October 8, 2019
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Joins Senior MTA and TWU Officials in Announcing Preliminary Findings of the MTA Train Speed and Safety Task Force

TOP Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript:...

Governor Cuomo: "[The Train Speed and Safety Task Force] is like the L Train tunnel in that it is just a fundamental rethinking of the way you do business, which is very hard for a bureaucracy to do...This is an impactful change. You drive the train faster, you will get where you are going faster. What do riders want? Get me where I'm going, get me there on a predictable timeline, get me there faster, keep me safe, let me be in a basic clean environment, and this can make a real change. So well done."


Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo joined MTA Managing Director Veronique Hakim, MTA Train Speed and Safety Task Force Chair Jane Garvey and Secretary-Treasurer of TWU Local 100 Earl Phillips in announcing the preliminary findings of the MTA Train Speed and Safety Task Force. In June, the Governor called for the creation of a task force to address ongoing concerns related to the speed and running times of New York City Transit trains.


VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here


AUDIO of the event is available here.


PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.


A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:


Governor Cuomo: Good morning to all. Thank you all for being here. Good afternoon, technically by two minutes. I'll introduce our guests in a moment. The topic for today is as you know the MTA and as you know the MTA is in the midst of a fundamental restructuring of what they do and how they do it to serve the people of the MTA better.


Many of these issues that we have been taking about are part of that overall function, the reorganization of the MTA, the CPRB involvement, the Capital Plan that was done, the Homeless Task Force, worker safety, reforms. All are about a fundamental restructuring of the MTA.


One of the most basic functions for the MTA that can make the most dramatic difference for riders and users of the system is the actual speed of the trains. When you get down to the basic function of the MTA it is moving people from one place to another and the speed of the train is probably the most determinative factor in that process. And the speed of the trains, then connected to the safe operation of the trains, and we put together an effort - the Speed and Safety Task Force to look at just that issue.


While many of the issues the MTA is working on, and we are working on together, tend to be process issues or governmental approval issues or budget issues, this issue really affects riders and their commute time. And if we can improve this, people will fell it immediately and dramatically. So, it is a very important function and something we are excited about.


The Speed and Safety Task Force is headed by Jane Garvey who is seated to my left. Jane is one of the preeminent transportation professionals in this nation. She served as head of the FAA in two federal administrations. They happen to be of different parties also so you have that rare bipartisanship about you.


We have Earl Phillips who is the Secretary Treasurer of the TWU. It is a pleasure to be with him. And we are going to hear first from Ronnie Hakim who is the Managing Director of the MTA, and she is going to give us, give you, the update that I just received from the Speed and Safety Task Force. Ronnie Hakim.


Ronnie Hakim: Thank you, Governor. Several months ago Governor Cuomo posed a series of straightforward questions to the MTA. Were the trains moving slower than they were years ago? If so why? He also wanted to find out, how are speeds compared to speeds of other major systems elsewhere around the world and whether we might be able to safely raise them.


Sometimes, seemingly simple questions, Governor, can prove tricky to answer.  To study the proper speed and safety operating protocols as the Governor mentioned we established the MTA Train Speed and Safety Task Force at the end of July. The task force is chaired by Jane Garvey, former FAA Administrator, and the members include myself, as well as Robert Lauby, the former Chief Safety Officer of the Federal Railroad Administration; Tony Utano, President of TWU Local 100, who is represented here this morning by Earl Phillips; Dominick Servedio, Executive Chairman of STV, who is also present; Andy Byford, President of the New York City Transit Authority, represented today by Sally Librera who is here with us; Pat Warren, the MTA's Chief Safety Officer, here too; and Tom Quigley, our General Counsel at the MTA.


So far, our preliminary findings have shown the answer to the Governor's key questions can in fact be yes. Yes, the trains do in fact move at slower speeds than they did 20 years ago. Yes, there are other systems around the world that move trains at higher speeds than ours, and yes, it is possible to safely increase the speeds to higher limits in certain sections of track.


Some of the details on how we got here are both historical and anecdotal. But our findings date back to a pair of tragic accidents in the 1990s that gradually led to speed reductions across the system. In 1991, there was the serious Union Square derailment and then in 1995 another tragic accident on the Williamsburg Bridge. There were then speed reductions that were intended as precautionary in nature and it also accompanied the NTSB reviews of both of those crashes. The NTSB concluded that while both tragedies were mainly caused by operator errors there were other issues pertaining to the subway system itself and its signals that were also identified.


Devices were even installed to limit train acceleration. I'm told that by our estimates of the times is that trains were slowed down by as much as 6 percent due to these factors. The slowdowns were then compounded by actual train operator behavior, often due to no fault of their own. To many train operators there was a perception, and there is truth to this, that parts of the signal systems were not properly calibrated to the actual posted speeds. Operators believed that if they traveled at those posted speeds they would activate the trains' emergency breaks, exceeding maximum speed limits, and they would be disciplined as a result.


So, you can imagine what resulted. Operators began driving slower than even those allowable posted speeds. We also found that the current posting of speed limits and signage in the system is irregular or actually just deficient. If train operators are to have confidence in operating at safe, higher allowable speeds things like the signs and their instructions need to be absolutely correct.


It's also important to understand that modern trains are better designed than some of our older fleets and this allows us to make some of these changes with great confidence. Now as part of the $800 million Subway Action Plan we've already begun making several improvements in the subway system. You've heard about the installation of continuous welded rail, the installation of connectors that mitigate the impact of electric voltage variations that cause signals to fail. We've performed over 1,300 priority maintenance and repairs tasks to improve the reliability of our signal and switch systems, we've rebuilt signal assets, we've cleaned 2,900 miles of underground track, we've also added specialized multi-disciplinary teams to improve our incident response and recovery times.


As a result of these improvements and by being able to work collaboratively with the TWU to increase operator confidence, the task force has found that we think that train operations can be safely increased beyond the levels at which they operated two decades ago, to as much as 50 percent in certain sections of the track. Our preliminary work surveyed a stretch of the 7th Avenue Line as well as the Flushing Line and have determined four core areas of focus moving forward. The task force has already begun with conducting further engineering work to study questions pertaining to track configuration and car movement across the system.


The job now is to determine optimal running speeds in different configurations. Going forward, the task force will be focused on reducing running times through straight tracks and interlockings; improving running times around curves, depending on the radius of the curve in question speeds can be increased anywhere up to five miles per hour; alleviating bottlenecks and fine-tuning train scheduling to optimize movements; and updating that important speed signage to increase operator confidence within posted limits.


As we said, we believe that by correcting some of these current issues, train speeds can ultimately be increased by as much as 50 percent in certain locations. It's essential that we continue to work with our union officials in this testing. The goal is to provide the certainty and predictability that train operators need for optimum train operation. We'll only be doing this by making sure signals are properly calibrated; the limits are properly posted. Our final recommendations through the task force report will be sent to MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye for his review and approval. It's important to note that our work builds on the work that New York City Transit "Save Safe Seconds" initiative has already been making progress to reduce running times and increase subway speeds by locating and fixing those miscalibrated signals in parts of the system. But we can't stop there - because we need to ensure we're doing it across the system to bring the greatest efficiency to our riders. Our work continues, and we remain steadfastly committed to improving service and increasing the reliability of the subway system for all our customers. And with that, Governor, I will turn it over to Earl Phillips, Secretary-Treasurer of TWU Local 100.


Earl Phillips: Thanks, Ronnie and Governor, thanks for this invitation to be here. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for making this a front and center issue and the MTA for inviting us to participate in the Tran Speed and Safety Task Force. It gives us an opportunity to bring our members perspective to this problem, something that is critical to the success of any study like this, but so often have been overlooked. Our train operators want to get riders to their destination as quickly as possible, while maintaining safety. It's frustrating for passengers to endure delays and it's just as frustrating for the workers. Train operators for years have not trusted the signal system. They are taught to go slower than posted speeds to avoid possibly tripping a signal - which in many cases can cause a service delay up to twenty minutes - and of course to avoid disciplinary actions for tripping the signal, an action completely out of our control. As you are hearing here today, many of these issues with the signal systems are being addressed and the initial findings are incredibly promising. Most importantly, when these recommendations are complete, I have no doubt that our confidence in the system will be restored. That will result in a fair system for our operators and a better experience for our riders, meaning they get to their destinations as quickly as possible and safely. We are looking forward to continuing to work together so our riders and our members can get the improved system they deserve. Thank you. At this point in time, I will turn it over to Jane Garvey from the FAA. Thank you.


Jane Garvey: Thanks very much Earl and thanks very much Governor and Ronnie. It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today. I want to say it has been exciting for me as a former federal regulator to be part of an effort that I see as so critical and so very, very important. When the Governor called for the creation of this task force, he insisted, he insisted that the effort focus on safety but he encouraged us to look at it through an engineering lens. And the MTA Speed and Safety Task Force did exactly that. We reviewed the posted civil speed restrictions and properly calibrated signal timers, and looked at the overall operations to ensure that trains don't continue to operate slower than safety and best practices dictate.


The initial finding in this report, as both Earl and Ronnie have said, have been extremely positive. And while we know there is initial testing to be done, the bottom line is these are achievable. Again, that was another important point that the Governor made to us. Give us some recommendations that can be implemented and that will really make a difference to the system. I think we have done that. 


I want to reiterate that the goal of this study has been and will always be to continue to increase reliability in the system, to reduce the running times, but all the while ensuring that the nearly six million people that ride the subways will reach their destination safely. Nothing is more important than that. In the next phase, as Ronnie has indicated, we will continue this work and ultimately validate the charge that we have had.


The Governor understands that first and foremost the safety and the security of New Yorkers is our number one priority. It is for all of us. We are extremely confident the recommendations the Task Force is making today are an important step, a huge step, toward s an approach that will keep New Yorkers safe while dramatically increasing efficiency in the system.


So, I want to thank the Governor and I want to thank the MTA and the terrific staff that has been involved, and our union partners who have been wonderful to work with and have come forward with some great recommendations and ones that I know we are taking very seriously. And we all look forward to continuing this very important work. Thank you Governor.  


Governor Cuomo: I want to thank all of you for making really great progress. More to do, but the progress has been quick and dramatic. Just to provide a little context for this situation: The MTA is the midst of trying to make transformative change. Which is much easier said than done. Especially for a large bureaucracy. The MTA hit a crisis point a couple of years ago and that's when we implemented the Subway Action Plan that came in and basically said all the old rules are gone. We're going to make change, we're going to make change quickly. And we're going to do what we need to do to make those changes happen and break the bureaucratic box. The Subway Action Plan worked. These initiatives are in that same mode.


To me, this is the operational analog to the L Train Tunnel, right? The L Train Tunnel, the plan was we're going to close it down for 2 years. We're going to rebuild the whole thing and we'll figure out what to do with the 300,000 who use the train. Yeah, but then if you spend time, which we did, questioning all the premises. You know what's your job as Governor: I ask why five thousand times. Just keep drilling down, drilling down, drilling down. Why would you close the tunnel for 2 years? Why would you build it back using 100-year-old technology? Why isn't there a better way? If they're afraid of creating silica dust - which was the big thing with the L Train Tunnel - why would you break all this cement that you don't have to break in the first place creating silica dust? So, we actually came out with a much better resolution. But it was a painful process to change all those bureaucratic norms.


This is analogous to me because it's the same type of analysis. When you hear what Ronnie went through, there were basically 3 factors. Nineties you have accidents, NTSB comes in to investigate as they're supposed to. What's the normal reaction? Well we should slow down the trains, let's figure out what's going on. Second fact, the operators say the signal system is miscalibrated. What does that mean? That means the operators believe if they go the actual posted speed limit the signals could actually be triggered even though they're going at the speed limit that's posted. This goes on for years, by the way, where the union operators say the signals are wrong, if we drive at that speed limit we're going to get a ticket, disciplined.


So what did they do? They drove slower than the posted speed limit which is just normal protective behavior. I talked to some operators who said they drove about half the posted speed limit. It was posted for 20, they drove it ten. Why? Because they didn't know where the signals were actually calibrated.


The analogy used with me it's like driving around New York City and you have speed cameras that say you're going to get a ticket if you go over 30, but the camera calibration is wrong so you may get a ticket for going 28, or 27, or 22. You don't really know. So what do you do? You drive a lot slower to protect yourself. That was a major factor; it still is a major factor. They're not driving at what the posted speed limit is, not to mention that what the posted speed limit is may not even be correct in the first place. Then you have another factor, which is well these trains are now different and better than the old trains and the track is better. We just went through the Subway Action Plan. We now have continuously welded rails; there are no water puddles on the tracks. It's a better system than it was.


So, what is the right speed limit? Question one. From an engineering point of view, from other systems point of view across the world, what's the right speed limit? And then let's back up, set new speed limits all across the system, calibrate the signals to that actual speed limit, bring our union partners as part of the process so that they can say to the operators afterwards drive the posted speed limit. We checked the signals are calibrated; you will not get a ticket. Drive a speed limit. And do that system-wide.


That's the right way to do this. It is a really exhaustive effort, because you have to go back, get every division involved. You have to do basic engineering work and then you have to do basic testing work, because safety is the priority. So, take a train, run it at that speed through the entire system and make sure everybody says it's safe, and make sure the union representatives say it is safe and we get that the system is now properly calibrated, we will drive the speed limit. So, it's like the L Train tunnel in that it is just a fundamental rethinking of the way you do business, which is very hard for a bureaucracy to do.


By the way, change is very hard on a personal level, right? You'd be better if you did X, Y and Z. Yeah I know. It's just hard to make change. A bureaucracy magnifies that 70,000 times, right? But you want to talk about an impactful change, this is an impactful change. You drive the train faster, you will get where you are going faster. What do riders want? get me where I'm going, get me there on a predictable timeline, get me there faster, keep me safe, let me be in a basic clean environment, and this can make a real change. So well done.

Contact the Governor's Press Office
Contact the Governor's Press Office