She reported that Steinway repairs, the cause of many weekend service shutdowns (though they have been considerably less frequent in the past couple of years), will be concluded the weekend of April 23.

The list of updates, repairs and innovations continued, perhaps chief among them the often-promised Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC), which Hakim said is now in operation.  Every train’s speed is now on computer and signal problems, a major cause of delay, have been lessened, Hakim said.  No two CBTC units are the same and all are being adjusted constantly. In addition, 90 percent of cars are new, attuned to CBTC and in operation; and 94 percent of worn track panels have been replaced.  Heaters have been installed to keep outdoor tracks from collecting ice in winter weather.  Repair teams are ready to tend to malfunctions (including signal, track and third rail damage) that pop up.  “Nobody is taking this lightly,” Hakim said.   

Councilman Van Bramer said Hakim’s presentation was interesting, but the repair schedule has to be extended repeatedly.  The panel’s Wynton Haversham said the teams that Hakim mentioned are sent out not only to repair and replace but also to apply preventive medicine of a sort to examine what could go wrong.  An early question from the audience was about the bottleneck at the inbound end of Queensboro Plaza, where local and express trains jockey for entrance as two tracks narrow into one.  N.Y. Transit panelist Barry Rosenblatt said it’s a delicate matter of dispatchers’ sorting out who goes first, which can seem confused and arbitrary (and is also practiced between Q express and N and R locals running from 34th Street to Times Square).  Despite it, Hakim said that two trains were recently added for rush hour traffic and two more are being considered.  There was a complaint about Monday morning slowdowns after a weekend of repair shutdowns, rumor of which Rosenblatt recognized.  He said he’d looked into it, only to find it’s more imagined than real.  (Skeptics held firm in their beliefs, one of them saying that 7-Train Blues and other social media sites often report delays peculiar to Monday and riders would be wise to check them.)

More complaints:  inoperable elevators; a shortage of benches on train platforms; and small repairs that take weeks to complete (e.g., repair of the stairs at the back end, city-bound side of the 52nd –Lincoln station).  A plea was brought up by many for coordination between train and bus services in the Hunters Point section of Long Island City, so the heavy amount of residents in the residential towers built there in this century or slightly earlier can reach the No. 7 line or the underground Court Square stations.  (Word is that a regular bus, Q-103, is to be re-routed along the East River waterfront, in the process making such access at least feasible.)  And any talk of buses always gets back to the request/demand for an express bus through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, between Hunters Point and Grand Central, as it did at this meeting.

One attendee lamented that she was more cynical about train service as the meeting was ending than she’d been before it began.  Others had an appreciation of what N.Y. Transit goes through and perhaps an anxious belief that increased ridership, which is expected and encouraged, would only strain the system and force repairs upon repairs, weakening the positive effect of improvements that have been and are being made.  We can only hope that the next meeting of transit officials and riders is all in good time and not because of a current emergency. 

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