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What the F? Agency admits that the F train has problem

The Brooklyn Paper

The F train is slower, dirtier and less reliable than other lines in the subway system, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority finally admitted in a bombshell report released on Friday.

Bolstering what thousands of riders mutter to themselves every day, the MTA report specified just how bad the line operates: During May and June, for example, weekday on-time performance was 22 to 29 percent worse than systemwide average.

In other findings, the MTA’s investigation of itself discovered that:

• The F line’s schedule has not been adjusted since 2001, despite ridership that has increased every year except 2004-5. Population is booming in the Windsor Terrace-to-DUMBO portion of the line, causing an eight-percent increase in ridership that has not been mitigated by increased service.

• Stations are skipped due to overcrowding during rush hours at a higher rate than on other lines in the system. Stations north of Church Avenue experienced 16 percent of all F line skips between March and June.

“The frequency of unscheduled station skips … can adversely affect passengers’ trips, since these skips occur in the discharge direction,” the report deadpanned.

• Ten percent of all morning rush hour trains get to Bergen Street in Carroll Gardens already over the MTA’s standard for capacity. And in the evening rush, 12 percent of the Coney Island-bound trains get to Jay Street above the sardine-can standard.

In other words, the F “lags behind other routes in on-time performance and wait assessment, ranking near the bottom for all lines,” the report said. “In May 2009, for instance, the F ranked next-to-last among all subway lines.”

• In case all that wasn’t bad enough, the F train is 10 percent dirtier than the systemwide average for floor or seat grime.

• The majority of the infrastructure on the F line dates from 1940 or earlier. And 16 percent of the route dates from 1920 or earlier.

In summary, the report said that the “great length, operational complexity, and heavy ridership” is what makes the F train “particularly prone to delays in service.”

Riders were not surprised at the report’s findings.

“The F train is definitely slower and dirtier than other trains,” said Ashmeet Kaur, who takes the F every day. “Rush house is bad every single day.”

The report came after a four-month line analysis requested by state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Carroll Gardens), whose office was inundated with complaints in March and April about the little engine that can’t.

On Sunday, Squadron told The Brooklyn Paper that he considered the findings “breathtaking,” but was pleased that the MTA had undertaken the line review.

“This kind of thing has never been done before — a publicly released review of line performance and a commitment to make it better,” Squadron said. “The MTA should be applauded for that. But now we need to hold their feet to the fire.”

The report did include some recommendations for fixing the troubled line — though many riders will wonder why a four-month analysis was needed to come up with a “to-do” list that includes:

• Reorganizing line management “to provide greater accountability over multiple disciplines.”

• Establishing a “task force of senior managers to review F line operations and develop strategies for improvements.”

• Reviewing “schedules … to assess potential operational and service changes.”

• Undertaking a “train load analysis to provide line management with critical information for evening out train loads.”

• Getting more new cars on the F line, a process that is underway.

• Modifying “delay-management strategies to reduce reliance on skipping stations.”

• Renewing aging infrastructure, including modernizing the signal system.

That last one is easier said than paid for. A plan to modernize signals along portions of the F line is included in the still-unapproved part of the next MTA capital plan. It calls for the agency to spend $1.6 billion — that’s billion, with a b — on F-line signal infrastructure between 2010 and 2019, with $450 million slated for two portions of the line in Brooklyn.

Squadron maintained his enthusiasm for the MTA’s “transparency” in issuing the report, which he said could provide a basis for getting more money for the agency.

“This report is a road map to how the MTA plans to fix the F line,” he said.

In the meantime, trackwork on the Culver Viaduct will knock out F service in both directions this weekend, requiring shuttle buses.

Updated 6:14 pm, October 15, 2009: Updated to include more comments, plus details of this weekend's coming track work.
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