Trains will run faster on some of the city’s busiest subway lines starting Monday as the MTA implements the biggest shake-ups to its schedules in four years.
The new timetables — obtained by the Daily News — reveal quicker end-to-end run times for the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines, shaving precious minutes off commutes for roughly 900,000 weekend riders.
The time No. 2 trains take to to run the length of the line and back — now about three hours and 30 minutes, depending on the time of the day — will drop by as much as 10 minutes on weekdays. The scheduled round trip run times on the No. 3 lines will decrease by 5½ to 9 minutes, to just under 2½ hours.
Weekday round trip runs on the No. 4 line will speed up by about four minutes to put most of its rush hour runs under two hours and 40 minutes. The No. 5 line will see time savings of 5½ to 8 minutes, reducing many of the line’s runs to and from Dyre Ave. in the Bronx to less than three hours.
The changes reverse a subway slowdown put in place in 2018 that gave train operators more time to make their runs. The additional run time corresponded with an increase in the subway’s “on-time performance” metric.
One reason for the slowed schedules was high ridership, which created longer boarding times at platforms, said Judy McClain, head of operations planning at NYC Transit.
Another justification for the slower schedule was a blitz of track work associated with the Subway Action Plan launched by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017 to quickly repair subway infrastructure.
“Train speeds had really gone down,” said McClain. “That was one of the reasons we went back this time and said, ‘You’ve got to speed up the trains.’”
The faster schedules are in part made possible by the work of the MTA’s “SPEED Team,” which launched under former NYC Transit president Andy Byford and raised hundreds of speed limits on tracks across the system. The team’s work has relaunched in recent months after being put on hold during the pandemic.
The new timetables also add a minute or two of scheduled run time for some trains on the A, D, N, Q, R and W lines, which MTA officials said will make it easier for train operators to adhere to schedules.
There’s no guarantee the speed-ups result in better train service. The MTA still faces crew shortages that have for more than a year led to canceled train runs and longer wait times for riders across the city.
“You can’t have a reliable service if the train isn’t there ready to go,” McClain said.
But NYC Transit president Richard Davey said the new schedules free up 12 teams of train operators and conductors, which should help address the issue.
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So riders who never use one of the faster-running lines will benefit from the schedule change, Davey said.
“To the extent that riders say, ‘Well, I don’t take the 2, 3, 4 or 5. What’s in it for me? The answer is there will be more crews available,” Davey said.
While the new schedules speed up the trains on weekdays, the MTA will continue to run the same weekend schedules as before the pandemic on nearly every subway line. The lack of adjustment comes as a higher percentage of riders have returned on weekends compared to weekdays since the pandemic hit.
McClain said regular construction and maintenance work forces planners to write supplemental schedules nearly every weekend.
“We will get to weekends and look at the running times, but it’s very volatile given all the diversion,” McClain said.
Davey — who is less than two months into his job — said he plans to take a more granular look at subway schedules as ridership patterns evolve in the aftermath of the pandemic. More riders have returned to the subways on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays than on Mondays or Fridays.
“If Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in fact continues to emerge as the workweek — do we need to do something different?” said Davey. “So rather than a weekend schedule and a weekend schedule is there something that’s more of a hybrid?”