N.Y. / Region

October 6, 2010, 3:14 pm

Trains With Dedicated Tracks Top Subway Rankings

Survey says: the 7 is No. 1.The 7 is No. 1.

Looking for the best subway lines in the city? Find the one that has a track all to itself.

The Nos. 1, 6, 7 and L trains topped this year’s “State of the Subways” rankings released by the Straphangers’ Campaign, the venerable transit riders’ advocacy group. (The 7 took top honors for the second year running.)

Those trains have one thing in common: for the most part, they never share their tracks with another line.

Now, sure: on the weekends and late nights, the Nos. 1 and 6 have to contend with express trains making local stops, which means all those Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 cars get in the way.

But in normal weekday service, no other train is scheduled to merge onto the 1 and 6 local tracks. Same with the 7 and L lines to Flushing, Queens, and Canarsie, Brooklyn. Which means those lines, and their lucky riders, get clear sailing through the tunnel, without fear of an interloper train that could stall, be delayed or otherwise clog things up.

The Straphangers’ rankings (pdf) encompass cleanliness, crowding, reliability, and clarity of announcements on each train, as measured by volunteers and New York City Transit statistics. Does exclusive right-of-way affect these criteria?

“It helps with some of the measures, and doesn’t help with others,” said Gene Russianoff, who oversees the report.

“The one it helps the most with is regularity,” Mr. Russianoff said. (That happens to be one of the more heavily weighed statistics.) “What the M.T.A. would tell you is the 4 or 5 are stuck with each others’ fates — they are joined at the hip, whereas the 1 and the 6 largely control their own destiny.

“But that doesn’t apply to mean distance between failures, which is a factor of how old or new the car is, and how well maintained it is,” he added. “It doesn’t at all deal with cleanliness, which is in theory in their control and should not vary by lines. Same thing with announcements.”

Over all, the report showed that subway performance had improved last year. The rate at which cars break down fell by more than 25 percent, and cleanliness and clarity of announcements both improved.

The No. 7 and L trains were ranked cleanest. But 1 in 10 trains on the J, Z, and R trains had “moderate or heavy dirt.”

The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is set to approve steep fare increases on Thursday, which would raise the price of a 30-day MetroCard to $104 from $89, a 17 percent increase that would take effect on Jan. 1.

The authority also plans to cut back on its car cleaners and maintenance staff, leading Mr. Russianoff to worry that last year’s gains will not be sustained.

“I’m worried,” he said. “We have to see how they do in a tough economy ahead.”


  1. 1. October 6, 2010 3:44 pm Link

    The same logic certainly explains the presence of the C train at the bottom of the list. At it’s busiest stretch, from Hoyt-Schermerhorn to West 4th Street, it crawls along, sharing tracks with the A, then later the E, and on a bad day the F/M. It is devastatingly slow, to compliment being filthy, infrequent, antiquated, part-time, and shortened by two cars. Riding the 6 or L is like riding in a different country compared to the C. I try to think it has nothing to do with the fact it services the poorest, blackest stretch of neighborhoods in the city.

    — Spaghetti
  2. 2. October 6, 2010 3:59 pm Link

    Some of your reasoning is faulty: trains of other lines that merge are no more likely to stall or be delayed than trains of the line onto which they’re merging.

    There are two reasons trains with exclusive use of their tracks run better:
    (1) They don’t get delayed at the merge points when trains of either line are off-schedule and have to wait; and
    (2) These trains run with less frequent service than the combined trains on the merged lines. Merged lines can run with close to a train every 2 minutes in rush hours; the 1,6 and L rarely run with better than 3 minute intervals; the 7 comes closer to 2 minutes, but that line has a long history of efficient operation with tight headways.

    — Ed
  3. 3. October 6, 2010 4:05 pm Link

    Aren’t there less riders in this recession? And less trains and trips in reduced schedules and services?
    If so then of course the cars are breaking down less often.

    — Architect
  4. 4. October 6, 2010 4:11 pm Link

    “Those trains have one thing in common: for the most part, they never share their tracks with another line.”

    This sentence’s illogic is representative of the NYT’s imprecise and mostly slanted coverage of the news.

    — Tom farrell
  5. 5. October 6, 2010 4:25 pm Link

    Cut back on the wages and pensions and retirement age. Make the workers pay a fair share of their health insurance. Crack down on absenteeism. Then you’ll have money to clean the cars.

    — quotidian
  6. 6. October 6, 2010 4:33 pm Link

    My train is the R. Yeah, the R trains are dirty, but most of them are the older models – the ones that don’t sing “Somewhere” as they leave the station. But I find them to be reliable for the most part. I’m surpised that they are so low on the list. I’m a fan of the seating arrangement on the old R. I like sitting on a forward or rear facing seat next to the window, where I can rest my foot on the heater and lean against the side of the car as I read. Can’t do that on the newer trains.

    I HEART Queens

    — Michael C
  7. 7. October 6, 2010 4:44 pm Link

    “I try to think it has nothing to do with the fact it services the poorest, blackest stretch of neighborhoods in the city.
    — Spaghetti”

    Well, the 2 and 3 are the fastest and close to the newest rolling stock, and they go to Brooklyn, the Bronx and East Harlem. The A and C go by Central Park West.

    — Doh
  8. 8. October 6, 2010 5:07 pm Link

    Yes, Tom (#4), the New York Times has an inherent liberal bias against the lettered train lines and in favor of the numbered lines, just like the rest of the commie red newspapers!

    — Marty
  9. 9. October 6, 2010 5:28 pm Link

    I don’t agree on the 1, at least in midtown/curing the day. It’s habitually late/delayed, especially in rush-hour. It may be clean, but it’s hardly “the best!”

    — Bill
  10. 10. October 6, 2010 6:03 pm Link

    The L train? Really? Four times during last week alone I was delayed more than 15 minutes or ended up on trains that suddenly went express. Also, nighttime and weekend service on the L is a joke. This weekend, for example, there’s no L train at all– and not even a shuttle bus going along the L route in Brooklyn. Instead, a few stations have shuttles to the JMZ.

    It may be true that the L train doesn’t share its tracks with another line, and hence doesn’t get delayed through that sort of congestion. But the rate of signal failure and “necessary track work” is remarkably high. This NY Post article I stumbled across seems to give some background on why this is the case, explaining that the L train uses a robotic signal system (not in use on any other line) that regularly breaks down.

    The only good things about the L are the announcement boards that show when the next train is coming (they work most of the time) and that yes, the trains are usually very clean. That makes waiting in one for 45 minutes stuck between stations in Brooklyn marginally better.

    — Kaela
  11. 11. October 6, 2010 6:09 pm Link

    The L train has somehow become chic and fashionable since all the hipsters moved to “Billyburg” and “East Williamsburg” (Bushwick). You neglect to mention that it is also a long, long local ride, with no express track. As someone who rode it end-to-end thousands of times, back in the days when it was first called the 14th Street-Canarsie Line and then the LL, I can tell you that riding it is quite an ordeal – cold in the winter, hot in the summer, always potentially dangerous.

    — Perfect Gentleman
  12. 12. October 6, 2010 6:13 pm Link

    I do tend to find the report of the Straphangers Campaign to be biased sometimes. Do they ride every line from the begining to end or are they do they only use selective stops? Judging the stops by the are maintained alone is not always the right way to judge them. Those that work at those stations do spend time cleaning them up, but riders keep on messing them up. Technically, it’s not their fault for those messes. This is exactly the same way public schools are being judged as are neighbrhood by just zooming in at that one flaw, and it gets a bad report just for that. Beggers can’t be choosers. All I care about thes stations is if they are working right, not their apperence.

    — Tal Barzilai
  13. 13. October 6, 2010 7:23 pm Link

    I agree that the L trains are clean compared to other lines. At the Eighth Avenue/14th Street terminus, the MTA workers do a good job of cleaning the cars.

    — Richard Grayson
  14. 14. October 6, 2010 7:40 pm Link

    The best subways in New York are in Europe, oh wait, that’s not New York. Oh, okay, there are no “best” subways in New York, they are all an embarrassment to our city. London, Paris and Germany all top us.

    — Bill T.
  15. 15. October 6, 2010 10:09 pm Link

    I’d feel happier about the 1 train ranking highly if it were running from 168th to 242nd on weekends recently.

    — j
  16. 16. October 7, 2010 9:07 am Link

    Why didn’t they rate the Staten Island Railway (formerly the Staten Island Rapide Transit, the first system to use the phrase “rapid transit”) in their review? The SIR is on the subway map as a transit line.

    — Boarat of NYC
  17. 17. October 7, 2010 9:53 am Link

    I’m with you, Michael C! Those little corner seats are the best in the house, also good for snoozing. The new trains on the E, F and M lines also have something like 40% fewer seats. If you have a long ride into the outer boroughs, you definitely prefer to “sit tight” than stand – but of course, the policy-makers at NYC Transit neither know nor care about things like that!

    – John L.

    — John Lee
  18. 18. October 7, 2010 10:56 am Link

    @14 — Clearly you haven’t been to London for at least several decades….

    — George
  19. 19. December 9, 2010 9:03 pm Link

    You’re wrong about the #3 train occupying the #1 track. The #3 train is the only 24×7 express subway train in NYC

    — Sri

Add your comments...


Required, will not be published

One Camera in Plain Sight, and One Hidden

One Police Plaza: A pilot program to tape interrogations, and a statement on the death of a judge. (4)

Plan to Charge Motorists for Fire Services Bothers Some

A plan to charge motorists when the fire department responds to accidents or car fires is running into more resistance. (33)

More From One Police Plaza »

Observers Comment on Eclipse: ‘How Tiny We Are’

Many people skipped sleep, or set their alarms, to make sure they were awake to see Tuesday morning’s lunar eclipse. (14)

Answers About World War II in New York, Part III

Taking Questions: Richard Goldstein, an author and historian of World War II, responds to readers’ inquiries about aspects of New York and the war.

More From Taking Questions »

‘Going Your Way’ Is Going Away, for Now

Off the Rails: “Going Your Way” is going, going, gone. “SubTalk” is about to go quiet, and in the annals of subway sloganeering, it is something of a sea change. (22)

Koch Is Better, but Subway Delays Are Worse

Off the Rails: One mayor asks another one how he was feeling and gets a surprising answer. Also, the delays of the land. (20)

More From Off the Rails »

Nocturnalist | Dueling in Meter and Metaphor

No one died at the Literary Death Match at the Bowery Poetry Club, but only two entrants escaped unscathed. (4)

Nocturnalist | The Ghost Boots of Central Park

Two brown boots, unattended, at midnight, a regular sight for years. (31)

More From Nocturnalist »

The Insider | Gracie’s Volunteer Tour Guide

City Hall Steps: He spends a lot of time in Gracie Mansion, but he is not the mayor. (3)

The Insider | Enlightening City Construction

City Hall Steps: David J. Burney, commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction, sees security as a significant new challenge. (3)

More From City Hall Steps »

No Crime, Just Punishment

Courthouse Confidential: Prosecutors explain how they unraveled an elaborate frame-up that put an innocent woman behind bars for seven months. (9)

Legal Aid Society Names Richard J. Davis Chairman

Courthouse Confidential: More movement on helping the indigent on civil cases, and perhaps some movement on stage.

More From Courthouse Confidential »

On Her First Day, Black Reads to First Graders

The day after winning a waiver enabling her to become chancellor, Cathleen P. Black visits an elementary school in the Bronx. (37)

For One Day, the Chancellor Pick Was a Principal

On an April day in 2000, Cathleen P. Black shadowed the principal of a junior high school in the Bronx. (25)

More From In the Schools »

The Chancellor’s Official Job Description: What a Difference 8 Years Make

An inspection of documents from 2002 and 2010 describing the job of the New York City schools chancellor reveals a few key differences. (15)

Floccinaucinihilipilificationism: A Word as Big as the Man

Newly released correspondence and memos from the desk of Daniel Patrick Moynihan show the man behind the statesman. (17)

More From On the Records »

Political Feuding Even Within the Parties

Letter From Albany: In a campaign season full of vitriol there’s squabbling even within the parties. (5)

Long Live the King

In Letter From Albany: King Cuomo II crosses his moat to address the populace. (24)

More From Letter From Albany »

Political Feuding Even Within the Parties

Letter From Albany: In a campaign season full of vitriol there’s squabbling even within the parties. (5)

Long Live the King

In Letter From Albany: King Cuomo II crosses his moat to address the populace. (24)

More From Letter From Albany »

December 16, 1960
The Day Planes Fell From the Sky
Planes Promo

Remembering the day when Trans World Airlines Flight 266 on its way to LaGuardia Airport collided with United Flight 826 en route to Idlewild Airport.

East Village Local
Neighborhood Blogging

In collaboration with New York University, The Times has launched a new blog reporting on the news and vibrant culture of the East Village.

The Scoop
An NYC iPhone App
The Scoop

From the staff of The New York Times, the insiders’ guide to our favorite restaurants, bars and things to do in New York now includes coffee, home furnishing stores and day trips.

More News From The New York Times

Welcome to City Room

City Room® is a news blog of live reporting, features and reader conversations about New York City [Highlights]. Reader comments are moderated [Details]. Send questions, suggestions or complaints by e-mail for prompt attention.

Browse Posts by Borough
Tree Man
Woodsman in the City

ElectionsAn occasional series in which we visit with Nikola Ivkovic, a Christmas tree seller on Broadway.

Woman in the News
Cathleen P. Black
Cathie Black

Covering the media executive chosen by Mayor Bloomberg, to be the city’s next schools chancellor.



Arts & Entertainment
Business & Real Estate
General Interest
Government & Politics
Local History
Other New York News
People & Neighborhoods
New York Today
The Best of New York Today

A free weekday e-mail newsletter featuring the best local offerings from all areas of NYTimes.com — business, arts, sports, dining, style and more.