Strangeness on a Train

Annoyance over L train shutdowns, anxiety over what they're for

City Council Transportation committee chairman John Liu sees the new signals and the one-person trains as "one and the same." And he worries that the signaling system won't work, citing implementation delays on the L project. One-person train operation also carries risks, Liu says, pointing to an emergency evacuation drill held last April on a train with only one MTA worker aboard. The union says the drill was a failure; NYC Transit claims it was "incomplete."

"The MTA has difficulty making announcements over public address systems that people can hear," Liu says. "They have trouble getting all the MetroCard vending machines to work. So it's kind of a stretch to think they are ready to have computer technology run subway trains."

But anyone who has sweated out endless minutes on an immobile rush-hour subway train might be willing for the MTA to give it a shot. The subway system has often been the proving ground for new technology, and if more efficient trains get more cars off the road, transit advocates will smile. Even the TWU is "not religiously opposed to new technology," according to a spokesman.

Go to L: Folks in Williamsburg and other Brooklyn nabes will be stranded for at least six more weekends this year when the L train shuts down.
photo: Staci Schwartz
Go to L: Folks in Williamsburg and other Brooklyn nabes will be stranded for at least six more weekends this year when the L train shuts down.

Residents question how much actual improvement in services CBTC will bring to the L line. At least at first, the MTA is promising only one additional train per rush.

Not everyone in Williamsburg is hurt when the L stops. Felice Kirby at Teddy's Bar & Grill says her 120-year-old establishment has a local customer base, although her workers have a hard time making it in. The guy at the Reel Life Trading Post says the weekend suspensions actually improve his business because people can't get to Manhattan and rent more movies. And residents who don't go to Manhattan on the weekends really can't complain.

But Williamsburg is coming to grips with other changes: massive development that is expected to bring thousands of new people. Locals are still protesting the 2003 closure of Engine 212's firehouse. So there could be more residents but fewer firefighters, and more subway trains but fewer conductors to help in an emergency. A crisis on the L is not unthinkable. A cop sits on the L train platform at the Bedford stop because it leads into a potential terrorist target—a tunnel under the East River. And Engine 212 used to drill at an emergency hatch from the L tunnel to the Brooklyn waterfront, according to Phil DePaolo, an activist on the firehouse issue. "I'm not buying it," he says. "They're thinking but they're not planning."

Sometimes even a hot neighborhood like Williamsburg gets burned. NYC Transit says it conducted an economic-impact study on the L shutdowns but did it several years ago. "In many ways the neighborhood is a victim of its own success," says Teresa Toro, a communsity board member. "The L train used to be just a hick line. It's just not like that anymore."

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