New York City Is Notorious For Its Slow Underground Speeds, But 'Save Safe Seconds' Program Could Lead To MPH Doubled

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s one thing subway riders and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can agree on: It’s time to speed things up.

Right now, the average train speed is 17 mph, but the agency wants to nearly double that on some sections of the city’s subway system, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported Monday.

(Photo credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Some 20 years ago transit poobahs decided to reduce underground speed limits after a series of rear-end crashes, like one in 1995 when a “J” train slammed into an “M” on the Williamsburg Bridge, killing a motorman and injuring 54.

The move helped make subway riders feel their trains were often more like molasses in January than, to quote “Superman,” faster than a speeding bullet.

But no more.

“We’re looking for every opportunity that we can find to speed our customers’ travel,” said Sally Librera, senior VP for subways at NYC Transit.

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The MTA sent teams of engineers into the tunnels to study the system and to answer this basic question:

How do you make the trains go faster?

“We’ve been looking at every territory in the system, specifically looking at our signals,” Librera said. “Trying to find areas where those signals are no longer calibrated correctly and fix them, fix those calibrations.”

The engineers found thousands of antiquated speed limits and faulty speed regulating signals, and are now fixing them.

Over the weekend, the speed limits were raised on parts of the “N” and “R” trains in Brooklyn. Instead of 15 mph, they’ll be able to go as fast as 30 mph, which is five miles above the speed limit on most New York City streets.

When asked how many lines are going to be affected, Librera said, “All lines, each borough. We’re moving quickly. We started this weekend. We intend to get to about 10 to 15 locations a week.”

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For the most part, New Yorkers seemed happy to hear the news.

“It will make a big difference. Every time I come here it’s packed and I’m always late for school every day. I think it will be a big change,” said Jenaire Hill of East New York.

“We want to make sure that people get safely to their destination and increasing the speed increases the chances that there will be more accidents and more derailments,” added Jason Casale of Bellerose, Queens.

“If you’re having a lot of problems at 15 mph, you’re gonna have to do something to the tracks before you go 30 mph,” said Beverly Daniels of the Bronx.

MTA officials say safety is paramount, that improved car design and track geometry now allow cars to operate at higher speeds. New York City subways are the slowest in the nation, averaging just 17 mph. By contrast, the Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco averages 33 mph.