May 08, 2006

When Do They Fix the Tracks?

Okay, so I don't really update this blog very regularly anymore. Hopefully that will change in the near future now that I've joined the 21st century and acquired internet at home. Oh yes. But that aside, here's a crucial public transit question that came up in conversation yesterday and isn't yielding to my heroic efforts at Googling an answer.

In Boston, the subway runs until about 12:45, despite the fact that bars close at 2. This encourages drunk driving and the like, not to mention it's a huge pain in the ass. So why doesn't the T run until, say, 2:30? Trying to figure it out, I got a 1999 article from the MIT Tech that reported on a bill being introduced to extend MBTA hours.

Opponents of the bill said that late-night subway rides simply weren't cost-effective, while others were worried both about noise—who wants the Green line rattling through the suburbs at 3 in the morning?—and the dangers in having people lurking around underground stations late at night. Presumably some combination of those reasons can explain why the hours were never extended. Then there's this:
Another factor that limits the scope of the initial extension is the work of maintenance crews who use night hours to perform preventive maintenance on the rails, Rivera said. On the present schedule, the crews have about three hours to complete their tasks, according to Rivera.
Okay, sure. Subways need fixing, and the best time to fix is at night. That explains why all subways shut down at night. Except for one, that is: New York's. (Wikipedia says it's the only 24-hour rapid transit in the world except for the New Jersey-Manhattan PATH and parts of the Chicago 'L'.)

So that's my question: Why can the New York subway stay open all night? Doesn't it need repairs? Now I've heard it's because New York's lines have multiple tracks (for express and local trains), so at night, the trains can switch over to whichever track isn't being fixed at the moment, whereas in Boston, there's only one track per line, so the subways have to shut down. But I think there are 24-hour lines in New York with only one track, no? Do the workers just have to do their maintenance really, really fast, before the next train comes trundling on through? And why didn't other cities build multi-track subways like New York did?
-- Brad Plumer 3:11 PM || ||