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Case study of how not to run a Subway System

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https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/09/nyregion/subway-crisis-mta-decisions-signals-rules.html

For years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority told us that rising ridership and overcrowding were to blame. Yet ridership actually stayed mostly flat from 2013 to 2018 as delays rose, and the authority recently acknowledged that overcrowding was not at fault.

Instead, two decisions made by the M.T.A. years ago — one to slow down trains and another that tried to improve worker safety — appear to have pushed the subway system into its current crisis. And there’s no easy fix.

....


A very good explanation of how seemingly innocuous single decisions pile up on each other to wreck a system into an unfixable mess.

Of course, when the managers have little understanding of what they are managing, and don;t know enough to know that they are ignorant and should therefore tread carefully, and bravely go forth making decisions, things don;t work out too well, as expected.

Failure of management caused by lack of knowledge and competence appears to be playing a major role in the fiasco that is the NY Subway System. But when the fox is guarding the hen house, who is going to take responsibility for progressively more missing hens?

Edited by jis

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You may think it is a fiasco, and in some respects I would agree, but the fact is, the NY Subway System is an invaluable resource for millions of New Yorkers, and can almost always get us where we need to go, cheaply and easily.

Edited by cpotisch

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You may think it is a fiasco, and in some respects I would agree, but the fact is, the NY Subway System is an invaluable resource for millions of New Yorkers, and can almost always get us where we need to go, cheaply and easily.

It being invaluable and being a fiasco are not mutually exclusive. If it were not a fiasco it would serve everyone even better.

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The largest problem I see is the management issue. Personally I wish we had managers who worked their way up from the ground. This is one reason Wick Moorman was a really good CEO at Norfolk Southern because he understood railroading from the ground up. As many recall he started as a track worker.

 

And it is definitely something I could see helping the MTA subway division if the managers there all came from the operations and maintenance departments. You would be able to have people qualified to lead the organization the way it needs to move.

 

I'm tired of all the college graduates becoming trainmasters across the country who have no idea what their crews do.

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I find the argument simplistic and in some cases misleading. While they say ridership has fallen or plateaued, that still doesn't mean that the system, which was NEVER designed or imagined to handle the amount of people it does is still strained. Even with alterations to the signal system which increases spacing, recovery time at the station would smooth out the delays if the system wasn't straining to contain itself. Instead, dwell increases and adds to more delays as people jam the first train.

 

As for increasing the safety zones, this is common practice on regular railroads. Subway operators have only adopted this practice in recent years. It is particularly useful in confined areas, with little clearance such as the older subway system.

 

If these measures were put in for safety, then they are not bad decisions. ACSES definitely slows down the trains and definitely eliminates recovery time. Other PTC systems will likely do the same. However, if it increases the margin of safety, either embrace or admit that safety doesn't truly matter.

 

The only problem is the MTA should address is lengthening the schedules to reflect the average running time, assuming a certain amount of track work and congestion en route.

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The largest problem I see is the management issue. Personally I wish we had managers who worked their way up from the ground. This is one reason Wick Moorman was a really good CEO at Norfolk Southern because he understood railroading from the ground up. As many recall he started as a track worker.

 

And it is definitely something I could see helping the MTA subway division if the managers there all came from the operations and maintenance departments. You would be able to have people qualified to lead the organization the way it needs to move.

 

I'm tired of all the college graduates becoming trainmasters across the country who have no idea what their crews do.

There used to be a procedure for "grooming" smart upper-class university graduates for business management, one I remember reading about mostly in UK firms. You sent them as *assistants* in very low-level management positions in each department and had them learn how each department actually operated, with an attitude of humility, and after you'd rotated them through all the departments, *then* you gave them serious management responsibilities.

Works. Any college graduate who became an assistant trainmaster *could* do this. Unfortunately they often don't *choose* to do it, and don't treat their jobs as learning experiences.

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